Ignatius of Loyola was born the youngest of 13 Children into a Spanish noble family in 1491. He was baptized Inigo Lopez de Loyola but would change his name to Ignatius later in life. As a boy he was sent to be a page at the royal court, where he lived on the desire to someday become a great soldier and marry a beautiful lady. He was a slight, handsome high-spirited boy with a Spaniard's pride, and had an abundance of physical courage and an ardent passion for glory. Like most young men of his class, he was taught little more than how to be a good soldier and become an accomplished horseman and courtier. His military training, inculcated in the soldierly virtues of discipline, obedience and prudence, probably exerted some influence on the form and general tone of the society he founded.

When he was 25 he enlisted under a kinsman, the Duke of Najera, saw service in border warfare against the French in northern Castile and Navarre, and won a captaincy. The event that utterly changed the course of his life was the defense of the fortress of Pampeluna, the capital of Navarre. During this hotly contested battle, which Inigo led, he showed great bravery against heavy odds, but when he was hit by a cannonball that broke his right shin, the Spanish capitulated. The French looked after their young prisoner's wounds and eventually returned him in a litter to his father's castle some 50 miles away. The shattered bone, which was badly set, needed to be rebroken. This was a crude operation which left the end of a bone protruding. For the rest of his life, his right leg was always shorter than the left.

While confined to his bed, he requested chivalric romances, his favorite reading. However none were to be found in the castle. Instead his sister-in-law gave him The Golden Legend, a collection of stories of the saints, and a book on the Life of Christ. He began to read with little interest but gradually became immersed and so moved that he spent entire days reading and rereading these books.

He had fallen in love with a certain lady of the court, and had retained his strong feeling for knightly deeds. But he gradually came to realize the vanity of worldly passions and his dependence on things of the spirit. He observed that the thoughts which came from God filled him with peace and tranquility, while the others, despite bringing brief delight, left his heart heavy. This knowledge, as he would eventually write in the Spiritual Exercises, helps one to distinguish the spirit of God from that of the world. Towards the end of his convalescence he reached the point that he decided to fight for victory on the battlefield of the Lord, and achieve glory as the saints had done.

He began to discipline his body rising at midnight to spend hours mourning for his sins. How grave these sins may have been we do not know, but as a young soldier he may well have shared in the loose and careless life around him. As his condition began to improve, he went on pilgrimage (always the great resource of persons in trouble or in a state of indecision) to Our Lady of Montserrat, a shrine in the mountains above Barcelona.

One episode of this journey shows that his understanding of Catholicism was still far from perfect. He fell in with a Moorish horseman and as they travelled, they talked of their respective faiths. When the Muslim slighted the Virgin Mary, Inigo was furious. After the two had angrily separated at a certain crossroad, Inigo let the mule follow its own bent: if it took the road towards Montserrat he would forget the Moor: if it followed after him, he would fight and if he could, kill the man. The Mule providentially took the road that led to the shrine. On arrival, Inigo shed his affluent attire, left his sword at the altar, put on a pilgrim's sackcloth, and finally equipped himself with a staff and gourd.

After a full confession, he took a vow to lead a life of penance and devotion to God. He met a holy man, Inez Pascual, who became his lifelong friend. Inigo then retired to a cave in the small town of Manresa, a few miles away to dedicate himself to prayer and penance. He lived in the cave on alms, for most of the year 1522.

As often happens, spiritual exaltation can be followed by trials of doubt and fear, and the young Inigo was not excepted. Depressed and sad, Inigo was at times tempted to suicide. He began writing down his inner experiences and insights and these notes slowly developed into his famous book, Spiritual Exercises. After some length of time, his peace of mind was fully restored and he was overflowing with joy. From this experience came the wisdom that helped him to understand and cure other men's troubled consciences. Years later he told his successor in the Society of Jesus, Father Laynez, that he learned more about divine mysteries during one hour of prayer at Manresa than all the doctors of the schools could ever have taught him in a lifetime.

In February 1523 He journeyed to the Holy Land to labour and preach. His zeal was so conspicuous as he visited the scenes of Christ's life, that the Franciscan Guardian of the Holy Places ordered him to depart, lest he antagonize the fanatical Turks and be kidnapped and held for ransom. He returned to Spain feeling the need for more education, in particular Latin, since all "serious" works were still written in the language of Rome. However at age 33, he found the study of Latin difficult. His life as a soldier as well as his more recent period of retirement had prepared him poorly for such an undertaking, however he bore the taunts of his school fellows with good humor. After two years he went to a university near Madrid, living in a hospice for poor students, and begging for his food.

On the advice of the Archbishop of Toledo he went to the University of Salamanca where he was suspected of harboring dangerous ideas and was imprisoned. Ignatius looked on these sufferings as trials by which God was sanctifying his soul and spoke no word against his persecutors. After recovering his liberty he resolved to leave Spain.

In the middle of winter, he traveled on foot to Paris where he studied at the college of Montigu and later at the College of St Barbara where he perfected himself in Latin. Here he persuaded a few of his fellow students, most of them much younger than himself, to spend Sundays and holy days with him in prayer and also to engage in good works on behalf of others. Six other students of theology were regularly associating themselves with him in what he called his Spiritual Exercises. In 1535 his small group made a solemn vow of perpetual poverty and chastity, and as soon their studies were completed to offer themselves to the Pope to be used as he saw fit. They solemnly took these vows in a chapel in Montmartre on the feast of the Assumption in Aug 1534. Ignatius was the last to receive Holy Orders. He deferred the step until he spent over a year in preparation. He celebrated his first Mass in Rome in the church Santa Maria in Dec 1538 more than 15 years after his conversion.