Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Ignatius Loyola, Priest, 1491-1556
Ignatius was the youngest of thirteen children of a noble family in the Basque region of Spain. He entered the military service and had a promising career ahead of him until he was wounded during the siege of Pamplona in 1521.
During his long recovery, Ignatius spent the time reading religious books, as there was nothing else available to him. These readings included a life of Christ and the lives of saints, both of which had a profound effect on him. After his recovery, he made a pilgrimage to Monserrat where he hung up his sword at Our Lord's altar. He then spent a year in retreat at Manresa where he experienced visions and began writing his Spiritual Exercises.
From 1524 to 1535, Ignatius studied in Paris and received a Master of Arts degree in 1534. In that same year, along with a group of fellow students who included St. Francis Xavier, he founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). The group vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to go to the Holy Land. Because of the hostility of the Turks, however, they were unable to achieve this last goal, so they went instead to Rome and placed themselves in the apostolic service of the Pope. The Society was formally approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III. The group took their final vows in 1541 and Ignatius Loyola was named the superior general of the order.
Unlike most orders, Jesuits take four vows. In addition to poverty, chastity, and obedience, they also take a vow to go wherever the Pope should send them for the salvation of souls. In the case of the early Jesuits, this meant India and Japan where Jesuit missionaries still exist. (St. Francis Xavier was the earliest Jesuit missionary to both countries.)
The Jesuits established many houses, schools, colleges, and seminaries around Europe in the early years of the order. They soon became known for their intellectual prowess and for their work in the field of education. Ignatius Loyola was active against the heresies that spread during the Reformation. (It was in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door at Wittenberg.)
By the time of his death in 1556, Ignatius had set in motion three of his goals for the Jesuits: reform of the Church, especially through education and frequent acceptance of the sacraments; widespread activity in the missionary field; and participation in the fight against heresy. Following his advice to treat all people with respect, members of the order have also been at the forefront of the modern ecumenical movement.
St. Ignatius Loyola was canonized a saint in 1622 and proclaimed patron of retreats and spiritual exercises by Pope Pius XI. A memorial honors this saint on July 31.
Ignatius' message today: The Jesuits today run many high schools and universities, which are known for high standards of education. While teaching the broadest range of subject matter, these institutions focus much time and energy in teaching about the Church. For all of us, though, most parishes offer adult education courses, which allow members to become more knowledgeable about the Church.