St Ignatius Founder of the Society of Jesus


Battle of Pamplona

where Ignatius' leg was smashed by a canon ball  

 The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola from the Basque country of Spain.  As a youth, Ignatius was wild and single minded, given over to the pursuit of worldly glory in military conquest, and so seeking to win the approval and favour of important men and women. 

His hopes to rise up through the ranks of the Spanish nobility were dashed when, fighting in a battle against the French, he was wounded by a canon ball that smashed his leg, and spelt the death knell for his military career.

Ignatius on sick bed – vision of St Peter

During his convalescence in his family castle of Loyola, Ignatius had a profound experience of God that converted him to the service of the Lord, and radically changed the course of his life.He now sought to follow the heroic examples of St Francis of Assisi and St Dominic, in the single minded service of Jesus, his new Lord.  

He chose to do whatever was for the greater glory of God. But he still had to discover how to achieve this – what exactly God was calling him to do.

After his conversion, Ignatius spent the next few years wandering around as a pilgrim, devoting himself to prayer and penance, doing menial work in hospitals and, above all, in seeking the will of God.  He spent some time in the Holy Land, thinking that this was where God wanted him to be – walking in the footsteps of Jesus on the very land where Jesus trod. 

However, he found that his overriding desire was “to help souls.”  Eventually he realised that, in order to be able to do this, he would have to get an education. He left the Holy Land and returned home to start elementary education, eventually moving up to university.

After completing his studies in Paris, he gathered about himself some companions, who he trained in his Spiritual Exercises.  These Exercises are a programme of prayer and reflection, based on the Gospels, which Ignatius worked out as a result of his own interior experiences and conversion to the service of the Lord.

In 1540, Ignatius, together with his 8 companions,  petitioned the Pope in Rome for permission to found a new religious order, with the name 'Societatis Jesu' – 'Companions of Jesus'  Permission was duly granted, and thus the Society of Jesus was formed.


the seal of the Society of Jesus

IHS are the first three letters of 'JESUS' in Greek

In the founding documents of the Society of Jesus St Ignatius wrote:
"Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church ... should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, poverty and obedience, keep what follows in mind.

"He is a member of a Society founded chielfly for this purpose:  
To strive especially for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures, and any other ministration whatsoever of the word of God, and further by means of the Spiritual Exercises, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ's faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments.

"Moreover, this Society should show itself no less useful in reconciling the estranged, in holily assisting and serving those who are found in prisons or hospitals, and indeed in perfomring any other works of charity, according to what will seem expedient for the glory of God and the common good."

Ignatius then writes that those considering joining the Society of Jesus should consider the following:
".... to how great a degree it helps and profits one in spiritual life to abhor in its totality whatever the world loves and embraces, and to accept and desire with all possible energy whatever Christ our Lord has loved and embraced.

"Just as people who follow the world love and seek honours, fame, and esteem for a great name on earth, as the world teaches them, so those who are progressing in the spiritual life and following Christ our Lord, love and desire everything opposite. 

"That is to say, because of the love and reverence which he deserves, they desire to clothe themselves with the same clothing and uniform of their Lord – to such an extent that, where there would be no offence to his Divine Majesty and no imputaton of sin to the neighbour, they would wish to suffer injuries, false accusations, and affronts, and to be held and esteemed as fools (though without giving any occasion for this), because of their desire to resemble and imitate our Lord Jesus Christ, by putting on his clothing and uniform ..."
Very quickly, Ignatius gathered many more followers, and the Society of Jesus began to grow at an exponential rate.  Today the Society of Jesus numbers almost 20,000 members, which makes it the largest male religious order in the world.   The Society of Jesus is an international organisation that is present in over 100 countries.