I have often wondered what those two young University of Paris students, Peter Faber, and Francis Xavier, were thinking when this much older man Inigo limped into their room at the College of Sainte-Barbe in October 1529. Both 23-year-old students, they were some 15 years younger than this stranger who delighted in initiating conversations about God with all manner of people. Yet Faber and Xavier were entirely different characters. Faber was a seriously quiet and capable scholar whom the Master of the College had asked to tutor Inigo in the Classics. Xavier, on the other hand was also a competent student, but preferred to enjoy the high life of a university student as a partygoer, an athlete and high jumper.
Not surprisingly, Faber the serious scholar soon fell under Inigo’s influence, whereas Francis was not particularly impressed with the new arrival, tending at the outset to look down on him and treat him as a lower-class citizen. Perhaps this was because Francis was a man of the world and disinterested in Inigo’s spiritual conversation? Or, as some writers have speculated, Xavier’s initial opposition to Ignatius might have stemmed from the fact that Ignatius had fought on opposite sides to Xavier’s brothers in a war which had nearly brought ruin to the Xavier family.
Eventually both Faber and Xavier fell under Inigo’s spell and were to write with great gratitude about the influence the older man had on their lives. Faber wrote in his spiritual diary: “For after Providence had decreed that I was to be the instructor of that holy man, we conversed at first about secular matters, then about spiritual things. Then followed a life in common in which we two shared the same room, the same table, and the same purse. As time passed, he became my master in spiritual things….”
In 1535 Xavier wrote of Ignatius in a letter to his brother: “I give you my word of honour through this letter that I shall never be able to repay the great debt which I owe him, both for his having frequently assisted me in my needs with money and friends, and for having been the reason why I abandoned some evil companions…”. Clearly Ignatius was an ‘influencer’ in today’s parlance, and it speaks volumes for Francis’ humility and Ignatius’ charisma that the young man learned slowly to respect and ultimately admire the older man who had been his family’s enemy.
Ignatius’ time in Paris was both a critically important period for the formation of the future Society of Jesus and the flowering of his Spiritual Exercises as its centrepiece. Paris was the cradle of the Society. Early on Ignatius gave the Exercises to some learned Professors, and later when he thought they were ready, to those special “friends in the Lord” who came to join him in Paris – a group numbering seven in 1534, who vowed strict poverty in imitation of Jesus in the Chapel of St. Denis at Montmartre on the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption.
Three more companions were to join them and form the backbone of ten formally instituted as the Society of Jesus by Pope Paul III in 1540. Before illness forced him to leave Paris in 1535 for the native Basque climate of home, Ignatius had trained some of his companions like Faber and Xavier to give the Exercises to others. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises had now taken on the shape of a manual for other directors, illustrating why they have been such a powerful legacy for the Church and the world ever since.
Thank you to Chris Gleeson SJ for this contribution to the Erromeria pilgrimage. In 2022 Chris celebrates his 60th year as a Jesuit, during which time he has been involved in the Australian Jesuit schools, the Ignatian Spirituality ministry and Jesuit Communications. He hopes this year to publish his Editorials for the past 20 years written for Madonna Magazine.