Based on the spiritual and practical wisdom of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), Ignatian spirituality is characterized by the conviction that God is active, personal and
above all present to us. A true spiritual life is a life of engagement with the whole of life and the capacity to find God in all things. Ignatian spirituality - through various forms
of prayer, thoughtful reflection, and discerned action in daily life - increases our awareness of God's grace and call, and encourages us to live our lives with conviction and greater
"Ignatius believed that when we set ourselves toward some worthy purpose that transcends our meager strength, we tap into a source of meaning, strength, peace, and courage that is beyond us. We come to realize, in a graced moment, that we are called to some great purpose, that we cannot do it on our own, but that we don't have to do it on our own."
Chris Lowney, Heroic Leadership
St. Ignatius of Loyola was born of minor Basque nobility in 1491, the youngest of 13 children. When he was 16, he was sent to be a page to the treasurer of the king of Castile. He was enamored with court life and enjoyed dressing well, gambling, womanizing, brawling and even swordplay.
In 1521, he was an officer defending the city of Pamplona against a French invasion when a cannon ball broke one of his legs and injured the other. While recuperating at Loyola, he experienced his conversion. Since he was a person of great imagination, he would daydream about the courtly life and especially about serving heroically a woman who was above his station. He would also dream about following Christ and being a better saint than Dominic and Francis. He noticed when after dreaming about the former, the daydreams left him agitated and unsatisfied; and dreaming about the latter, he was peaceful and satisfied. It was at that time he came to see and describe the workings of the Holy Spirit within him. From that insight, he began his lifelong service of God through the discernment of spirits and a deepening spiritual journey that led to recognition of his sainthood by the Church.
Ignatius stopped at the small town of Manresa along the Cardoner River and lived in a cave in the banks of the river for 10 months. There he went through a conversion process that is the basis of the Spiritual Exercises. He later said about his stay at Manresa that God treated him as a schoolmaster treats a child.
He went to Jerusalem hoping to serve there but the superior who had authority over visitors to the Holy Land was concerned for his safety and required Ignatius to leave by threat of ex communication. Upon his return he discerned that he should study for the priesthood, learning Latin with young boys in Barcelona. He studied at the University of Alcala, the University of Salamanca and finally the University of Paris where he shared a room with Francis Xavier and Pierre Favre (anglicized as Peter Faber) who was recently canonized by Pope Francis. He gathered around him six men to whom he had given the Spiritual Exercises.
As a group intending to go to Jerusalem, they met disappointment and determined to travel to Rome to put themselves at the disposal of the pope. After discernment by these men, they agreed to form a community with the pope’s approval. They added an additional vow besides poverty, chastity, and obedience, to go wherever the pope sent them for service.
In 1540, the pope approved the new religious order called the Society of Jesus.. The little community elected Ignatius as the superior general, a lifetime position. The spirituality of the Jesuits was radically different from other religious orders at the time, which were mostly monastic in nature. Monasticism required choir several times during the day and stability rather than mobility was the ideal. In the new order, there were no set times for prayer and the formation of young Jesuits taught action, but action that was discerned as God’s will by a superior and was a continuation of “finding God in all things,” the last meditation of the Spiritual Exercises.
Ignatius spent the rest of his life in Rome running the Society of Jesus, sending Jesuits all over Europe and the rest of the world. He wrote about 7,000 letters, most went to Jesuits scattered around the world. He wrote the Constitutions of the Society. Before he died he began opening schools, which he saw as an effective apostolate. To this day, the Jesuits are primarily educators and missionaries. Ignatius died in 1556 and was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.