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Library Exhibits: JESUIT ANNIVERSARIES 2006


The year 2006 marks three significant anniversaries of the Society of Jesus. The first is the 450th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, on July 31, 1556. The second is the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis Xavier in Navarre on April 7, 1506, and the third is also the 500th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Peter Faber (Pierre Favre) in Savoy on April 13, 1506. These three future Jesuits first met and shared a room during their studies in the University of Paris.


Yearbook of the Society of Jesus, 2006
courtesy of the Curia Generalizia of the Society of Jesus in Rome

St. Ignatius Loyola was born in 1491 in the Basque country of Spain the youngest of 13 children. After a period serving in the courtly life of Castile, he found himself at the age of 30 an officer defending the town of Pamplona against the French. During the battle he suffered a wound and a broken leg and was sent home to the castle of Loyola to recuperate. It was during this time of recuperation that he experienced a conversion which changed the direction of his life from romantic desires and worldly attainments to desire to serve God generously. After a stay of 10 months in the town of Manresa where he developed the idea of the Spiritual Exercises, he made a trip to the Holy Land as a pilgrim to the places made sacred by Jesus Christ. From there he returned to Europe, and realizing the need to prepare for the priesthood, he entered the University of Paris. He shared a room with Francis Xavier and Peter Faber and began to think of forming a group of companions to serve God. Other students joined him and they went to Rome and presented themselves to the Pope. On September 27, 1540, Pope Paul III gave formal approval of this new order and the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was founded. Thereafter Ignatius, elected Superior General of the order, spent the rest of his life in Rome guiding the new order which grew rapidly. In 1556 his health began to deteriorate, but his doctors did not think that he was in any danger. They turned their attention to other Jesuits who were sick. But Ignatius knew he was seriously ill and asked one of his confreres to go to the Pope and ask for his prayers. The priest asked if he could put it off for a day, and Ignatius agreed, but he died that night, July 31, 1556 at the age of 65. He was canonized a saint in 1622, along with Francis Xavier. At the time of his death there were already about 1000 Jesuits in the Society of Jesus.


Yearbook of the Society of Jesus, 2006
courtesy of the Curia Generalizia of the Society of Jesus in Rome

St. Francis Xavier (Francisco de Jaso y Azpilcueta) was born in the family castle in the kingdom of Navarre (Spain) in 1506. At the age of 19 he went to study at the University of Paris, where he met St. Ignatius Loyola, also a student. He became one of the first companions of St. Ignatius and joined the small group who took their first vows August 15, 1534 at Montmartre. Later he took the formal vows of the Society of Jesus in 1541 and took leave of his companions for the East Indies, never to see them again. There he began his missionary work of ten years in Asia. Arriving in Goa, India, he took up the work of preaching and teaching which was to take him to many different places in Asia (Malabar, Ceylon, the Moluccas, the Spice Islands) where he baptized thousands of converts.

In 1549 he traveled to Japan and began a two year apostolate in that country. There he had heard much of the kingdom of China and was drawn to that country to expand his missionary work. After much difficulty he finally reached the Island of Sancian (Shangchuan), off the coast of China, but before he could enter that country he died there from exposure and hunger on December 3, 1552 at 46 years of age. His body was returned to Goa where it is still preserved in the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Francis was canonized in 1622 along with Ignatius Loyola. And in 1927 he was designated Patron of all Missions by Pope Pius XI.


Yearbook of the Society of Jesus, 2006
courtesy of the Curia Generalizia of the Society of Jesus in Rome

Blessed Peter Faber (Pierre Favre), one of the first companions of St. Ignatius, was born April 13, 1506 at Villaret, Savoy. As a child he tended his father’s sheep during the week, and on Sunday taught catechism to other children. He had a deep desire to study and so his parents sent him to the University of Paris in 1515. There he shared the lodgings of a student from Navarre, Francis Xavier. Later they were joined by Ignatius Loyola. These three scholars plus 4 others formed the Company of Jesus (Jesuits) and made their first vows at Montmartre on August 15, 1534, later to be formalized by the approval of Pope Paul III, in 1540. These first Jesuits placed themselves at the disposition of the Pope, who chose Peter Faber to teach in the Roman college of the Sapienza. Then he was sent to Germany to attend the Diet of Worms conversations between the Catholics and Protestants. He then proceeded to other cities in Germany to work for the reform of the Church.

Slowly his efforts inspired many figures to return to the practice of their Catholic faith. It was at this time that he helped St. Peter Canisius to decide his vocation to the Jesuits. Next he went to Spain where he helped to strengthen the faith of St. Francis Borgia who later became the third Superior General of the Jesuits. Finally in 1546 he was called by Pope Paul III to attend the Council of Trent as his theologian. Peter was worn out by all of his labors and travel. The voyage to Trent, made mostly on foot in the summer heat, was too much for him. At the age of 40 he died before making it to the council. He was beatified in 1872.

He was known for his gentleness of manner. In an age of controversy and polarization, he used a conciliatory tone in conversations with the Protestants. He was very successful in this, but his tone was not adopted by his contemporaries. His advice to others who were opposing the Protestants was: “Win their good will and love by friendly dialogue …taking care to avoid all controversial subjects that lead to bickering and mutual recrimination.” This advice was finally taken in our own time when the Second Vatican Council officially embraced the Ecumenical Movement.

Henry Bertels, S.J.
Rare Book Cataloger

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