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THE BEGINNINGS OF THE SOCIETY OF JESUS

31 Aug

ST IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA

“Inigo de Recalde de Loyola, youngest of 13 children of Don Beltran Yanez de Loyola and Maria Saenz di Licona y Balda, was born in 1491 in the family castle in the Basque province of Guipozcoa, in northeastern Spain, near the French border.

As befitted a boy from an aristocratic family, he spent time as a page at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella, the rulers of Spain. Here, by his later testimony, he was involved in gambling, wenching, and duelling.

He then entered military service, but fought in only one major battle, the defence of Pamplona against the French in 1521. The professional soldiers knew that their position was indefensible, and proposed to surrender. Inigo (or Ignatius, to give him the Latin form of his name) had visions of military glory, and urged his comrades to fight. He was promptly hit in the leg by a cannon ball, the town surrendered anyway, and the French sent him home on a stretcher.

The leg was badly set, and did not heal properly. It had to be rebroken and reset, and again it healed crookedly and left him with a permanent limp. Meanwhile, he was bedridden for many months and spent the time reading.

He asked for tales of knightly adventure but instead was given a Life of Christ, written by a Carthusian monk. He read it and his life was transformed.

Ignatius made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to see with his own eyes the scenes of Our Lord’s life and death. He wanted to stay and preach to the Muslims, but the Franciscans stationed there advised him that he needed an education in order to preach effectively.

Back in Spain, he spent ten years (1524-1534) getting an education at Barcelona, Alcala, Salamanca and Paris, beginning by going to elementary school to learn Latin grammar and ending with a Master of Arts degree from the University of Paris. In Salamanca, he often preached to groups of people assembled by chance; but in those days a layman undertaking to preach on his own, without a licence or supervision, was automatically suspected of heresy.

Ignatius was twice imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition and questioned about his beliefs, an experience that made a deep impression on him. (He was finally acquitted, but forbidden to discuss religious matters for three years.)

In 1534, he and six fellow students formed a group which vowed to travel to Jerusalem and there preach the Gospel to the Muslims. (The most famous of the six is Francis Xavier, who went to India and China as a missionary, and who is commemorated on 3rd December.)

This group later took the name, ‘The Society of Jesus,’ and. Were nicknamed the Jesuits by outsiders, a nickname that stuck.
– This article was published in “The Catholic Universe” issue Sunday 25th August, 2013. For subscriptions please visit http://www.thecatholicuniverse.com (external link).”

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