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Iñigo Lopez de Loyola was born in the Basque region of Spain, in the town of Loiola (in his day it was spelled “Loyola,” hence, his name as we know it). He was the 13th child in his noble family and enjoyed all its advantages and vices.
His education was limited but prepared him for a life in service to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. As a page at the royal court he had a flamboyant life, dressed fancy and became a swordsman and ladies’ man. He was not above using his status to weasel out of his peccadilloes.
Iñigo became a soldier and in 1521 his leg was struck by a cannon ball, severely damaging it. He underwent several surgeries to save his leg and his recuperation was long and difficult. To pass the time he began reading anything he could find. Many of the books were religious in nature and spoke of Jesus and the saints. These books would have a profound effect of the once devil-may-care courtier.
Upon regaining the use of his leg, it was his intention to travel to the Holy Land to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. He went to the abbey of Montserrat, home of the famous Black Madonna, and gave his clothes to a poor man and surrendered his sword and dagger. His plan to travel east in the service of the Lord did not work out, but Iñigo still wanted to serve. He went to Barcelona and attended an elementary school as preparation for the university.
Finally, at 38 years old, Iñigo entered the university in Paris. He became close friends with Peter Fabor, a young man from the South of France, and Francis Xavier, a nobleman from the east end of the Basque country. They shared his dream of travel to Jerusalem, but a war between Venice and the Turks made it impossible. They then decided to travel to Rome to offer their service to the pope. Pope Paul III approved them as an official religious order in 1540. Iñigo became its first leader.
The men took the name of the Society of Jesus and were commonly called the Jesuits. They became renowned as a teaching order. By the time of his death in 1556, the order had 1,000 members and had founded 35 schools.
St. Ignatius died on July 31, 1556, after becoming sick with the Roman Fever, a severe form of malaria that swept through Rome. He was beatified on July 27, 1609, by Pope Paul V and canonized on March 12, 1622, by Pope Gregory XV.
In our Mohawk Valley, the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs is the site of the 17th century Mohawk village of Ossernenon where three Jesuit missionaries were killed during the 1640s for their faith.