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Feast Day: 31 July

Inigo de Loyola was born in 1491 in the Basque province of Guipuzcoa in northern Spain.

Of the noble family of Loyola, as a boy he was sent as a page to serve the treasurer of the kingdom. There, he had access to court and developed a taste for all its ways, including the ladies.

Intelligent, of a fiery temperament and handsome, Inigo, or Ignatius, harboured dreams of romance and worldly conquests. He was addicted to gambling, and wasn’t above sword play, once getting into serious trouble.

At age thirty we find him a soldier defending the fortress of Pamplona against the French. Hugely outnumbered, the Spanish commander wished to surrender but Ignatius egged him to fight on. As the fight continued, Ignatius’ leg was fractured by a canon shot. Honouring his courage, the French allowed him to be treated at his castle of Loyola rather than in prison.

After enduring an operation without anaesthetics, it was found that there was a bone protruding from under his knee. The thought of not being able to wear the slimming leggings of the time was unendurable, so he had doctors saw off the bone – without anaesthetics. Still, he always limped as one leg remained shorter than the other.

Convalescing, he asked for romance novels, but was given to read the only books in the castle: a life of Christ and lives of the saints. As he begrudgingly picked up the volumes, he began to notice that while his thoughts of romance and fantasy left him restless and agitated, these books gave him peace and a sense of true accomplishment and well-being. Slowly moved by what he read, he made a powerful conversion.

Shedding his fineries and donning a poor habit, he ultimately came to the cave of Manresa by a river where he stayed for ten months. Here, he had a powerful revelation, an experience of God as He really is so that he now looked at all of creation in a new light – an experience that allowed Ignatius to find God in all things – one of the central characteristics of Jesuit spirituality.

It was in the seclusion of Manresa that ideas for his famous Spiritual Exercises began to take shape.

After a trip to the Holy Land, the holy wanderer decided to go back to school to learn Latin with the goal of entering the priesthood. He ultimately went to the University of Paris where he met several young men whom he led in the Spiritual Exercises. Two of these men were Francis Xavier, and Peter Faber. Once ordained, he and his group decided to place themselves at the disposition of the Pope in Rome. They taught catechism to children, worked in hospitals and instructed adults in the Spiritual Exercises.

In September of 1540, this first nucleus was approved by Pope Paul III, as the order of The Company of Jesus, an institution that was to be instrumental in countering the protestant reform of Martin Luther. They were also active in the missions, and later became unparalleled academic instructors of young men, as well as performing countless other services in the Church.

Since his early conversion days, because of indiscreet, severe penances, St. Ignatius had developed stomach troubles that plagued him for the rest of his life. In the summer of 1556 his complaint grew worse, and his health ailing, he felt the end approaching. Still, those around him were not unduly alarmed.

But shortly after midnight on July 31, the former soldier presented arms at the heavenly court.