The Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is here! As we celebrate his life, we should recognize the unbelievable importance and influence Saint Ignatius had on the current state of Catholicism in the world, and especially in the United States.
Born in Spain in 1491, Saint Ignatius underwent a spiritual conversion after being injured in battle against the French-supported Nevarrese at the Battle of Pamplona. After his injury in 1521, Saint Ignatius abandoned his military life and, while at the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, had a vision of the Holy Mother. After this vision, he became a hermit, adapted a rigorous regimen of prayer, and began writing The Spiritual Exercises.
Saint Ignatius moved on from this life of solitude, intent on settling in the Holy Land, but ended up returning to Europe and studying theology and Latin in Paris. It was in this city that he and his followers took their vows of chastity and poverty. Through this, he went on to become the founder of the Society of Jesus—popularly known as the Jesuits. Read more about the life of Saint Ignatius in A Pilgrim’s Journey.
Two of Saint Ignatius’ enduring legacies are his seminal work, The Spiritual Exercises, and the Jesuit Order. The Spiritual Exercises is a guide of exercises and meditations laid out over a four-week plan, helping the reader grow closer to Jesus Christ through prayer. Designed to be utilized under the tutelage of a spiritual director, the Exercises were in fact never meant to be used solely by people in the religious life. Indeed, Saint Ignatius gave the Exercises for well over a decade before he himself was ordained.
After founding the Society of Jesus, Saint Ignatius adapted the Exercises as a central tenet in the formation and training of Jesuit novitiates. They normally take place within the first two years of a novitiate’s training. When lay people undergo the Exercises, it is generally under the spiritual direction of a Jesuit priest.
The Jesuits maintain a firm presence throughout the world, and especially in the United States, where they established and run many top-tier universities and colleges—like Boston College, Fordham University, Xavier University, Gonzaga University, and dozens more. Their impact and visibility in the increasingly secular modern United States cannot be understated.
Saint Ignatius has had a worldwide impact spanning across centuries, and Aquinas and More has all the resources to learn more about and from this tremendous saint.