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In His Own Words: Insights from Saint Ignatius on His Feast

July 31 is the feast day of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. St. Ignatius passed away 459 years ago on that day in the year 1556. 

During St. Ignatius’ lifetime, the Society of Jesus expanded from seven members to hundreds throughout the world. To keep in touch with his brother Jesuits as well as Church officials and members of foreign nations, St. Ignatius wrote or dictated more than 7,000 letters. Below are excerpts from just a few of his letters with the saint’s timeless insights on encouragement, poverty and prayer.

These letters were taken from the Portal to Jesuit Studies, a project assembled by the Boston College Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies. This free online database provides access to numerous scholarly publications and sources in the Jesuit Studies. It is meant to serve as a "Jesuit Google," strengthening the institute's efforts to serve as a resource on the history, spirituality, and pedagogy of the Society of Jesus.  


In 1553, Fr. Filippo Leerno, SJ, was named rector at the northern Italian city of Modena. Soon into his appointment, Fr. Leerno feared that that some of the young Jesuits in his charge did not want to change for the better while others lacked in obedience. The rector feared that he was not the right person to hold the office. Ignatius encourages Fr. Leerno in this letter.

"…Remember that God seeks from us solid virtues, such as patience, humility, obedience, abnegation of our own will, and charity—that is, readiness to serve him and to serve our neighbor for his sake—rather than other forms of devotion, though his providence may grant us these when he sees that they are good for us. But since they are not substantive matters, an abundance of them does not make anyone perfect, nor the lack of them imperfect..."

Click here to read the full letter.



A college in Padua was insufficiently supported by its founder, Andrea Lippomani, who had hosted Jesuit scholastics in Padua as early as 1542. However, the Venetian government, stalled negotiations to transfer Lippomani’s bequest to the Society intended to support a college in the city, doing so despite a bull by Pope Paul III in support of the transfer in 1546. As a result of the yearlong delay, the Jesuits there suffered a great deal of deprivation. In response, Ignatius sent the following letter, an enthusiastic panegyric of real poverty the people voluntarily endured for the sake of Christ. 

"The friendship of the poor makes us friends of the eternal King. Love of poverty makes us kings even on earth—kings not of earth but of heaven. This is shown by the fact that while the kingdom of heaven is promised in the future to other persons, immutable Truth promises it in the present to those who are poor and who suffer persecution for justice’ sake: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They have a right to the kingdom even now."

Click here to read the full letter.


 

Early in 1548, Francis Borgia, duke of Gandía, made his profession in the Society of Jesus, but he did so in secret since he was not yet able to renounce his dukedom. Borgia's penchant for long hours of prayer and rigorous penance started to damage his health. Ignatius himself had also engaged in such excesses earlier in his life and knew well the toll they took on his body. In the following letter to Borgia, Ignatius recommends that he reduce the time spent on these exercises. Instead, Borgia would be better served by devoting some of his time to study and other activities, in all of which he should continue to seek God. 

"…For He sees and knows what is best for the person and, knowing all things, points out to him the way. To discover this way it is useful for us, with the help of His grace, to seek out and try a number of ways so as to tread the one made clearest to us, as the happiest and most blessed in this life and wholly directed and ordered to the other everlasting life—whereby we are encompassed and made one with these most holy gifts…a deepening of faith, of hope, of charity; spiritual joy and repose, tears, intense consolation, elevation of mind, divine impressions and illuminations…"

Click here to read the full letter.






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Loyola Retreat House
Situated on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, Loyola Retreat House is located 35 miles south of Washington, D.C., in southern Maryland.