In 1491, Inigo de Loyola was born in a Basque castle in the country of Spain. His family was of noble blood; however, being one of thirteen children, they were a rather poor family. Unlike many others of the time, Inigo was given the opportunity to learn to read and write at the church. This, however, was not enough for the boy; he still longed adventure and fun. At the age of sixteen, his dream came true. Inigo was sent to be a page for Juan Velasquez, the treasurer of Castile. During this time he experienced a whole different lifestyle. Eating fine foods, gambling, and swordplay were a few things that Inigo now enjoyed.
In May of 1521, Inigo had entered into his greatest adventure yet. The French were advancing on the town of Pamplona and a battle would soon break out. During the fighting, Inigo was struck in the leg by a cannonball, shattering the bone completely. The French admired his courage so instead of taking him to prison, he was brought back to home to recuperate. The leg was severely injured. The doctors were able to set the leg, but it refused to heal. The only solution was to break the bone again, all without anesthesia. After the procedure, Inigo was told to prepare for death, few thought he would survive. Inigo thought differently on the matter.
The time Inigo spent recuperating in his bed led to a complete turn around in his life. Day after day, Inigo sat in his bed longing for something to do, as he was extremely bored. He had asked a caretaker for some romance novels to read, unfortunately for Inigo the castle had none. The only reading material available to Inigo at the time were two religious books, The Life of Christ and The Lives of the Saints. At first Inigo would not even touch the books, but after few long months in bed he reluctantly picked them up. After reading them, Jesus and the saints overtook his mind. Daydreaming of life with Christ took over much of his day, and nights were filled with dreams of saints. Without even realizing it, Inigo was experiencing the first retreat.
After these dreams and visions Ignatius’s transformation had begun. He became the first “man for others” as he gave everything he owned to those who needed it more. He devoted his life to god and spent seven hours a day in prayer. Ignatius’s change, however, was not always for the best. The thought of unconfessed sins troubled him so much, that he was driven nearly to suicide. Penance was paid in horrible ways, not only physically, but mentally as well. He once vowed that he neither eat nor drink until God came to his rescue. The day finally came. Ignatius decided he would never again confess his past sins, and from that moment, he was free.
During this part of Ignatius’s life, the Spiritual Exercises were drawn up. These exercises outlined the thirty-day retreat all new Jesuits must go on before taking their vows. During this time, the Jesuits would ponder life, Christ, and God. Each Jesuit then based their life on two main principles: To do whatever God asks, and to be “men for others” by helping the less fortunate in any possible way.
Ignatius still did not feel like he was fully equipped to study and understand the teachings of God and Jesus Christ. He realized he wanted to further educate himself and to do this he would need to learn to read and write Latin. So, at the age of thirty-three, Ignatius returned to school alongside children to learn Latin for two years. He then went on to study at upper levels, and being a man who wanted to do everything at once, took as many classes as possible. He eventually received his masters in Philosophy in Paris. Not only did he learn during classes, but outside them as well. His earlier penances weakened his health considerably and he realized what a mistake it had been. He then added to his exercises the idea that it was the main task of every student to study, and the responsibility of every superior to ensure no Jesuit is to study so hard his health weakens.
During Ignatius’s time of study, the Society of Jesus was being slowly created. Starting slowly, Ignatius gave the exercises to his roommates, Pierre Favre and Francis Xavier. Although reluctant at first, they eventually became great leaders of the society. The Jesuits now had begun building schools in which to train more Jesuits. The Jesuit training spread very quickly, not only across the country, but worldwide.
Although Ignatius was entering into the final years of his life, he never slowed down. For the last sixteen years of his life, Ignatius was elected general of the order. He screened all of the Jesuit applicants and continued his teachings. Ignatius continued his work until July 31, 1556, the day of his death. Although the first Jesuit was gone, Ignatius would live on through his teachings and through those he helped along the way.