St Ignatius of Loyola (Spanish: Ignacio de Loyola) was born in 1491, one of 13 children of a family of minor nobility in northern Spain. As a young man Ignatius was preoccupied by notions of courtly life and knighthood and dreamed of doing great deeds. In 1521 after being gravely wounded in the Battle of Pamplona against the French, Ignatius underwent a spiritual conversion while in recovery. Reading the life of Jesus and the Saints inspired Loyola to abandon his previous military life and devote himself to labour for God, following the example of spiritual leaders such as Francis of Assisi.
Not long after, Ignatius experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus while at the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat in March 1522. From there he journeyed to Manresa, where he began praying seven hours a day. In 1523, Ignatius travelled to the Holy Land intending to settle there, but he was sent back to Europe by the Franciscans. Between 1524 and 1537, Ignatius studied theology and Latin in Spain and then in Paris, arriving in Paris during a period of anti-Protestant turmoil. Over the years, St Ignatius became expert in spiritual direction. He collected his insights, prayers, and suggestions in his book “The Spiritual Exercises”, one of the most influential books on the spiritual life ever written.
In 1539, with a small group of friends, St Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, conceived as contemplatives in action. St Ignatius was chosen as the first Superior General of his religious order, invested with the title of Father General by the Jesuits. He sent his companions as missionaries around Europe to create schools, colleges, and seminaries. A Jesuit college was opened at Messina; success was marked, and its rules and methods were afterwards copied in other colleges. St Ignatius wrote the Jesuit Constitutions, adopted in 1540, which stressed absolute self-abnegation and obedience to Pope and superiors. His main principle became the Jesuit motto: Ad majorem Dei gloriam (“For the greater glory of God”).
In 1548 “The Spiritual Exercises” was finally printed, and St Ignatius was briefly brought before the Roman Inquisition, but was released. St Ignatius died in Rome on 31st July 1556. He was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609, canonised by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, and declared patron of all spiritual retreats by Pope Pius XI in 1922.