St. Ignatius Loyola

Founder, Society of Jesus (1491-1556)
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Image of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Havana. Photo by Yandry Fernandez, public domain via Getty Images

Iñigo López de Loyola was born to a noble family in Basque country. He spent his youth as a courtier and later a soldier. Trained in the code of chivalry, he was ready with his sword to avenge any slight against his dignity or the honor of his master. In 1521 he was severely wounded in battle. While recovering in his family castle, he asked for something to read. All that was available was a life of Christ and some lives of the saints. In time he was inspired by these stories, imagining what a great honor it must be to serve the glory of God. When he recovered, he made a pilgrimage to the Catalonian shrine of Our Lady at Montserrat. There, after an all-night vigil, he laid his sword on the altar and became a soldier of Christ.  

While studying in Paris to become a priest, Ignatius exhorted a group of fellow students to join him in forming a new religious order dedicated to renewing and serving the Church in any way that might be required. This was the nucleus of what became the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. The order was officially recognized in 1540, and Ignatius became its first superior general.  

The Jesuits soon spread throughout the globe on perilous missions to Asia, the Americas, and Protestant England, thus renewing the vitality of the Church. Within fifteen years the order increased from ten members to a thousand, among them many saints and martyrs. Aside from his role in founding the Jesuits, Ignatius made a huge contribution through the publication of his Spiritual Exercises, a manual devised for the spiritual formation of his followers. Ignatius died on July 31, 1556. He was canonized in 1622.  

“To the greater glory of God.” —St. Ignatius Loyola 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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