Ignatius Loyola – Raising the Bar on Tradition

In the midst of reformers cutting ties with the established church, Ignatius Loyola was determined to reform the Catholic Church while remaining under absolute allegiance to papal authority.

Loyola developed a 30 day plan toward a deeper spiritual life titled Spiritual Exercises.  This material derived from Loyola’s monastic pursuits and ecstatic vision can be used as a 30 day retreat under the guidance of a director or indefinitely for an hour or two a day by individuals.

Reforming spiritual maturity in individuals was the starting point for Loyola, but he soon set his sites at developing a corporate movement within the Catholicism.  Still relatively unknown, he fought an uphill battle to gain the pope’s attention and accreditation for the “Society of Jesus,” later called Jesuits.

According to Loyola’s program, it took 12 years to produce a full blown Jesuit!

  • Year 1-2: The traditional novitiate – a time of soul searching before making a monastic vow.
  • Year 3: General studies.
  • Year 4-6: Philosophy studies with a little grammar to boot. 
  • Year 7-10: Theological studies concluding with ordination as priests.
  • Year 11: Preaching and practicing theology, and of course more studies.
  • Year 12: “Proving Yourself”

Loyola’s strategy for change was clear: dedicate rigorous attention to developing top notch spiritual leaders.  Despite the lofty demands, not to mention the fact that you would not be accepted in the first place if you were not the brightest and strongest, Loyola raised up 1,000 Jesuits and 100 colleges/seminaries by his final year.  In his lifetime he saw the Jesuits spread to and convert thousands in Brazil, Ethiopia, the Congo, India, Indonesia, Japan, and especially the “New World.”  The Jesuits raised the standards of Catholic piety and by so doing matched the Protestant appeal.

Although mischief and blemishes are often tallied up on the Jesuit record due to papal allegiance, Loyola’s story is a reminder that cracks in the establishment can be patched and revived.  Even more so than this, Loyola’s story is a powerful example of rigorous leadership development as avenue for change.


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