Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Feast Day - July 31
Patron Saint of Catholic Soldiers
Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – July 31, 1556) was described by Pope Benedict XVI as being above all a man of God, who gave the first place of his life to God, and a man of profound prayer. He was very active in fighting the Protestant Reformation and promoting the subsequent counter-reformation. He was beatified and then on March 12, 1622, was canonized.
Ignacio López de Loyola was born in the municipality of Azpeitia at the castle of Loyola in today's Basque Country of Gipuzkoa, Spain. The youngest of 13 children, Íñigo was only seven years old when his mother died. In 1506, Íñigo adopted the last name "de Loyola" in reference of the city where he was born.
In 1509, Íñigo took up arms for Antonio Manrique de Lara, Duke of Nájera and Viceroy of Navarre. Reportedly, Íñigo’s diplomacy and leadership qualities made him very useful to the Duke. Under the Duke's leadership, he participated in many battles without injury to himself.
When the French army stormed Pamplona's fortress on May 20, 1521, a cannonball wounded one of Íñigo’s legs and broke the other. Heavily injured, Íñigo was returned to the castle. He was very concerned about the injuries on his leg and had several surgical operations, which were very painful in the days before anesthetics.
During this time he read the De Vita Christi by Ludolph of Saxony in a Catalan edition. This work arguably influenced his whole life. The De Vita Christi is the result of 40 years of work by Ludolph. It is a commentary on the life of Jesus-Christ, a commentary on the Gospels borrowing extracts from the works of over sixty of the Fathers of the Church. Ludolph particularly quotes St Gregory the Great, St Basil, St Augustine and the Venerable Bede. Ludolph proposes to the reader that he place himself at the scene of the Gospel story; that he visualize the crib at the Nativity etc. This is known as a method of prayer called Simple Contemplation and arguably is the basis of the method that St Ignatius sets out in his Spiritual Exercises.
During the time he was recovering, Ignatius read a number of religious texts on the life of Jesus called the Vita Christi by Ludolph of Saxony and the saints and became fired with an ambition to lead a life of self-denying labor and emulate the heroic deeds of Francis of Assisi and other great monastic leaders. He resolved to devote himself to the conversion of non-Christians in the Holy Land.
Ignatius of Loyola was the main creator and initial Superior General of the Society of Jesus, a religious organization of the Catholic Church whose members, known as Jesuits, served the Pope as missionaries. He is remembered as a talented spiritual director. He was very vigorous in opposing the Protestant Reformation and promoting the following Counter-Reformation.
Ignatius Loyola wrote Spiritual Exercises, a simple 200-page set of meditations, prayers, and various other mental exercises, from 1522 to 1524. The exercises of the book were designed to be carried out over a period of 28-30 days.
Ignatius was chosen as the first Superior General of his religious order, invested with the title of Father General by the Jesuits. He sent his companions as missionaries around Europe to create schools, colleges, and seminaries.
As probably one of the most important parts of the material part of his legacy, we can find many Jesuit schools and general educational institutions worldwide. In the United States alone there are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities, and more than 50 secondary schools.