A pilgrimage in the footsteps of Ignatius

By Paul V. Murphy, Ph.D.

A statue at the top of a hill on the Curia Generalizia property in Rome

St. Ignatius of Loyola frequently referred to himself as a pilgrim, one on a journey to discover God’s will in his life and the life of the newly founded Society of Jesus. His pilgrimage was geographical and spiritual. Ignatius traveled widely in his lifetime – to the Holy Land, Paris, and Rome – but he also undertook a journey that allowed him to be transformed inwardly from an egocentric courtier drunk with the vanities of late medieval chivalry to one who left that behind to open himself to the mysterious and loving God who called him to serve others in any way possible.

In late May, Fr. Robert Niehoff, S.J., Fr. Howard Gray, S.J., and I, led a small group of board members, vice presidents, and their families on an Ignatian pilgrimage to sites associated with the life of Ignatius in Spain and Rome. The trip’s purpose was to allow board members to enhance their awareness of Ignatius’ own sense of vocation and mission, especially as it pertains to the mission of John Carroll University. Our journey through the hills of Spain’s Basque country and the streets of Rome deepened our sense of what it means at Carroll to continue the path Ignatius began more than 450 years ago.

We began our travels in the Basque region of Spain, the birthplace of Ignatius. The Castle of Loyola, near the town of Azpeitia, left a significant impression on us. It was there Ignatius recovered from the wounds he suffered at the Battle of Pamplona in 1521 and began the process of conversion. Fr. Gray celebrated a moving liturgy of the Eucharist there.

“I understand so much more about the breadth and depth of the Jesuit experience, and I’m hoping that will translate to more confidence and energy as we look for ways to make John Carroll a better place. This trip inspired me. But what this trip revealed to me is that if we follow the example of St. Ignatius and the Jesuit way, our thoughts, words, habits, character, and destiny will be well cared for, and more importantly, we’ll be great examples to others as we live our lives.”
– Dave Short ’81, chairman, John Carroll University Board of Directors

Across the Basque region, we traveled to Javier, the birthplace of St. Francis Xavier, and then on to Montserrat and Manresa. Montserrat is the site of an ancient Benedictine monastery on a rugged mountainside not far from Barcelona. It was there Ignatius left aside his earlier life as a courtier and knight by ritually hanging his sword and dagger before the statue of the Black Madonna of Montserrat, La Moreneta. Nearby is the cave at Manresa where Ignatius spent many months discerning his call. He later wrote: “At this time, God was dealing with him in the same way a school teacher deals with a child, teaching him.” This suggests Ignatius’ conversion was not unlike many of our own – not a sudden lightbulb moment but a gradual process of growth and learning. Central to this was his sense of being loved by a God who called him to service.

For us, the experience of Spain was one of encountering the humble, rather quixotic origins of the Ignatian tradition of service and learning. In following Ignatius’ life story to Rome, we came to know the work Ignatius carried out at the heart of Catholic Christianity and the role played by the Society Jesus when it became a significant factor in temporal and ecclesiastical politics. At first glance, the monuments of Baroque Rome – the Jesuits’ mother church of the Gesu and the church of Sant’Ignazio among them – seem quite different from the cave at Manresa; yet they express, in a manner consistent with their times, the Ignatian desire to inflame the hearts of men and women with the love of God made manifest in the rich variety of human experience.

Basilica of St. Ignatius Loyola

While in Rome, we had a special opportunity to learn more about the work of the Society of Jesus today. Rev. Robert Geisinger, S.J., a Cleveland native who serves as the Procurator General of the Society – essentially the Society’s chief canon lawyer – received us at the Jesuit curia, or headquarters, and introduced us to the life and work of the Jesuit’s central administration. Here, Jesuits from throughout the world coordinate the many activities of the Jesuits worldwide. The visit to the curia included the opportunity to take in the splendid rooftop view of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica.

A fitting conclusion to this pilgrimage took place during a visit to the rooms of St. Ignatius at the Collegio Internazionale del Gesu. Ignatius lived in that apartment for most of the 16 years he served as Superior General of the Jesuits. It was there he edited the Spiritual Exercises, wrote the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, penned thousands of letters, and died in 1556. Fr. Niehoff celebrated a final Eucharist for us in the Church of the Gesu, giving thanks for a profound experience of companionship in mission. JCU

Paul V. Murphy, Ph.D., is the assistant to the president for mission and identity, professor of history, and the director of JCU’s Institute of Catholic Studies.

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