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Saint Ignatius of Loyola

"For those who love, nothing is too difficult, especially when it is done for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Saint Ignatius of Loyola (Indigo Lopez de Onaz y Loyola) was a Catholic Priest, reformer, Spiritual Director and co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

Saint Ignatius was the son and youngest of thirteen children to Don Beltran and Dona Marina, members of the minor nobility and was born on October 23rd, 191, at the castle of Loyola in Azpeitia, Spain. His parents baptized him with the name Indigo after Saint Enecus (Inigo in Spanish) that had an affectionate medieval Basque name meaning my little one. Tragically his mother died soon after his death and as a child Saint Ignatius was placed under the care of Maria de Garin, the local blacksmith's wife. As a young man he became a page in the service of Juan Velazquez de Cuellar, treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. It was during this time he took up fencing, gambling and dancing, all driven by a desire for military fame.

At seventeen he joined the army and became known for his womanizing, sensitivity to insult and outlandish dress. A year later he took up arms for the 2nd Duke of Najera, Antonio Manrique de Lara and performed his duties so well that he soon gained the title Servant of the Court. For several battles he fought bravely while managing to avoid any serious injury. This would all change, however, on May 20th, 1521 at the Battle of Pamplona. On that day a French-Navareese force assaulted the fortress Saint Ignatius was in. A cannonball richoted off a nearby wall and slammed into Saint Ignatius's right leg. The bone was instantly shattered. Tradition holds that the invading force was so moved by his bravery that they carried Saint Ignatius, now terribly wounded, back to his family's castle in Loyola.

At Loyola his bones were reset and rebroken, leaving his right leg shorter than the left and causing a limp for the rest of his life. Now coming to grips that his military career was over Saint Ignatius spent time recovering in the castle. His sister in law, Magdalena de Araoz, began bringing him books to read hoping it would bring him closer to God. Escewing the chivalric romances he had spent so much time reading as a child, Saint Ignatius began to read stories about the lives of the saints and the life of Christ. The De Vita Christi (written by Ludolph of Saxony) immediately stood out. In it, the writer proposes that the reader place himself mentally at the scene of the Gospel story, a type of meditation known as Simple Contemplation. It would later be the basis Saint Ignatius would promote in his Spiritual Exercies. As his legs began to heal enough for walking, Saint Ignatius declared he would make pilgrimage to the Holy Land so that he could kiss the very ground Jesus walked on. He began taking on stricter and stricter penances and a vision of the Virgin Mary and Jesus one evening that seemed to console him greatly.

In March of 1522 he visited the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat where, after a lengthy confession, gave his fine clothes to the poor and hung his sword and dagger at the Virgin Mary's altar during an overnight vigil. For the next year he lived in Manresa begging and doing chores at a local hospital. He would frequently spend months praying in a nearby cave, practicing religious asceticism, praying and building the fundamentals of his Spiritual Exercises. In September of 1523, Saint Ignatius departed for the Holy Land hoping to live the rest of his life there. At the end of the month, however, the Franciscans sent him back to Europe for studies.

"I wish not merely to be called Christian, but also to be Christian."

At Barcelona he studied at a public free grammar school and joined the University of Alcala to study Theology and Latin. After 1534 he travelled to France and began to study first at the University of Paris, then the College de Montaigu, and finally to the College Sainte-Barbe for a Master's degree. Here he met six companions - Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laynez, Nicholas Bobadilla, Simao Rodrigues, Francis Xavier and Peter Faber. The group met on the morning of August 15th, 1534 in the chapel of church of Saint Peter where they together took upon solemn vows.

"When the devil wants to attack anyone, he first of all looks to see on what side his defenses are weakest or in worst order; then he moves up his artillery to make a breach at that spot."

In 1539, Saint Ignatius, Saint Peter Faber, and Saint Francis Xavier formed the Society of Jesus. Approval from Pope Paul III came a year later and Saint Ignatius was chosen as the first Superior General of the Order with the title Father General. The Order spread across Europe opening schools, colleges and seminaries. In a latter to Saint Francis Xavier before his departure to India in 1541, Saint Ignatius used the phrase

Ite, Inflammate omnia - Go, Set the world on fire

The Jesuit Constitutions were adopted in 1553 and stressed self-denial and total obedience to the Pope, Bishops and other superiors in the Church. The phrase perinde ac cadaver (as if a dead body) was soon adopted - a Jesuit should be so totally emptied of ego that he appeared as if he was a corpse.

In July of 1556, Saint Ignatius fell ill while in Rome. This illness, dubbed the Roman Fever (a variant of malaria) grew so terrible that he died on July 31st, 1556. His body was dressed in his priestly robes and placed in a wooden coffin before being buried in the crypt of the Maria della Strada Church on August 1st, 1556. The remains were reinterred when the church was destroyed 12 years later and replaced with the Church of the Gesu. On July 27th, 1609, Pope Paul V beatified him and on March 12th, 1622, Pope Gregory XV formally canonized him.

His feast day is celebrated on July 31st each year and is venerated as the patron Saint of Catholic Soldiers and of the Society of Jesus.

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