Ignatius Loyola 1491–1556 Saint and Founder of the Jesuit Order

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Ignatius Loyola
Saint and founder of the
Jesuit order

Ignatius Loyola founded the Roman Catholic religious order known as the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. Born into a Spanish noble family, Ignatius had a brief military career before suffering a wound in battle. While recovering at the castle of Loyola, he experienced a religious awakening. He felt the desire to help people understand their own spiritual nature. Over the next year he collected his thoughts on paper for what would evolve into Spiritual Exercises, his most important work. The piece took him 20 years to complete.

Ignatius had received little formal education. He decided that he needed to expand his knowledge in order to help people effectively. He studied Latin in Spain before moving to Paris, where he received a degree in philosophy in 1533. In Paris he attracted a group of six followers whom he guided through his spiritual teachings. This group became the foundation for the Society of Jesus. In 1540 a larger group of followers formed the order in Rome and named Ignatius their leader.

Ignatius established the Society of Jesus as a way to strengthen the papacy* and the Catholic Church. It quickly gained popularity, with over 1,000 members from western Europe and overseas during Ignatius's lifetime. The group committed itself to missionary work and acted as a promoter of humanist* learning, becoming the first teaching order in the church. In fact, a high level of education with an emphasis on humanism was typical for Jesuits. The church recognized Ignatius' work in 1622 by naming him a saint.

(See alsoEducation; Religious Orders. )

* papacy

office and authority of the pope

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living