The Inspiration of Ignatius Loyola in Francis Xavier’s Vision for South Asia

Prof. George Menachery 


emphasis on the  Indian Mission

When Ignatius of Loyola, San Ignacio de Loyola, (Ignaci, Inas, Inasu in Tamil and Malayalam) died, on 31 July 1556, there were about 1,000 Jesuits in all divided into 12 administrative units, called provinces, of which only two were outside Western Europe: one in South America in Brazil and one in South Asia in India. “Loyola was, in his last years, much occupied with Germany and India, to which he sent his famous followers Peter Canisius and Francis Xavier.” 1 These facts indicate the importance South Asia in general and  India in particular occupied in Loyola’s thoughts on and schemes for the Catholic Church, which were largely influenced by the Reformation - Counter - Reformation atmosphere in which the Church found itself at that particular juncture in history. In carrying forward and fulfilling Loyola’s vision and plan for South Asia his society’s patron Jesus, and his beloved companion Xavier appear to have moved together with him from the very beginning as is clear from the innumerable ‘accidents’ and ‘coincidences’ that brought all three together and the Papal, Royal, and Societal decisions which finally ended in Ignatius sending Francis to India. It is not possible, and not really necessary, at least in this assembly, to dwell at length on the peculiar circumstances of the conversion of Ignatius2, the conversion of Francis3, the solemn filing of the companions to the holy “High Place,” the small and deserted chapel of St. Denis, on Montmartre (“Mont des Martyrs”) in Paris on that other fateful 15th of August, and the formation and naming of the Society4, and of the final selection of Xavier for India and his departure thereto5 to illustrate this  close nexus which inspired and fulfilled the Society’s South Asia dream.6 Here one is again forced to admit how almost all remarkable achievements result from the vision and committed hard work of a human combined with convenient ‘accidents’ which for the faithful are the interventions of Mircea Eliade’s ‘the other’.7    

Xavier and South Asia

TIME magazine asked recently : “St. Francis Xavier was a failure, so why do millions of believers flock to see his remains in Goa?” The answer to that question could be found in the title itself of the magazine’s ”‘Religion” section of the same issue8 which described the saint as ” Missionary, Explorer, Hero”. Xavier is Browning’s hero who aims at a millionand misses by a unit and is condemned as a failure; while another aims at just a hundred,  achieves it and is acclaimed by the world a ‘success’.9

All Christian missionary activities after Xavier, especially in India, it has often been said, have been,  to a greater or lesser degree, inspired by and modelled after his example. The success of mission in South Asia in general and India in particular - Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, or other, it has been said,  has progressed in proportion to the extend to which his precepts and personal example have been adhered to. 

Xavier’s Vision10

This naturally leads one to an examination of Xavier’s vision for South Asia and here it will be found that he was in the main translating Loyola’s  blue print for mission, leaving however his own indelible personal stamp on all he touched.

And what is interesting is that one could trace many similarities in the life and work of the two persons who have been instrumental in that later day “conversion” of India, Ignatius and Francis, in their intentions, approaches, and methodology.

In fact that “conversion” story is all about what Ignatius wanted his society to attempt in general, and for Asia in particular and how Francis converted Loyola’s “dreams into thoughts and those thoughts into actions” 11.

As Felix Raj recalls: “The Indian mission of the Jesuits lies at the very origin of their Order. It is to India that Ignatius of Loyola, the Founder of the Society of Jesus, sent his greatest son, Francis Xavier, and to him and his collaborators, that he gave that inspiration and those directives, which became the basis of the Jesuit mission and method.”12  

Place of Education and Training in Ignatius’ and Xavier’s Scheme of Things

Ignatius Loyola throughout his post-military life gave the greatest emphasis to education. In building up a corps of spiritual soldiers and missionaries he gave primary importance to three-fold education: education for oneself, education to form a batallion of missionaries and priests, and education to train the youth - all “for the Greater Glory of God”  i.e. the Jesuit Motto: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. The same enthusiasm and belief in the efficacy of education is visible in all the activities of Francis Xavier in the East.  

Education for Oneself

Ignatius “ finally decided to study for a time in order to be able to help souls” (Autobiography,50). He “describes his decision to acquire as good an education as the circumstances permitted. He probably could have reached the priesthood in a few years. He  chose to defer this goal for more than 12 years and to undergo the drudgery of the classroom at an age when most men have long since finished their training. Perhaps his military career had taught him the value of careful preparation. At any rate, he was convinced that a well-trained man would accomplish in a short time what one without training would never accomplish.” 13 In fact he was fully convinced that  he must abstain from public religious endeavour until he reached the priesthood, after proper and complete studies. During his long stay in the French capital, we find Ignatius winning the coveted M.A. at the Collège de Sainte-Barbe, may be the equivalent of a doctorate, and thereafter designated “Master Ignatius”.

Diego Laínez, a cofounder of the Society of Jesus and an intelligent observer, judged that despite handicaps Ignatius had as great diligence as any of his fellow students. 

True, Xavier was already a higher-level teacher when Ignatius meets him: one among the outstanding students of the Sorbonne University, Paris. Awarded his Master’s Degree in Arts with distinction in 1530, he was appointed Professor of Aristotelian Philosophy in the College of Beauvais in Paris in the same year. It was against this brilliant academic background and his lofty ambition, that the seeds of missionary zeal were sown in him by Ignatius of Loyola – a fellow student of the same University.14  But all through the life of Xavier, especially during the ten years now known as the Xaverian Decade, one finds Xavier diligently perusing studies in languages, cultures, religion, geography, navigation, warfare, commerce, finances... to make himself better fitted for the missionary’s work, in India and elsewhere.  

Education for the Clergy and General Education

Loyola left his mark on Rome. He founded the Roman College, embryo of the Gregorian University, and the Germanicum, a seminary for German candidates for the priesthood. Though it is true that nowhere in the Constitution of the Society prepared by Ignatius education is given special importance, the Jesuits have come to be particularly known in the public mind for their educational work, which must have been the result of the founder’s personal example and shared priorities. We find the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary founded in Rome by one of the recruits of Ignatius, inspired by and based on the Spiritual Exercises, making great progress not only in the west but also in India. For example one Sodality was started in every year from 1905 in the undivided ecclesiastical division of Trichur ever since Parish Level Sodality was inaugurated in Kerala in that year at Pavarty. That is just another example of an Ignatian concept and inspiration continuing to produce results after the passing of many centuries! 

Francisco de Jassu y Javier (Shaviri in Tamil), better known today as Francis Xavier, embarked from the quay of the Tagus River, known as the Place of Tears, to go to India on April 7, 1541 - his 35th birthday,15  The voyage which took 13 months brought him to Goa in 1542 when he was only five years a priest. In the following year, he was given charge of the College of Holy Faith (Santa Fe) at Velha Goa, established as a mission seminary to train and educate priests, which under the Jesuits gained fame as the College of St. Paul. Francis Xavier was one of the illustrious Professors of this Institution, which eventually earned the reputation of a University, where scholars from as far as Japan came to pursue their studies. During his tenure as the head of the College, he encouraged learning by establishing many other educational institutions, modelled on the most advanced universities of Europe.16

His intense desire to convey the most important truths of the faith to the Paravas of the Pearl Fishery Coast, in their own tongues. forces him to leave Goa. A modest seminary is caused to spring up in Quilon to train local youth as catechists forTravancore and the Pearl Fishery Coast.17 A matter of great concern for Xavier, as for Ignatius, was the strengthening of the supply of missionaries, and the training of local catechists. As he could not be present personally at all places, Xavier wrote down his experiences and instructions for missionaries and their helpers. He also wrote and translated different catechisms and an explanation of the Faith (Credo). This concern for the growth of a native clergy and an increase in catechists indicates hin wide vision for India.18

His indomitable desire to teach, how he went about ringing a bell to summon the children, and how he taught them the essentials of the Catholic faith, and how he made these children teach these truths to other children and their own elders is described in detail by both A.M. Jagatheesan and J.M. Villarvarayan in the Thomas Encyclopaedia, their articles on Xavier running into thousands of words.19 

As has been said, even before the Jesuit Society as such gave significant importance to education, Xavier made education of youth and adults one of his great priorities in India, and hence deserves to be considered the pioneer of the Jesuit educational initiative. 

While on the subject of Loyola’s and Xavier’s approaches to education another aspect, one feels, compels our attention, and must be emphasised. It is the matter of gratuity. Of the many aspects of the involvement of Loyola with education one would very much like to analyse in detail “Gratuity in Jesuit Education” as it has the greatest significance for the modern day Jesuit and modern day society, especially in India.20

Christ’s instruction to the Apostles:” Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Matt. 10:8) resonates with the soul of Ignatius. He harked back to the same concept repeatedly - in the Spiritual Exercises, in the Constitutions, and in his personal correspondence. “People will listen to us only when we can show them that we have nothing to gain from what we are calling them to.”21 

When the first Jesuit school was opened in Messina in 1547 gratuitous teaching was a novelty which in the following 150 years was continued by all Jesuit schools. The need to get involved in education arose from the fact that young Jesuit students needed training. If the Society were going to have schools for their own students, why not give the same opportunity to young people who are not Jesuits? Ignatius commissioned his secretary, Father Polanco, to provide examples of how the schools might be funded: by the city, by some prince, by some private individual, or by a group of individuals. 

“Thus not to charge for education was a corollary to one of the most fundamental graces Ignatius received: to give freely what one has freely received, to minister without worrying about benefit and without support of gold or silver, concepts almost foreign to the way” 22  some dioceses and congregations are seeing things perhaps in India today even in some highly Christianised States. When the secretary of Ignatius, Fr. Polanco, wrote the programme for non-Jesuit students, he began by saying: ”First of all, we accept for classes and literary studies everybody, poor and rich, free of charge and for charity’s sake, without accepting any remuneration.”23     

When the Collegio Romano opened in the eternal city in 1551 five years before the death of Ignatius, the sign over the door read, “School of Grammar, Humanities, and Christian Doctrine, Free.” 24  At dawn at about 7 O’Clock  Ignatius died - the “Free” Roman College was what agitated his mind till the very end. (See note 24 infra.)  This matter of gratuity has been emphasised here, and at some length, one must admit, because of its topicality, and because Francis Xavier also gave great importance to this aspect of mission.(For details cf.S A. M. George Jagatheesan, “Saint Francis Xavier”,The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of india, Ed. George Menachery, Vol. I, 1982,   p. 16, col.1 to p.21, col.2 and J.M. Villarvarayan, “The Mission and Life of St. Francis xavier in South India,” ibid., Vol. II, 1973,  p. 65, col. 1 to p. 68, col.2.)  

Need for an Exhaustive work on Xavier and the Jesuits in India

There are quite a number of other instances revealing the Inspiration of Ignatius Loyola on  Francis Xavier’s Vision for South Asia. This is amply evident in the many works available in the libraries in India itself. In a seminar held in these very premises a couple of years ago this writer had again stressed the need to bring out an “Encyclopaedia Jesuitica Indica”  (excuse my Latin! and excuse the digression). Such a task could be undertaken perhaps from this campus itself, it was suggested, what with its excellent library with relevant materials (vide note 10 infra) and library facilities, and the conducive ambience provided by its “Hortus Indicus”  or Garden of Indian plants and herbs and even birds. There is no dearth of sources for such a work as we ourselves once again found out when we had to often visit libraries here in India (at Shembaganur, Trichinopoly, Pune, Delhi, Calcutta, Goa, Ranchi, Bombay and elsewhere) and abroad to collect books to be included in the “Catholics” volume of the Indian Church History Classics. Though the suggestion for the work was enthusiastically received both by the Indian and the international delegates it is not known what has been done about it as yet. Like the Ancient Mariner I couldn’t but express this thought once again in this most appropriate of fora.


”Loyola, Saint Ignatius of “, Encyclopædia Britannica.  From Encyclopædia Britannica 2003 CD Deluxe Edition. 

2. [Accessed February 21, 2006] 

3. J.Wicki, “The Portuguese Padroado in India in the 16th Century, and St. Francis Xavier”, in Christianity in India, Ed. Perumalil and Hambye, Alleppy, 1972. [The present writer remembers with deep gratitude the many hours Dr. Wicki had spent with him in discussions on related topics of Indian Church History both at Rome (various years) and esp. at Trivandrum in 1977 during the First World Malayalam Conference and Christian Exhibition (Kanakakkunnu).

4. “Loyola, Saint Ignatius of “, Encyclopædia Britannica.  From Encyclopædia Britannica 2003 CD Deluxe Edition. Xavier and Anjiro disembark from the pirate’s ship and sets foot in Japan on 15th of August 1549. 

5.J.Wicki, article cited above. 

6. Cf. f.i. “St. Francisco Xavier - his life and times” at <>[Accessed February 11, 2006]; “St. FRANCIS XAVIER: Patron and Model of Mission” at  <> [Accessed February 16, 2006]. 

7. All these ‘accidents’ and coincidences are beautifully, enthusiastically, and at length described by A. M. George Jagatheesan in “Saint Francis Xavier”, The St. Thomas Christian encyclopaedia of India, ed. George Menachery, Trichur, 1982: Vol.I, p. 16, col.1 to p.21, col.2.  

8. TIME Asia Magazine, Dec.13, 2004, From <,13673,501041213-880312,00.html> [Accessed February 11, 2006]. 

9.  “He ventured neck or nothing—heaven’s success

        Found, or earth’s failure:”

“That low man seeks a little thing to do,

        Sees it and does it:

“This high man, with a great thing to pursue,

        Dies ere he knows it.

“That low man goes on adding one to one,

        His hundred’s soon hit:

“This high man, aiming at a million,

        Misses an unit.”

(From Men and Women, “A Grammarian’s Funeral,”  Robert Browning.) 

10.Among the sources for this section as for the entire paper may be cited the monumental works of Joseph Wicki and Georg Schurhammer. The 130 odd books on Xavier from the library of the Xavier Centre, Goa exhibited below in connection with this seminar are only a smattering of the books available on the topic, but a very useful smattering. My own volumes, The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, and The Indian Church History Classics, provide, perhaps, a more manageable collection of reference materials. When one’s “ days among the dead are past” one wonders at times, where are the Wickis and Schurhammers, where the Herases and Hostens of today - perhaps one of the best kept secrets of the Society.      

11. Favourite words of an ‘old boy’ of my alma mater, the Jesuit Trichinopoly College, presently residing at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan, New Delhi.  

12. [Accessed March1, 2006] 

13.”Loyola, Saint Ignatius of,” Encyclopædia Britannica.  From Encyclopædia Britannica 2003 CD Deluxe Edition.  

14. “St. Francis Xavier - An Educationist par Excellence” [Accessed May 10, 2006.] 

15. “St. Francis Xavier: Missionary to the Far East”, Santa Clara University Site, [Accessed May 10, 2006] 

16. “St. Francis Xavier - An Educationist par Excellence” [Accessed May 10, 2006.]

17. J. Wicki, Perumalil - Hambye, Alleppy, 1972?73?, pp.61-64. 

18. Id., ibid. 

19. A. M. George Jagatheesan, “Saint Francis Xavier”,The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of india, Ed. George Menachery, Vol. I, 1982,   p. 16, col.1 to p.21, col.2 and J.M. Villarvarayan, “The Mission and Life of St. Francis xavier in South India,” ibid., Vol. II, 1973,  p. 65, col. 1 to p. 68, col.2.  

20. Article by John P. Foley s.j. in “Jesuits 2006” pp. 50-54. 

21. Foley, supra

22. Id., ibid. 

23. Id.,ibid. 

24. Id., ibid. And the Roman College was what Ignatius was concerned about even on the last night of his life: On the night of July 30, 1556 “Frs. Polanco and Modridwere with him and the three talked for a bit. We know what Ignatius was concerned about: the purchase of a house enlarge the Roman College.” (The Death of Ignatius , Jiri Sykora, s.j., in “Jesuits 2006,” p.16. 

[Part I: Xavier-Faber-Loyola Seminar on “Jesuit Presence in South Asia: Identity, Discontinuity, Initiatives” , Goa, April 2006]