A statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is located in front of White-Gravenor Hall (MAP) on the campus of Georgetown University. And as I was riding around the sprawling campus on this lunchtime bike ride I stopped to check it out.
Born Inigo Lopez de Loyola, the man who would become known as Ignatius of Loyola entered the world on October 23, 1491, in Loiola, Spain. At the time, the name of the village was spelled “Loyola,” hence the discrepancy in spelling. Loiola is a small village at the southern end of Azpeitia, in northern Spain, and is where Inigo came of age. Inigo was the youngest of thirteen children. His mother died when he was just seven, and he was then raised by Maria de Garin, who was the wife of a local blacksmith. At about the age of eighteen Inigo began to refer to himself as Ignatius, a variant of Inigo, because he thought it sounded more dignified and would bring him wider acclaim and recognition.
During his lifetime he was many things, including a member of the aristocracy in a Basque noble family, a knight, and a hermit. He was also an officer in the Spanish Army. It was during this time in the military that he was struck by a cannonball in the leg. Oddly, he thought that his leg had been set poorly after the cannonball incident and that, as a result, he wouldn’t look good in his courtier’s tights. So he had a doctor rebreak his leg and start over. Eventually part of his leg had to be amputated and caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. It was during his time recuperating from his injury that he became a devout Christian. And by the spring of the following year, Ignatius had recovered enough to leave bed.
On March 25, 1522, he entered the Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat. And beginning in 1537 he became a priest and theologian who would eventually go on to found the religious order called the Society of Jesus. Some people did not appreciate the Society of Jesus and dubbed them “Jesuits” in an attempt to disparage them. While the name stuck, by virtue of their good work the label lost its negative connotation. The Jesuit Order served the Pope as missionaries, and they were bound by a vow of absolute obedience to the Pope.
The Jesuits would soon find a niche in education. Before Ignatius died, it established 35 schools and boasted 1,000 members. Today, the Jesuit Order is known for its work in educating the youth around the globe. Several universities have been founded in the name of Ignatius and in the traditional Jesuit spirit, including Georgetown University, which is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit-affiliated institution of higher education in the United States.
Ignatius was beatified in 1609, and then canonized, receiving the title of Saint on March 12, 1622. Saint Ignatius is venerated as the patron saint of educators and education, Catholic soldiers, the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Jesuit Society, all spiritual retreats, the Basque country, and various towns and cities in his native region. He died on July 31, 1556, his feast day in the Catholic Church, as a result of the Roman Fever, a severe case of malaria that recurred in Rome, Italy, at different points in history.
However, Ignatius was not always very saintly. During much of his young adult life he was vain, with dreams of personal honor and fame. According to one of Ignatius’ biographers, he was a fancy dresser, an expert dancer, a womanizer, sensitive to insult, a gambler, and a rough punkish swordsman who was arrested but used his privileged status to escape prosecution for violent crimes committed with his priest brother. One time, upon encountering a Moor who denied the divinity of Jesus, he challenged him to a duel to the death and ran him through with his sword. Another time, he allowed the donkey on which he was riding to determine whether he should follow and murder someone he thought had insulted the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fortunately, the donkey chose the path that led away from the insulter. Ignatius is said to have dueled many other men as well, gaining a reputation in his time. As some have noted, having been arrested for nighttime brawling with intent to inflict serious harm, he may be the only saint with a notarized police record.