Ignatius of Loyola and six other students founded a group they called “The Company of Jesus” at Paris University on August 15th 1534. Ignatius had gone to the university because he had tried to preach on his own, but had come under scrutiny by the Inquisition. The only fault they found in him was his lack of education. It might have been this lesson that helped to make education a central focus of their later work.
They went to Pope Paul II to gain approval, which they received. The group eventually became “The Society of Jesus,” or as it is known, the Jesuits. They wanted to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but were prevented from doing so by war. They concentrated on preaching and helping the poor. The group became an official order and Ignatius, as the head of the order, sent them throughout Europe to found schools. They also sent missionaries around the globe to preach the Gospel to those who had not heard it.
After a few years they added to their mission to try and stop the wave of Protestantism that had sprung up. The Jesuits saw the need to reform the Catholic Church, but saw the individual as key to achieving that end. They were vigilant against corruption, and this had made their popularity with pope and others vary considerably. These efforts helped to win back converts to Catholicism, especially in Poland and Lithuania. Jesuits became important members of Royal courts and most Catholic kings had a Jesuit confessor.
The school network was a resounding success. They had a reputation as being some of the best colleges for the time. They offered an education that was wider in scope than most of the other colleges. Today there are Jesuit schools in over a hundred countries.
Jesuits have been controversial at times. They have been accused of having too much power, especially when they were confessors to kings, and have even been outlawed by the pope for a few years. The Jesuits have survived and have had a positive influence on the Catholic Church overall.
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