Article: St. Ignatius of Loyola

Newry Cathedral News

Pope Francis and Bishop Alan McGuckian, Bishop of the Diocese of Raphoe, are both members of the Jesuit order (Society of Jesus). St. Ignatius of Loyola was the founder of the Jesuit order, and his feast day is celebrated annually on the 31st July.

St. Ignatius of Loyola by Pieter Paul Rubens

Ignatius of Loyola, born Iñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola was born on the 23rd October 1491. He was the youngest of thirteen children. His parents’ names were Don Betrán and Doña Marina. His mother died soon after his birth, and he was put in the care of María de Garín, the local blacksmith’s wife who brought him up. As a boy Iñigo became a page in the service of a relative, Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar, treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. As a young man Iñigo was keen on military exercises and was driven by a desire for fame. He framed his life around the stories of El Cid, the knights of Camelot and the Song of Roland. In 1509, aged 18, Iñigo took up arms for Antonio Manrique de Lara, second duke of Nájera. His diplomacy and leadership qualities earned him the title “servant of the court” and made him very useful to the Duke. Under the Duke’s leadership, Iñigo participated in many battles, without injury. However, at the battle of Pamploma on 20th May 1521 he was gravely injured when a French-Navarrese expedition stormed the fortress of Pamploma, and a cannonball ricocheting off a nearby wall, shattered his right leg. He had several operations to repair his leg which left his right leg shorter than the other. He would limp for the rest of his life, with his military career over.

While recovering from surgery, Iñigo underwent a spiritual conversion and discerned a call to the religious life. After he had recovered sufficiently to walk again, Iñigo resolved to begin a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to “kiss the earth where the Lord had walked” and to do stricter penances. In March 1522, he visited the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat. There he carefully examined his conscience, confessed, gave his fine clothes to the poor he met, wore a “garment of sack-cloth”, then hung his sword and dagger at the Virgin’s altar during an overnight vigil at the shrine. From Montserrat he walked to the nearby town of Manresa, where he lived for a year, begging for his keep, and eventually doing chores at a local hospital in exchange for food and lodging. For several months he spent much of his time praying in a cave nearby where he practised rigorous asceticism, praying for seven hours a day, and formulation of the fundamentals of his Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius was noted as an inspired spiritual director. He recorded his method in a celebrated treatise called the Spiritual Exercises, a simple set of meditations, prayers, and other mental exercises, first published in 1548. It is known as “Ignatian spirituality”.

On the morning of the 15th August, 1534, in the chapel of church of St. Peter, at Montmatre, Ignatius and his six companions, of whom only one was a priest, met and took upon themselves the solemn vows of their lifelong work. Subsequently, they were joined by Francis Borgia, a member of the house of Borgia, who was the main aide to Emperor Charles V, and other nobles. On Christmas day 1538 Ignatius said his first Mass at the Church of St. Mary Major in Rome. In 1539, the companions decided to form a permanent union, adding a vow of obedience to the superior, elected by themselves, to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the Roman pontiff that they had already taken. In 1540 Pope Paul III approved the plan of the new order. Ignatius was chosen as the first Superior General of the order and invested with the title of “Father General, by the Jesuits”. Probably the most important work of his later years was the composition of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. In them he decreed that his followers were to abandon some of the traditional forms of religious life such as chanting the divine office, physical punishments, and penitential garb, in favour of greater adaptability and mobility; they also renounced chapter government by the members of the order in favour of a more authoritative régime, and their vows were generally of such a nature that separation from the order was easier than had been usual in similar Catholic groups. The Society of Jesus was to be above all an order of apostles “ready to live in any part of the world where there was hope of God’s greater glory and the good of souls. Ignatius insisted in long and thorough training of his followers.

Ignatius sent his companions on Missions across Europe to create schools, colleges and seminaries. In a letter to Francis Xavier before his departure to India, Ignatius famously used the Latin phrase “Ite inflammate omnia”, meaning “Go and set the world on fire”, a phrase used in the Jesuit order to this day. In 1548 Ignatius was summoned before the Roman Inquisition to have his book of Spiritual Exercises examined. He was eventually released, and the book given Papal permission to print. In their published form the exercises were intended to last for a period of 28-30 days.

Ignatius was a Spanish, Basque, Catholic priest, and theologian, who together with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier founded the religious order called the Society of Jesus ( Jesuits) and became its first Superior General at Paris in 1541. The Jesuit order is dedicated to teaching and missionary work. The final period of Loyola’s life was spent in the vicinity of Rome. The society played an important role in the Counter-Reformation.

Ignatius died in Rome on 31st July 1556, probably of the “Roman Fever”, a severe variant of malaria. His body was dressed in his priestly robes and placed in a wooden coffin and buried in the crypt of the Maria della Strada Church on 1st August 1556. He was beatified by Pope Paul V on 27th July 1609 and canonised by Pope Gregory XV on 12th March 1622. His feast is celebrated annually on the 31st July, the day he died.

Tomb of Saint Ignatius, c. 1675