21 June 2010

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

21 JUNE 2010. Today the Church remembers the feast day of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, a sixteenth century Jesuit who is venerated for his poverty of spirit, despite a noble heritage, and his purity of heart in serving the Lord.

Saint Aloysius was born to noble parents on 9 March 1568 at his family's castle in Castiglione delle Stiviere in the northern Italian Papal States. His father wanted him to be a soldier, and his training for warfare began at an early age, but Saint Aloysius was also schooled in other subjects, such as languages. At the age of 8 he was sent with his brother to Florence to serve in the court of Grand Duke Francesco I de'Medici. While he was there, Saint Aloysius suffered from a kidney ailment that would aggravate him for the rest of his life. During his illnes, Saint Aloysius spent a great deal of time in prayer, and it is said that he took a secret vow of chastity at the age of 9. In November 1579, Saint Aloysius and his brother were sent to the Duke of Mantua, where he was shocked by the violent and frivolous lifestyle he encountered.

Returning home to Castiglione in A.D. 1580, Saint Aloysius met Cardinal Charles Borromeo who gave him first communion on 22 July 1580. After reading a book about Jesuit missionaries, Saint Aloysius became determined to become a missionary and began practicing by studying the Catechism and teaching it to other boys during the summers. He then set his heart on becoming a priest, but his life was in constant motion as Saint Aloysius and his family moved to Spain and then back to Italy. However, determined to become a priest, Aloysius' mother finally relented to his joining the Jesuits, but his father was furious. Even his family tried to dissuade him from the priesthood, and especially from a religious order, because he would have to give up all rights to his inheritance and noble status.

However, in November 1585 Saint Aloysius did renounce his noble birthright and inheritance and went to Rome to join the Society of Jesus. On 25 November 1585, he was accepted into the Jesuit Roman novitiate after an audience with Pope Sixtus V (which Aloysius gained due to his noble status). Once in the novitiate, the Jesuits asked Aloysius to moderate his ascetic practices to better be a part of the community with the other novitiates.

During this novitiate period Saint Aloysius' ill health still dogged him. He continued to suffer from the kidney malady, but also from a skin disease, insomnia, and chronic headaches.He was sent to Milan for a time for his studies, but had to return to Rome because of poor health. On 25 November 1587 Saint Aloysius took three vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. In February and March of A.D. 1588 he received minor orders and soon thereafter began his theology studies for the priesthood.

In A.D. 1589 he was called to Mantua to mediate a dispute between his brother Ridolfo and the Duke of Mantua. He returned to Rome in May 1590, and later in the year received a vision from the Archangel Gabriel that he would die within a year.

In A.D. 1591 the plague hit Rome, and the Jesuits opened a hospital to treat its victims. Saint Aloysius volunteered to serve in the hospital, but afraid of losing him, the Jesuits confined Aloysius' work to a ward that was supposed to serve those who did not suffer from the plague. However, it turned out that one of the patients in Aloysius' care did suffer from plague and on 3 March 1951 (just shy of his 23rd birthday) Saint Aloysius began to show symptoms of plague. To everyone's surprise, Aloysius did not succumb immediately, but his ill health continued to deteriorate. After another vision from the Archangel Gabriel he learned that he would die on the Octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi. On that day he seemed very well in the morning, but insisted that he would die before the day's end. He received the last sacraments from his confessor, Cardinal Bellarmine, and recited the prayers of the dying. Just before midnight on 21 June 1591, Saint Aloysius was born to eternal life in Christ. Tradition tells that the last word he spoke was the Holy Name of Jesus.

His most notable virtue was purity, and it was said that he did not even look at his queen, but recognized her by the sound of her voice. So great was the community's belief in his holiness that he was venerated as a saint soon after his death. Just 14 years after his death Saint Aloysius was beatified by Pope Paul V on 19 October 1605. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII on 31 December 1726.


O blessed Aloysius,
adorned with angelic virtues,
I thy most unworthy suppliant recommend specially to thee
the chastity of my soul and body,
praying thee by thy angelic purity to plead for me
with Jesus Christ the Immaculate Lamb, 

and His most Holy Mother,
Virgin of virgins, that they would vouchsafe
to keep me from all grievous sin.
Never suffer me to be defiled with any stain of impurity;
but when thou dost see me in temptation,
or in danger of falling,
then remove far from my mind all evil thoughts 

and unclean desires,
and awaken in me the memory of eternity to come,
and of Jesus crucified;
impress deeply in my heart a sense of the holy fear of God;
and kindling in me the fire of Divine love,
enable me so to follow thy footsteps here on earth,
that in heaven I may be made worthy to enjoy with thee
the vision of our God for ever.


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