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The Catholic Defender: Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Born for Greater Things


Gonzaga was born the eldest of eight children.


As early as age four, Luigi was given a set of miniature guns and accompanied his father on training expeditions so that the boy might learn "the art of arms".


At age five, Gonzaga was sent to a military camp to get started on his training. His father was pleased to see his son marching around camp at the head of a platoon of soldiers. His mother and his tutor were less pleased with the vocabulary he picked up there.


He grew up amid the violence and brutality of Renaissance Italy and witnessed the murder of two of his brothers.


Aloysius Gonzaga (Luigi Gonzaga, 1568-1591) gave up a privileged life and a princely inheritance to live the vows of religious life even to the point of contacting the plague because of his selfless care for people already sick with it.


The Lord can make saints anywhere, even amid the brutality and license of Renaissance life. Florence was the “mother of piety” for Aloysius Gonzaga despite his exposure to a “society of fraud, dagger, poison, and lust.” As a son of a princely family, he grew up in royal courts and army camps. His father wanted Aloysius to be a military hero.


Aloysius was noted for his asceticism and quickly volunteered to care for the sick and dying at a Jesuit hospital when plague broke out in Rome. Shortly before his ordination, he contracted the disease himself and died at age 23.


At age 7 Aloysius experienced a profound spiritual quickening. His prayers included the Office of Mary, the psalms, and other devotions. At age 9 he came from his hometown of Castiglione to Florence to be educated; by age 11 he was teaching catechism to poor children, fasting three days a week, and practicing great austerities.


In 1576, at age 8, he was sent to Florence along with his younger brother, Rodolfo, to serve at the court of the Grand Duke Francesco I de' Medici and to receive further education.


When he was 13 years old, he traveled with his parents and the Empress of Austria to Spain, and acted as a page in the court of Philip II. The more Aloysius saw of court life, the more disillusioned he became, seeking relief in learning about the lives of saints.


A book about the experience of Jesuit missionaries in India suggested to him the idea of entering the Society of Jesus, and in Spain his decision became final. Now began a four-year contest with his father. Eminent churchmen and laypeople were pressed into service to persuade Aloysius to remain in his “normal” vocation. Finally he prevailed, was allowed to renounce his right to succession, and was received into the Jesuit novitiate.


Like other seminarians, Aloysius was faced with a new kind of penance—that of accepting different ideas about the exact nature of penance. He was obliged to eat more, and to take recreation with the other students. He was forbidden to pray except at stated times. He spent four years in the study of philosophy and had Saint Robert Bellarmine as his spiritual adviser.


In 1591, a plague struck Rome. The Jesuits opened a hospital of their own. The superior general himself and many other Jesuits rendered personal service. Because he nursed patients, washing them and making their beds, Aloysius caught the disease. A fever persisted after his recovery, and he was so weak he could scarcely rise from bed. Yet he maintained his great discipline of prayer, knowing that he would die three months later within the octave of Corpus Christi, at the age of 23.


as fever and a cough set in, he declined for many weeks. It seemed certain that he would die in a short time, and he was given Extreme Unction. While he was ill, he spoke several times with his confessor, the cardinal and later saint, Robert Bellarmine. Gonzaga had another vision and told several people that he would die on the Octave of the feast of Corpus Christi.[8] On that day, 21 June 1591, he seemed very well in the morning, but insisted that he would die before the day was over. As he began to grow weak, Bellarmine gave him the last rites and recited the prayers for the dying. He died just before midnight. Joseph N. Tylenda wrote that, "When the two Jesuits came to his side, they noticed a change in his face and realized that their young Aloysius was dying. His eyes were fixed on the crucifix he held in his hands, and as he tried to pronounce the name of Jesus he died."


Pope Benedict XIII canonized Aloysius Gonzaga, and three years later declared him the patron saint of youth and students, an honor later confirmed by Pope Pius XI in 1926.


He was beatified only fourteen years after his death by Pope Paul V, on 19 October 1605. On 31 December 1726,[6] he was canonized together with another Jesuit novice, Stanislaus Kostka, by Pope Benedict XIII.


In 1729, Pope Benedict XIII declared Aloysius de Gonzaga to be the patron saint of young students. In 1926, he was named patron of all Christian youth by Pope Pius XI.[6] Owing to the manner of his death, he has been considered a patron saint of plague victims.


For his compassion and courage in the face of an incurable disease, Gonzaga has become the patron both of AIDS sufferers and their caregivers.[13] Gonzaga is also the patron of Valmontone, a town in Lazio.


Gonzaga is also celebrated in a small south Italy town called Alezio, as a patron of the town, celebrated on June 21.


As a saint who fasted, scourged himself, sought solitude and prayer, and did not look on the faces of women, Aloysius seems an unlikely patron of youth in a society where asceticism is confined to training camps of football teams and boxers, and sexual permissiveness has little left to permit. Can an overweight and air-conditioned society deprive itself of anything? It will when it discovers a reason, as Aloysius did. The motivation for letting God purify us is the experience of God loving us in prayer.


Aloysius Gonzaga values

  • Compassion.

  • Hospitality.

  • Justice.

  • Service.

  • Respect.

  • Courage.

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