St. Aloysius Gonzaga

June 19, 2020

The Pastor's Page

St. Aloysius Gonzaga was born on March 9, 1568, at the family castle in Lombardy, Italy. He was born into the Castiglione clan, an aristocratic and extremely wealthy family. His father, Marquis Ferrante, was a Venetian knight who served under King Philip II of Spain, and he made it clear that he wanted his son to pursue a career in the military.

St. Aloysius’s mother was a deeply spiritual woman who raised her young son in the faith, and he manifested a strong spiritual side from an early age. He prayed. He expressed a budding interest in a religious vocation. He was offended by vulgarity and reportedly fainted several times at the sound of vulgar language. He detested the brutality of soldiers. He consecrated himself to God with a vow of virginity at the age of ten, and he received his first Holy Communion from St. Charles Borromeo at the age of twelve.

St. Aloysius dressed in a white surplice and black cassock looking at a cross:
“St. Aloysius Gonzaga,” San Ignazio, Roma, Italia (St. Ignatius Church, Rome, Italy). Father Michael Van Sloun

When St. Aloysius turned thirteen his family moved to Spain where he served for three years as a page in the luxurious court of Philip II of Spain. There were many beautiful young ladies at the royal court, he was totally committed to purity, was on edge in their presence, and never allowed himself to be alone with any of them.

During this period, St. Aloysius engaged in some extreme ascetical disciplines, rigorous forms of self-denial and mortification. He placed small blocks of wood in his bed to cause discomfort to enable him to resist temptation. He practiced self-flagellation, to whip himself with a scourge in reparation for sin. He volunteered to carry slop buckets, a lowly and humiliating task. When he climbed a flight of stairs, he would stop to say a Hail Mary at every step. Amid all this, he asked his father to join the Jesuits, and he sternly refused.

His family moved back to Italy in 1584. St. Aloysius was sixteen. His father walked in on him whipping himself, relented, and finally gave him permission to enter religious life. He renounced his share of his inheritance, gave it to his brother, and entered the Jesuit novitiate on November 25, 1585. He spent the next six years in Rome, first studying philosophy, then theology, in preparation for the priesthood. He hoped one day to be a foreign missionary and possibly a martyr. St. Robert Bellarmine served as his spiritual director and helped him to curb his excessive self-punishing pieties. St. Aloysius made his first profession of vows in 1587, and sometime later received minor orders at St. John Lateran. He had a strong devotion to the Eucharist, a rich interior life of prayer, and a strong commitment to charitable service.

A plague struck Rome in 1587, the Jesuits opened a hospital, and St. Aloysius served the sick and dying. In 1590 he claimed to have received a vision from the Archangel Gabriel who told him that he would die within a year. He contracted the plaque himself while caring for the ill, and died on June 21, 1591, in Rome, at the age of twenty-three, a scholastic who never reached ordination to the priesthood.

St. Aloysius was beatified in 1621, canonized a saint in 1726, and declared the patron saint of youth in 1729. He is also the patron saint of Jesuit novices, students in Jesuit colleges and universities, and AIDS caregivers. His symbols are a rosary, lily, cross, skull, and a scourge.

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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