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The Division of University Mission and Ministry

A Pocket Guide to Jesuit Education


St. Ignatius Statue

The first Jesuit college opened at Messina in Sicily in 1548, but the roots of Jesuit education reach back to an earlier event. In 1521, a young man training for a career at the Spanish court was wounded in a military engagement with the French. Ignatius Loyola was the youngest child in a family of feudal lords in the Basque region of northern Spain. He returned to his family's home to recover from his wounds. There, he passed the time reading a life of Christ and a book about the saints, which led him to reflect deeply about his own life and to experience a calling to abandon his career at court and to follow Jesus instead.

Calling himself a "pilgrim," he traveled across Spain to the ancient monastery at Montserrat where he dedicated his sword to Mary as a symbol of his new life. In the nearby town of Manresa, he spent months alone in prayer, reflection, and service of the needy, trying to learn the rudiments of the spiritual life on his own. In spite of his mistakes, he slowly learned how to distinguish between what led him in a good direction and what did not. He later said of this part of his life that God was teaching him the way a schoolmaster deals with a child. He discovered he had a talent for helping others find the freedom to respond to God's invitation in their lives. He began to keep notes about his own spiritual experiences and his conversations with those who came to him. These became the basis for a small book he later put together for those helping others to grow spiritually, which he called Spiritual Exercises.


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