Born Iñigo de Loyola y Onaz in 1491 in Northern Spain, to the noble family of the region, Ignatius was the youngest of several children. Since he would inherit none of the family fortune, he was hired out to the court of Navarre to serve the king as a soldier and courtier and trained in the art of war and courtly chivalry.
In 1521, French forces crossed into Spain. While fighting for the king in defending the citadel at Pamplona, Iñigo's leg was smashed by a cannonball. First attempts to set the leg were clumsy and inefficient, but, motivated by vanity, he chose to have the leg re-broken and set again twice. Thereafter, he walked with a pronounced limp.
During a long convalescence, he had little to distract him other than a few romantic novels and two religious books, The Imitation of Christ, and The Golden Legend of the the Saints. He felt changed as he read. Romantic tales of chivalry and courtly life filled him with excitement, but he felt no lasting satisfaction or interest. However, reading the religious books, he was charged with energy at the exploits of the saints, a feeling that persisted.
Having recovered from his injury, Iñigo went on a pilgrimage to the monastery at Montserrat. Here he gave himself to prayer, fasting, and other pious works. Finally, he made up his mind to pursue a new life of service to God, a resolution symbolized by placing his sword at the feet of the famous statue of Our Lady of Montserrat.
Iñigo then moved to Manresa, where he lived in a cave for two years, praying and begging for alms. Through his deepening spiritual experiences, he received extraordinary insights into the nature of God, recording these experiences and shaping them so that others could share in them. This collection of spiritual activities became known as The Spiritual Exercises.
In his desire to serve God, Iñigo recognized his need for more education, a need fulfilled at the University of Paris, where he befriended other students with whom he shared the Spiritual Exercises. Several joined him in the formation of a band of priests dedicated to the service of the Church.
This group went to Rome and placed themselves at the disposal of Pope Paul III. The companions became known as the Companions of Jesus (Societas Jesu - Society of Jesus), Paul confirming the Society as a religious order of the Catholic Church in 1542.
Ignatius then spent his time directing the work of the Society, composing the Constitutions that would govern the life of the fledgling order, and putting the finishing touches to the Spiritual Exercises. At the time of his death in 1556, the Society of Jesus comprised over 1000 members, operating in 20 different countries in the Old and New Worlds.
The aim of Jesuit education was then articulated when Ignatius wrote the Constitutions for the Society of Jesus in 1540.