Ignatius was born in very exciting times. When he was a few months old, Columbus arrived in America, and his conversion in Loyola in 1521 coincided with the first circumnavigation of the globe by Magellan. It was also the time of the Reformation in the Church, set in motion by Martin Luther in 1517.
At first his conversion was wholly personal, he only wanted to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to live there close to the places Jesus walked, begging his upkeep and spending long periods in prayer.
Yet this plan fell through when he was denied permission to stay in the Holy Land. When he returned to Europe, he realised that his real call was to help others, and he left no stone unturned to achieve this. In his early 30s he went to school with kids to be able to go on to higher studies, and in a time of great intellectual ferment in Europe, he spent seven whole years at the best and most progressive university of them all, that of Paris.
There he formed a group of like minded young men, who decided to become priests and dedicate themselves to helping souls. Later they decided to remain united as one body, and, with the Pope’s approval the Jesuit order was born when Ignatius was 49 years old.
During his lifetime the world had expanded in ways that were totally unthinkable a generation earlier, and he realised that this new situation offered huge challenges and opportunities. The vineyard of the Lord, as he liked to call the world, was big indeed, and called for similarly big spirits: although the order was still in its infancy, he did not hesitate to send Jesuits to India, Japan, Ethiopia, and South America.
The experience of his own formation led him to set up a network of colleges for the young Jesuits, colleges that soon welcomed non-Jesuits: although this was not part of his original plan, he realised that education is one of the most effective ways to help souls. During the years he spent in Rome as the general superior of the new order, he was deeply involved in work with the marginalised, setting up a house for women who had abandoned prostitution, and enjoining the Jesuits, whatever their work, to give time to visit the sick and teach the catechism to children.
Ignatius, the big hearted man of great ideals, still challenges me to look at my life options and ask myself to what extent I am a man or woman for others. He observes that, Love consists in sharing what one has, and is shown more in deeds than in words.