February 13, 2023

In Search of Discernment: Hoyas Learn from the Life of St. Ignatius Loyola on Magis Trip to Spain

In the summer of 2022, 21 Georgetown University undergraduate students embarked on a Magis pilgrimage to Spain led by the Office of Mission and Ministry, following in the footsteps of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus.

Georgetown students in Montserrat
Georgetown students in Montserrat

Finding a New Mission

The trip began deep in the mountains of northern Spain at the Sanctuary of Loyola, the birthplace of St. Ignatius.

Loyola was the first stop for the group, followed by the birthplace of Saint Ignatius. “We were standing feet away from the very room where Saint Ignatius went through convalescence,” recalled Joseph Herlihy (SFS’24). “It was a surreal moment.” As part of the immersive experience, the group—led by Wickman and Rev. Gregory Schenden, S.J., director of the Office of Campus Ministry—prayed and reflected on the significance of the holy space.

Born Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola in 1491, the young nobleman led an unfettered early life filled with dancing, fencing, gambling, and dueling. Íñigo was keen on military exercises and driven by a desire for fame. His ambitions and skills made him a fearless warrior until the year 1521, when he was gravely injured at the Battle of Pamplona. With his right leg now shorter than his left, Íñigo could no longer fulfill his military duty and was inspired to seek a new purpose for his life.

“The spiritual transformation wasn’t instantaneous,” said Wickman. “It spanned over a year during his recovery and many years that followed.”

During his year-long spiritual pilgrimage within the confinement of his room during convalescence, Íñigo read volumes of books about the lives of Christ and of the saints. He slowly came to the realization that a life dedicated to God was incomparable to any earthly wealth or glory, marking his transition from Íñigo to Saint Ignatius.

At the fifth centennial of his conversion, the Ignatian Year, Saint Ignatius’ legacy continues to be influential around the world. The Society of Jesus he created is the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church, and it has inspired a global network of institutions, including Georgetown University.

A Pilgrimage in Search of Magis

“Magis means ‘the more,’ but in no way does it mean taking more classes or an extra minor,” Wickman told the student participants.

It means doing more for others, for the greater good. Here on the Magis trip, we try to be more infused with the spirit of St. Ignatius by following the footsteps of his pilgrimage.

From Madrid, to Loyola, to Manresa, to Montserrat, then Barcelona, the meticulously curated itinerary captured a snapshot of the important stages of Saint Ignatius’ life, offering an array of thought-provoking stops and historical sites.

Georgetown students and faculty leaders at the Loyola Sanctuary
Georgetown students and faculty leaders at the Loyola Sanctuary

The immersion in and connection to nature, a key component of the pilgrimage, testifies to the hardship Saint Ignatius overcame and was echoed by many students. “Montserrat is very mountainous, so the amount of traveling and walking we did was quite demanding,” recalled Samantha Pasciullo Boychuck (C’23). “I can’t imagine the resilience and courage it took for Ignatius to fulfill such commitment.”

Perhaps Magis is best demonstrated through Ignatius’ practice of asceticism in Manresa, during which he gained discernment by forgoing the irrelevant: his sword never to be held, his silk never to be worn. He realized that by shedding literal and figurative weight, he could do even more for others.

Schenden described the importance of discernment for distinguishing between our wants and needs.

Where are the world’s greatest needs, and how are we called to use our gifts and talents in response to them?

Expanding Magis Experiences

In spring 2023 Campus Ministry will launch more Magis experiences, including 3-credit Magis Immersion Seminars. Through six weeks of in-class learning experiences at Georgetown, followed by one week of on-the-ground experiential learning in cities such as Rome, Kathmandu, and Jerusalem, students will critically examine the role of religion through the lens of local customs and traditions.

“Everything is tangible,” shard Renato Llontop Calosi (SFS’24), one of the students on the summer 2022 Magis trip to Spain. 

No textbooks or courses can ever substitute the feeling of standing inside the room. I was constantly reminded that it produced real concrete change that contributed to what we see and believe today.