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Society of Jesus – Ignatius of Loyola

Founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius of Loyola was instrumental to the establishment of the order of Jesuit missionaries as well as to the Christian society’s early works. As such, St. Ignatius helped to shape the values and principles of the Society of Jesus and contributed to the development of the Catholic Church during the sixteenth century.

Early Religious Life of Ignatius Loyola

Ignatius of Loyola (Ignacio López de Loyola) was born in 1491 in the Basque province of Guipúzoca, Spain. As a young adult, Loyola became part of military service in order to fight against the expelled Navarraze monarchy. However, an injury incurred during battle forced his return to his hometown.

During his recovery, Loyola turned to study, and in particular, religious study. He was greatly influenced by the works of Francis of Assisi, who espoused a life of simplicity, humility and self-abnegation. St. Ignatius also became dedicated to the mission of converting non-Christian peoples residing in the Holy Land.

After he was sufficiently recovered, Ignatius Loyola visited the Benedictine monastery of Montserrant in order to further pursue his religious studies. In addition, he spent several months pursuing an ascetic lifestyle and eventually resided at the Collège de Montaigu for seven years. While at the Collège, he met the eventual co-founders of the Society of Jesus: Francis Xavier, as well as Peter Faber, Diego Laynez, Nicholas Bobadilla, Alfonso Salmerons and Simão Rodrigues.

St. Ignatius and the Establishment of the Society of Jesus

The Society of Jesus was founded in the year 1534. Loyola was elected as the first Superior General of the Society of Jesus and as such directed the Jesuit priests in missions across Europe in order to establish schools, colleges and seminars across the continent.

In 1554, St. Ignatius wrote the Jesuit Constitutions, which espoused complete obedience to the Pope as well as strict self-abnegation. This document was central to the Jesuit missionaries’ contribution to the Counter Reformation, which sought to restore the authority of the Church in Europe and beyond. In addition, the steadfast devotion of Loyola to the principles and values of the Catholic Church helped to establish a foundation for the later development of the Society of Jesus, which was marked by the establishment of missionaries worldwide and as such a period of great expansion.

Ignatius of Loyola died in Rome in 1556, after battling for many years with a chronic stomach illness. Pope Paul V beatified Loyola on July 27 1609 and Gregory XV canonized him on May 22 1622 by Gregory XV. His feast day is celebrated on July 31.

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