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Lesson 1: Ignatius of Loyola – Child, Courtier, Military Man, Convert (1491 -1522)


Lesson Overview

In this lesson, the author takes the story of Ignatius’ life from his birth in 1491 through his initial conversion period and his pilgrimage to Montserrat in March 1522. The story of Ignatius' life is narrated from the book 'Alone and on Foot' by Brian Grogan, S. J.

Intended Lesson Outcomes

  • To learn about Ignatius’ early worldly life-style, and how that redirected to ‘serving God alone’
  • Gathering knowledge of the main features of Ignatius’ early life
  • To understand his stumbling on the dynamics of consolation and desolation, and how to find where God is in them

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In this lesson, you begin exploring the early life of Ignatius of Loyola – child, courtier, military, and convert. In the subsequent four Lessons (2-5) you are invited to read and journey through the life of Ignatius as a person fully committed to God, leading to know Ignatius as a saint.

Each chapter has a key phrase and a question for pondering. These can help you to appropriate the contents and to refer the material to yourself. For, as it is understood from the outset, Ignatius and his Spirituality is not so much about Ignatius as about yourself! When a particular phrase or question strikes you, use it as a mantra to ponder over. If jotting things down helps, as Ignatius did, then keep a notebook by your side and do so. Besides all, notice your response to Ignatius: do you find him odd, boring, interesting, fascinating or a bit challenging to know?

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The Early Life of Ignatius

“Next it dawned on him that the former ideas were of the world, the latter God-sent; finally, worldly thoughts began to lose their hold, while heavenly ones grew clearer and dearer.” 

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola

1. The Child:

Ignatius of Loyola, or Inigo Lopez de Onaz y Loyola as known in Spanish, was born in the castle of Loyola, in the Basque country of Spain, in 1491. Ignatius was the youngest of 13 children. Ignatius hardly knew his mother, as she died when he was a child, and his father died when he was 16. So, his elder brothers raised Ignatius.

2. The Courtier and Military Man:

At the age of sixteen Ignatius was sent to serve as a page to Juan Velazquez, the treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. As a member of the Velazquez household he was often in contact with the royal court. Like any youth of that time, he became addicted to gambling, dressing-up, swordplay, and also, got attracted to beautiful ladies. Ignatius, as a young man, always desired to win battles, and through that win the hearts of the most beautiful ladies, especially, the heart of his dream – a royal lady of the court. But, all his ambitious dreams were shattered, after he got wounded in the battle of Pamplona, in 1521.

3. The Convert:

In May 1521, the armies of Spain were fighting against the French to defend the fortress of the town of Pamplona, and Ignatius was part of that Spanish troops. The Spanish forces were outnumbered and the Spanish army chief decided to surrender, but Ignatius convinced all to continue the fight for the honor of Spain, if not for victory.

During that battle a French cannon ball hit Ignatius, injuring one leg and breaking the other. The French soldiers carried Ignatius to his home for convalescence, rather than to a prison. It was during that healing period, when Ignatius went through several hours of pain, prayers, reading, and reflections. His leg got set but did not heal, it grew worse and the doctors told him that he should prepare for death. But, on the feast day (29 June) of Saints Peter and Paul, a surprising turn took place, his leg started curing.

However, during that long period of recuperation at Loyola, Ignatius was terribly bored. In order to avoid boredom, he asked for some romantic novels to read, but there were none in the castle; instead, he was given a copy of the life of Christ and a book on the Saints. More he read and thought of the Saints and the life of Christ the more he experienced peace and satisfaction. Eventually, when having completely converted from his old desires and dreams of romance and worldly conquests, Ignatius left the castle of Loyola in March 1522, to seek and serve God alone in his life.

For a deeper understanding of the early life of Ignatius, please read Part one: Loyola (Chapters 1-15) of the book, Alone and on Foot: Ignatius of Loyola, by Brian Grogan, S.J.

This book will be used throughout this course. The relevant chapters for each lesson are available to download from the section “Lesson Materials” below. The book can also be purchased online from Veritas Publications (Ireland).

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How does Ignatius’ early life story help you to reflect on to ways in which God may be speaking to you to do something different/important for His greater service and glory?

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Optional Extra Resources



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Lesson Assignment

Write a page how Ignatius’ early life inspires you to reflect and move outside of your comfort zones.

Lesson Materials

Lesson 1 - Ignatius of Loyola - The Child, Military Man, Courtier, & Convert

Lesson 1: Ignatius of Loyola – Child, Courtier, Military Man, Convert (1491 -1522)

Alone and On Foot Chapters 1-15

Core material for this lesson, Part 1: Loyola. From the book Alone an On Foot (Chapters 1-15)

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End Lesson