Inigo Lopez de Loyola, who later took the name Ignatius, was born in 1491. He was the youngest son of a nobleman of the mountainous Basque region of northern Spain. Trained in the courtly manner of the time at the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, he dreamed of the glories of knighthood and wore his sword and breastplate with a proud arrogance.
In 1521 in an attempt to defend the Spanish border fortress of Pamplona against the French artillery, Ignatius' right leg was shattered by a cannon ball. His French captors, impressed by his courage, carried him on a litter across Spain to his family home at Loyola where he began a long period of convalescence.
During that time, he read a Life of Christ and Lives of the Saints, the only reading material readily available. These books and the isolation of the recovery period brought about a deep conversion. Ignatius began to pray. Heu fasted, did penance, works of charity and dedicated himself to God.
When Ignatius’ leg was sufficiently healed, he made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of our Lady of Montserrat and then visited the medieval town of Manresa. It was here that he experienced the presence of God in a profoundly mystical way. These prayerful experiences became the foundation of the Spiritual Exercises.
After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Ignatius decided to study for the priesthood. His studies began in Spain and ended in Paris. It was in Paris that he met several companions who would later form themselves into the Society of Jesus. Ignatius directed this small band of friends in prayer and meditation according to his Spiritual Exercises. After their ordination to the priesthood this small band of companions offered themselves in service to Pope Paul III. In 1540, Paul III approved the Institute of the Society of Jesus. Ignatius was elected General Superior and served in that post until his death in 1556 at the age of 65.