Students Walk in the Footsteps of St. Ignatius

by Kathryn Lieder



St. Ignatius of Loyola once said, “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”  It is this sense of complete and unconditional abandonment of himself to wholeheartedly serve God through serving the poor that is at the core of St. Ignatius’ life journey. 


Looking to grow in faith and reach a deeper connection with St. Ignatius’ life and spirituality, a group of eleven BC students along with Father Don MacMillan, S.J., Professor Tomeu Estelrich-Barcelo, and Campus Minister Christine Cichello and her husband Tony, walked in the footsteps of St. Ignatius, visiting sites along the Camino de Santiago in Spain this spring break.


While the traditional Camino de Santiago walking pilgrimage would take approximately four weeks to complete, the Campus ministry group condensed many aspects of the full pilgrimage experience into a one-week span where the group delved into St. Ignatius’ lived experiences through exploration of the historical sites where he walked, accompanied the poor, and prayed. 


Monica Oxenreiter, MCAS ‘16, expressed immense gratitude for the experience, stating, “The trip was such an incredible opportunity to follow in St. Ignatius’ footsteps and to see what he saw as he formed his faith and created the Society of Jesus.” She shared, “At BC we've heard so much about Ignatian Spirituality, whether it's in weekly Cura meetings or at 10:15 mass, but in Spain we had the chance to see where his journey in Christ began and live out Ignatian spirituality.”


The first stop on the trip was Loyola, the town where Ignatius was born in 1491. While there, the group explored the remains of the castle in which Ignatius spent his early childhood years.  The castle was also the place where he recuperated after he was wounded by a cannonball, breaking one of his legs, in 1521 during a battle at Pamplona against the French army.  Also, the group had the privilege of visiting the Hospital of the Magdalena where St. Ignatius spent a few months in 1535 accompanying and caring for the sick and dying. 


Visiting the current Jesuit community and Jesuit infirmary gave a palpable reminder of St. Ignatius’ ongoing presence.  The first day ended with a Mass at the Chapel where Ignatius had a conversion experience during his long recovery during which he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. 


The second day began with a visit to Pamplona, followed by a tour of the Castle of Xavier where St. Francis Xavier, who went on to study alongside St. Ignatius in Paris and was one of the first Jesuits, was born and raised. 


That afternoon, the group had the privilege of speaking with Sister Fernandez, a missionary of Jesus and Mary to hear about her work with the poor and her perspective on the Church and the complications it has been facing as it tries to both retain tradition and adapt to the 21st Century. 


The third day of the pilgrimage was spent driving through the Pyrenees to Manresa. The following day began with a visit to Montserrat, meaning “serrated mountains.”  The group met with a Benedictine monk from the monastery that has been on the mountain since the 9th century. 


The group spent the rest of the day walking 15 miles from Montserrat to Manresa, just as St. Ignatius did.  The long walk gave everyone the opportunity to spend an hour in silence, reflecting on what they wish to leave behind and what they wish to look forward to as they move into the future, just as St. Ignatius pondered on his walk. 


The day ended with a Mass said by Fr. Don in the Chapel in the Cave in which Ignatius spent a lot of time praying and reading in solitude, during the year he spent in Manresa.  It was during this time that the seeds of inspiration for writing his Spiritual Exercises were planted. 


The fifth and final day of the trip was spent in Barcelona, beginning with a visit to a Jesuit-run foundation devoted to helping refugees assimilate as well as to educating youth on the commonalities among many different religions.


The organization’s work is so essential at a time when inter-religious tensions are high throughout the world, too often growing out of ignorance and lack of awareness of the many intersections that link us together.  This center is especially important in Spain, a country that has become religiously polarized, with the vast majority identifying as either Catholic or atheist. 


The group then visited Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basilica as well as a “Christianity and Justice” studies center, which publishes many short books that focus on contemporary moral and ethical issues examined through an Ignatian lens of social responsibility.  


“The Ignatian Pilgrimage gave us not only the chance to reflect on where Ignatius and Xavier were born and lived but also to encounter people who embodied and know about the Ignatius' spiritual exercises,” Campus Minister Christine Cichello reflected.


“Throughout the week our group reflected on what Ignatius called the 'discernment of spirits' where we tried to be attentive to the graces and challenges presented to us each day and our desire to make a firmer commitment to following God and Christ more closely as Ignatius did.”  


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