The story goes, that when I was born, my father put forward an unusual name for me. He had been a recent graduate of Boston College, an institution founded by the Society of Jesus; also known as the Jesuits. He had been impressed by these priests and brothers; so much so, that he wanted to name his first born after their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola! My mother, being of strong willed Irish-Italian stock, basically said: “No way!”
A compromise was struck, my baptismal name was given as “Francis,” after St. Francis Xavier, SJ, one of the original members of the Society. My connection with the Jesuits was renewed, when as part of my Deacon formation, I and my classmates attended annual retreats at Campion Hall in Weston MA. It is a Jesuit run retreat center, as well as a retirement home for their members. So I began to learn more about the saint, whose name I almost inherited.
St. Ignatius was born in the Basque country of northern Spain. He originally was raised to be a soldier of Spain. At age 30, he was seriously wounded in a battle defending a town against an invading Spanish army. One of his legs was broken by a cannon ball, and he was brought back to the family home. During his recovery, he read the only books available to him; a life of Jesus Christ, and stories about the saints. Reflecting on what he read, he had a conversion experience. He dedicated his life, body and soul to Christ. The path that he took to reach this point, he would eventually create The Spiritual Exercises. It is a blueprint, a process to help a spiritual director guide a person into a closer, more intimate relationship with God; developing an attentiveness, an openness, and responsiveness to God.
When he was studying at the University of Paris to become a priest, he was also guiding some of his classmates through the Spiritual Exercises. Inspired by what they experienced, six of them, along with Ignatius, decided to form a company, a society, dedicated to serving the Church, under the direction of the Pope. Thus was the Society of Jesus formed. Since that time, Jesuits have traveled the world; as missionaries, educators, writers, parish priests and spiritual directors. One of St. Ignatius’ spiritual sons would be elected as head of the Catholic Church, our current Pontiff, Pope Francis.
St. Ignatius, has been recognized as more of a founder and organizer of a powerful religious community; and not so much as a mystic, except perhaps within the Jesuit communities themselves. That has been changing, more diocesan priests, religious, and laypersons have taken the Spiritual Exercises, and it has enriched their spiritual lives.
Prayer for Generosity
Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,
Teach me true generosity.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give without counting the cost,
To fight heedless of wounds,
To labor without seeking rest,
To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward
Save the knowledge that I have done your will.
St. Ignatius of Loyola