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Experiential Learning and Pilgrimage: Itinerary

The experiential-learning and pilgrimage portion of the Certificate in Jesuit Studies offers participants unique opportunities to critically examine the foundations of the Society of Jesus through travel, readings, group discussions, and personal reflection.


A view from the hilltop—above the Cardoner River in Manresa, Spain—where Ignatius of Loyola experienced “the eyes of his understanding” beginning to open, where he became aware of “many things, both spiritual things and matters of faith and learning,” and where “everything seemed new to him.”


The Certificate in Jesuit Studies begins with experiential learning and pilgrimage in Spain and Rome as a scholarly exploration of the spiritual and historical foundations of the Society of Jesus. Participants immerse themselves in the key places that became the organization’s roots and study a variety of written and visual primary and secondary sources as well as surviving material culture in order to examine how and why the early Jesuits formed and governed their new religious order.

The annotated itinerary below explains the sites visited each day as well as the day’s unique theme. Daily readings and group presentations foster thoughtful and informed reflections on each theme’s historical and spiritual importance. The photographs of the European sites were all taken by participants in the Certificate program.

Follow the Experiential Learning and Pilgrimage


Daily Itinerary  (tentative and subject to change)
June 19: Boston
June 20: Madrid, Arévalo, Burgos, and Loyola
June 21: Loyola
June 22: Loyola, Aranzazu, Pamplona, and Xavier
June 23: Xavier, Zaragoza, Verdú, and Montserrat
June 24: Montserrat and Manresa
June 25: Manresa
June 26: Barcelona
June 27: Rome
June 28:
June 29:
June 30: Rome
July 1: Rome and Boston



June 19 — Boston

We depart from Logan International Airport in Boston aboard an overnight flight to Madrid.


June 20 — Madrid, Arévalo, Burgos, and Loyola

With the travels and reading assignments for our first day in Europe, we examine the Iberian roots of some of the early Jesuits. The sites and texts prompt us to consider how both the region’s chivalric culture and those Catholics with Jewish ancestry (or conversos) influenced the foundation and early work of the Society of Jesus. Upon our arrival at the airport in Madrid, we head northwest for a visit to Arévalo where Ignatius of Loyola, beginning at the age of 15, served as a page for a major official to King Ferdinand. Our travels continue northeast to Burgos, the hometown of the most important converso in the Society of Jesus, Juan Alfonso de Polanco, who served as the order’s secretary and Ignatius’s collaborator in composing the Constitutions. In Burgos, we visit the Church of San Nicolás and view its ornate high altar that contains the tombs of Polanco’s parents and grandparents. Everyone is free to enjoy lunch in this charming medieval city. We arrive in Azpeitia (Loyola) in the late afternoon, with enough time to briefly explore the town before we dine as a group at the Arrupe Hotel, where we will spend the night.


June 21— Loyola

The theme for the day is Young Ignatius, and we begin with a guided tour of Ignatius’s childhood home. The tour culminates with a private visit to and Mass in the room where Ignatius experienced his spiritual conversion. Our readings include some of the very texts that Ignatius read leading up to his conversion as well as accounts of how Ignatius later assisted others through spiritual conversation. We also visit the basilica adjacent to the castle—together forming much of the Sanctuary of Loyola—as well as the humble residence of Francisco Garate. Venturing further into Azpeitia, we visit the church in which Ignatius was baptized as well as the church outside of which he preached and the hospital in which he lived and worked upon his return to the town years after his conversion and studies in Paris. We have lunch as a group in the hotel, and people are free to explore the city in the afternoon. We will have a seminar discussion in the evening and dine together before we spend a second night in Loyola.

June 22 — Loyola, Aranzazu, Pamplona, and Xavier

Conversion is the theme of our second day. We depart Azpeitia as Ignatius did in 1522, by stopping at the Hermitage of Olatz. Our second stop marks another spot Ignatius stopped on his pilgrimage, Our Lady of Aranzazu, a sanctuary resting along a mountain range. We arrive in Pamplona, visiting the site where Ignatius was wounded defending the city against the French in 1521. Everyone is free to have lunch. We conclude our travels upon arriving in Xavier (Navarre). We dine together and stay overnight in the Hotel Xabier, across the street from the castle in which Francis Xavier was born.


June 23 — Xavier, Zaragoza, Verdú, and Montserrat

For a day that begins at the birthplace of the first Jesuit missionary, we visit sites and read texts to consider the themes of pilgrimage. We start with a tour of the castle in which Xavier spent his youth. His former home is now a museum and contains the sculptured Crucifix, The Smiling Christ. Rejoining the traditional pilgrim route, we depart for Zaragoza and visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar. Tradition explains how on the riverbank here that Mary appeared to St. James, and the basilica’s small, wooden Our Lady of Pilar has been a regular stopping point for pilgrims, both now and during Ignatius’s life. Everyone is free for lunch in Aragón’s capital city. Our next stop is the small town of Verdú, the birthplace of Peter Claver. We end the day driving up the winding road along the jagged cliffs of Montserrat (meaning in Catalan “serrated mountain”), where we will dine as a group. We stay the night at the Hotel Abat Cisneros and have the luxury to visit Our Lady of Montserrat in the abbey next door. Also known as the Black Madonna, for its distinct color, the small medieval statue has been venerated by pilgrims, including Ignatius, for centuries.  


June 24 — Montserrat and Manresa

The Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey stands where Ignatius made a general confession and cast off his previous identity before setting off for Manresa to discover a new one. Our day’s readings examine the process of such spiritual development. We are free to hike the trails of Montserrat, to enjoy its views of Barcelona and the coast in the distance, and to have lunch before we drive back down the mountain for Manresa. We dine as a group and spend the night at the Jesuit Retreat House. The facility is located atop the cave where Ignatius reportedly began writing his Spiritual Exercises. We may visit the cave for personal reflection and meditation the evening as we wish.


June 25 — Manresa

Because of Manresa’s historical significance as the spiritual birthplace of the Society of Jesus, we spend the entire day in the city. There are several sites related to Ignatius’s time in Manresa, and we divide the day between guided group tours and individual time to explore. The day’s reading provides context for the various sites, including the Santa María de Manresa (the Gothic basilica in which Ignatius prayed upon arriving in town on March 25, 1522), the Hospital of Santa Lucía (where, according to his biographers, he experienced eight days of spiritual ecstasy), and other locations where Ignatius lived, prayed, and encountered the people of Manresa. As a group, we walk to the overlook and the spot where—within sight of the Cardoner River, the basilica, and Montserrat’s cliffs—Ignatius experienced a spiritual enlightenment. “It was as if,” his so-called autobiography notes, “he were a new man with a new intellect.” In the late afternoon, we have a group discussion to reflect on the trip thus far and to consider the spiritual and historical importance of Manresa for Ignatius and for the Society of Jesus. We dine together and spend a second night at the retreat house.


June 26 — Barcelona

Our seventh day of travel takes us to Barcelona. Ignatius departed this Mediterranean port for Jerusalem in 1523, driven by a desire to see the places of Jesus in the Holy Land. And, one year later, it was to Barcelona that Ignatius, chastened by his experiences in the Holy Land, returned in order to begin his formal education. We visit the Santa Maria del Mar, the Gothic church in which Ignatius the student begged. A plaque marks where he regularly sat to make appeals. We walk down Las Ramblas to find a casual lunch on our own. We later visit another church—the Sagrat Cor (Sacred Heart), currently run by Jesuits—that displays what is purported to be the sword Ignatius left behind when he made his general confession at Montserrat. Our busy day in Barcelona closes with a guided tour of the famous basilica designed by Antoni Gaudí, La Sagrada Familia. Everyone is free to enjoy dinner in the city and see additional sites in the evening. We spend the night in Barcelona.


June 27 — Rome

Our departure from Barcelona is early, as we fly over the Mediterranean to Rome. To complement the day’s sites, our readings explain how the first Jesuits defined (and redefined) what became the Society of Jesus. ​Our first stop is at La Storta, where Jesus appeared to Ignatius in a vision, saying, “I will be propitious to you in Rome.” We will celebrate Mass in a chapel that marks the spot of this encounter and, afterwards, are free to have lunch in the area. We will then have a private tour of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, where six Jesuits professed a solemn vow of obedience to their newly elected superior general (Ignatius) in 1541. Afterwards, we travel to Santa Maria Maggiore. It was in this basilica in 1538 that Ignatius, at the age of 47, celebrated his first Mass at the relics of Jesus’s crib. We dine together in Rome’s Jewish ghetto, a reminder of the early Jesuits’ work with Jewish converts. We spend the night and the next two just around the corner from the Pantheon, a short walk across the Tiber from St. Peter’s Basilica.


June 28 — Rome

Our second day in the Eternal City allows us to visit sites and read texts on how the early Jesuits structured and governed their new religious order. We gather to visit the Ignatian rooms at the Gesù Jesuit residence. These are the rooms in which Ignatius lived, organized the global operations of the Society of Jesus, and died. It is also where the Jesuits selected Diego Laínez to succeed him as their second superior general. We then have a guided tour of the Church of the Gesù. The Jesuits’ mother church, begun in 1568, contains the remains of the order’s two Basque superiors general (Ignatius and Pedro Arrupe) as well as Xavier’s right arm. Everyone is free to enjoy lunch and explore some of Rome before we regroup for a seminar discussion led by representatives of the Jesuit headquarters. We have dinner together near Piazza Campo dè Fiori.


​June 29 — Rome

We consider the experiences of the young men in the first years of the Society of Jesus on our third day in Rome. In the morning, we are fortunate to have tickets for all of us to attend the Pallium Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s. There is free time to enjoy other sites and have lunch. We regroup to visit the Collegio Romano, the most important school founded by the Jesuits (1551), just three years after they opened their first school in Messina, Italy. We continue for a private tour of the nearby Gonzaga rooms. It was here that young Jesuits, such as Aloysius Gonzaga and John Berchmans, lived and studied after they entered the new religious order. We have a guided tour of the Church of Sant’Ignazio. The ornate, baroque church—dedicated in honor the order’s founder—was originally constructed to serve the college’s chapel. And we also visit Sant’Andrea al Quirinale. The church, designed by the famous Italian artist Gianlorenzo Bernini, stands adjacent to the first Jesuit novitiate, which operated from 1566 until the order’s suppression in 1773. Many famous Jesuits were novices there, including Stanisław Kostka, whose tomb we view. We are free to enjoy dinner wherever we wish in the city.


​June 30 — Rome

The theme for our last day in Rome is the Ignatian legacy following his death in 1556. The day begins with a trip outside of Rome to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence. There, we will have a personal tour of the telescope domes atop the Apostolic Palace and consider the roots of the Jesuits’ scientific contributions. Pope Leo XIII established the Vatican Observatory in 1891 (a demonstration that “the Church and her Pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether human or divine”). Jesuits, though, have been involved in scientific inquiry on behalf of the pope dating back to the studying the proposed reforms to the calendar during the pontificate of Gregory XIII in the 1580s. There will be time to briefly explore the town and to have lunch before returning to Rome. We will visit the Jesuit Curia for an exclusive trip to the Jesuit archives. We close our day together with a final dinner in Europe.

July 1 — Rome and Boston

After enjoying some last minutes in the city, we depart Rome in the early afternoon for our return to Boston. We arrive in Massachusetts in time to rest before the first day of coursework at Boston College on July 3 and the Fourth of July.