Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was a poor nobleman who was born in 1491 in the Basque country of Spain.

On 20 May 1521, while leading the defence of the frontier city of Pamplona against a superior French attack, Ignatius was hit by a cannon ball that shattered his right knee.  During his painful convalescence in the castle at Loyola, he

St. Ignatius Loyola

asked for books to read and out of boredom accepted the only ones available: The Lives of the Saints, and The Life of Christ.  He came to discover that God was at work in his life, and his past desire for worldly success was transformed into a desire to know, love, and serve God.  He decided to travel to Jerusalem and to imitate the disciplines and fasts of the saints.

When his wounds healed, he began his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  He stopped at the shrine of Montserrat in Spain. There on 24 March 1522, he hung his sword and dagger on the grill of Our Lady’s chapel, resolving to lay aside his worldly garments and to take on, instead, the armour of Christ. Next, he journeyed on foot to the nearby town of Manresa where he lived for almost a year.

He begged for his basic needs and spent most of his time in prayer.  Here he experienced God’s grace deeply penetrating within him.  While reflecting on the movement of the Spirit within him, he wrote notes that formed the basis of The Spiritual Exercises, the core of the Jesuit vision.

Ignatius travelled to the Holy Land, but he could not remain there because of the political and religious turmoil.  Instead, he studied at the Universities of Alcala, Salamanca, Barcelona, and Paris during a ten-year period of preparation for the priesthood.  During this period, he gave the Spiritual Exercises to some of his fellow students.  On the Feast of the Assumption in 1534, Ignatius and six of his companions pronounced vows during Mass, forming the “Company of Jesus.” On 27 September 1540, Pope Paul III approved the “Company” as a religious order, formally establishing the Society of Jesus.

Ignatius personally approved the foundation of forty Jesuit schools.  By the time he died on 31 July 1556, he had established the foundation of the Jesuit enterprise: to work for the greater glory of God through preaching and spiritual counselling, but most especially through high school and college education.  Saint Ignatius is the patron saint of retreats and of the Spiritual Exercises.

The motto of the Society of Jesus is to the greater glory of God. (The initials of the Latin words for this motto are AMDG: ad maiorem dei gloriam.)