Founder of the Society of Jesus
St. Ignatius of Loyola as the patron saint of spiritual exercises and retreats
St. Ignatius (St. Inigo) was the youngest of 13 children. His parents both passed away when he was young. St. Ignatius decided to become a soldier and while at war was hit by a cannonball, injuring both legs. He endured terrible pain while his leg was being treated and ended up with a shortened leg. While he was recovering in the hospital, he started to read the books about the saints and the life of Christ. He devoured these books, at first simply as an escape from boredom. Gradually, however, he began to find them fascinating. In the long months of recovery he started imagining what a great honour it must be to serve the glory of God. Ignatius was so impressed by these books that he made up his mind to be a saint too.
St. Ignatius began to pray and one day he had a vision of Our Blessed Mother with the Infant Jesus. This was one of many that he would have. Once he could walk again (after nine months), he decided to give up his worldly goods and make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, initially on a donkey but then by foot. As he traveled and prayed, he listened for what God might speak to him. He found great consolation in imagining himself present at various scenes from Christ’s life. In his imagination, he listened to what Jesus or Our Lady or the apostles were saying, as if they were including him in their conversation. Fortunately for us, Ignatius took notes about where these meditations were leading him. It was these notes that Ignatius would use to lead others in purifying their own intention so that they too would know God’s will in their lives. The notes gradually took the form of the guidebook known ever since as the Spiritual Exercises, a book that continues to guide people to pray and live for God.
St. Ignatius continued to attract followers and eventually started The Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). The pope assigned them ministries including giving retreats, teaching, and missionary work. They did much to reform the church. In the fifteen years that he served as a general of the order, Ignatius saw the Jesuits increase form ten members to a thousand, at the same time becoming one of the most dynamic orders of the church.
Although he was sick often, Ignatius died unexpectedly on July 31, 1556. By that time his order had grown to one thousand members who were all over the world. St. Ignatius was canonized in 1622. He is the patron saint of spiritual exercises and retreats.