20 May: The 500th anniversary of the wounding of Ignatius Loyola in Pamplona


On 20 May 1521 a cannon ball struck the leg of Inigo López de Oñaz y Loyola while he was defending the citadel of Pamplona against the French. Inigo surely regretted this wound which took him from battle and confined him to bed for a prolonged period of convalescence. Yet God works all things to the good – this leg wound provided the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work on the soul of the rather proud and sensual Inigo. As he lay in bed recovering from some rather severe operations, he read romance stories as well as the life of Christ and a book about saints. He noticed that, while he loved his tales of high adventure and romance, they left him restless, whereas the books on Christ and the saints brought peace and consolation to his soul. Gradually he was converted. While reading about the saints he reasoned that, if they, who were mere mortals like him, could do such great things for God, so too could he. From this little seed in the soul of Ignatius grew, eventually, the Society of Jesus, and all of its astounding apostolic works.

Fr Doyle once called himself the “soldier son of a soldier saint”. He was a proud Jesuit; it was the spiritual training inspired by Ignatius’ spiritual exercises that helped open Fr Doyle to the Holy Spirit and to do, and be, all that he was. The ripples of grace caused by that cannon ball in 1521 were still felt 4 centuries later in the trenches of World War 1. 

Let us pray today for the Jesuits. Let us also pray in a special way today to St Ignatius for an important intention related to Fr Doyle…     

Thoughts for May 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

I did not write because I had nothing but disappointment, opposition, cold shower-baths and crosses to chronicle…Your news about the success in England is glorious, and yet I am assured that mine will come in Dublin if ever a house is opened. … I am confident the real difficulty will be to keep the men out. I never realised till I got on the mission staff the immense amount of faith and love for holy things there is everywhere still in Ireland. … It has been a four years’ Calvary, but yesterday the Resurrection, I hope, began, for I heard that Rathfarnham Castle with 53 acres has been purchased at last, and I have the Provincial’s promise (when that took place) to allow me to make a start in the stables. Ye Gods! Fancy the mighty Doyle preaching in a stable! Very like the Master is it not?’

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words 108 years ago today, on May 20 1913, in a letter to Fr Charles Plater SJ. Fr Plater had founded a retreat house for working men, and Fr Doyle was a supporter of this initiative, and expended much energy in his attempts to establish a similar house for workers in Ireland. He traveled around Europe researching the idea and wrote a booklet on the issue. Fr Doyle saw such retreats as an essential outreach to lay people and to ordinary workers in general at a time when worker’s rights were a burning issue of the day – the Dublin Lockout also occurred in late 1913, and the rights of labour were central to the political and philosophical debates of the day.

Fr Doyle did not live to see his cherished workers retreat, but eventually a house for this purpose was built in Rathfarnham after Fr Doyle’s death. It evolved into the Lay Retreat Association which continued in operation until it sadly closed down in 2016.

Fr Charles Plater SJ