Saint Ignatius of Loyola: A Convert’s Story

May 5, 2021 in Books, Featured News, News, The Ignatian Year

In Saint Ignatius of Loyola: A Convert’s Story (Messenger Publications), Patrick Corkery SJ brings the warm side of Ignatius to life on the 500th anniversary of his conversion. He takes the reader step by step through the early life of Ignatius, from 1521-1528, and includes guided reflections on the major events as well as Ignatian lessons for today. It is the first book by the Jesuit scholastic from Cork.

The Irish Jesuit notes that to many, Ignatius is the ‘soldier saint’, the disciplined founder of the Society of Jesus. Yet, he was also a man of great warmth. After his death he was remembered not so much as a swashbuckler but as a small man with a constant smile.

Corkery says:

My Novice Master used to tell the following story about St Ignatius: when investigations were taking place to canonize him, a beggar in Rome was consulted. The man was most likely not well known to the great and good within Roman Society but was someone that Ignatius had made an impression upon, and he described Ignatius as ‘the small Spaniard with a limp, who smiled a lot.’ I think there is something to this which might be missed.

So much about Ignatius comes from the great and the good of society, and that casts him in a particular light. In the eyes of the beggar he saw something else and I’m sure how Ignatius treated him rings true to Jesus’s comment in Matthew 25:40: ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me.’

Tracing his journey from the Battle of Pamplona through convalescence in Loyola and on to his spiritual year in Manresa, Corkery emphasises Ignatius’s flaws, his failings and his spiritual transformation. In Ignatius, Corkery finds – 500 years on – a truly modern figure: a man who became a spiritual navigator of ego and of ambition, of joy and of despair, and who learned to listen in a time bursting with new ideas, new technologies and new worlds.

Regarding the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’s conversion, Corkery says:

“This is obviously an important anniversary for the Society. While we regularly think about Ignatius and all he achieved, it was his accident which changed his life. Had he not been wounded at Pamplona, it is unlikely he would have ended up where he did. I think at a time when people are more open to change and alter the course of their life, it is a good time for us to collectively look at how this event altered Ignatius’s life.

We can talk about change and its effects, but I think until we channel that change into something positive then we may just become adrift. I hope that anyone looking at Ignatius’s conversion might see it in this light and ultimately come to value a closer relationship with God. This is the relationship that changes things for the better.”

Corkery decided to cover quite a short period in Ignatius’s life. He says:

I’ve only focused on the time he spent from Pamplona until he went to Paris. I think to move past this one could get bogged down in the Society’s founding and lose track of Ignatius’s story. As time moves on, Ignatius’s story becomes a shared one.

For lots of us conversion is an individual experience, so I think it is relevant to give attention to the uniqueness of that process. I’ve also included reflections in each chapter, which I hope help the reader to unpack what they’ve read. I know myself this kind of reflection can be helpful and add to the experience.

Referring to the writing process, Corkery says:

Fr Donal Neary from the Messenger asked me to write the book back in August. I said yes, but I don’t recall thinking what this might involve. When I began writing, I spoke to one of my community, Fr Dermot Mansfield, who wrote an excellent book on Cardinal Newman. His book is much longer than mine, and when I asked him about the process, he said it was an easy book to write, as he and Newman had been friends for so long. Dermot is a great devotee of Newman and thus had this to draw upon.

I’ve known Ignatius since I was about 12 or 13. I recall reading about him in the Junior Cert History course and was fascinated by him even then. That interest persisted and led me in the Jesuits later in life. When I began to write, it came easily enough as I knew the subject pretty well, and it helped that I like and admire him. In some way, the pandemic makes it easier to write. It gave me a lot of time where I might have been doing other things. I suppose I’m oddly grateful to the times we find ourselves in.

On a personal note, Corkery is surprised to find himself a published author as he never imagined that he would actually write a book. He says:

I may have joked about it, but I never thought I would follow through. I recall my Fifth Class teacher telling me after I recounted a Niall Tóibín joke: ‘Corkery, you’ll write a book.’ Maybe she was more prophetic than I had imagined at that time.

Patrick Corkery SJ is a member of the Society of Jesus. Originally from County Cork, he has spent time since 2015 in the United Kingdom and the United States studying to become a Jesuit priest.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola: A Convert’s Story is published by Messenger Publications and is priced at €4.95.