Saint of the Issue: Aloysius Gonzaga

by Kevin Gleason


Saint Aloysius Gonzaga was born on March 9, 1568 in Castiglione, Italy. He was the oldest of seven children and his family was one of the highest ranking in Castiglione.


Aloysius' father, Ferrante Gonzaga, was Marquis of Castiglione, making him one of the highest ranking aristocrats. Ferrante was offered the position of Commander-in-Chief of the cavalry of Henry VIII of England, but declined, as he preferred the Spanish court. Aloysius, being the eldest child, was expected to become a soldier and one day inherit his father's many titles. However, this path never appealed to him during his youth.

The first words St. Aloysius spoke as a child were the names of Jesus and Mary. He was well educated in languages and the arts, but he was also trained for the military from a very young age. By age four, he was given a set of miniature guns and accompanied his father on training expeditions. At age five, he was sent to a military camp to begin his career. During his training in the violence of Renaissance Italy, he witnessed the murder of two of his younger brothers, and by the age of nine, he knew the religious life was his calling.


At age eight, Aloysius was sent to Florence to work in the court of the Grand Duke, Francesco de' Medici. The amount of violence he witnessed while serving the Duke further deterred him from desiring the military life. He then fell ill with a kidney disease, and while recovering, he took the opportunity to read about the saints and spend time in prayer.


Four years later, he returned to Castiglione where he received First Communion from St. Charles Borromeo. At this time, he was debating whether to join the Capuchin order or the Jesuits. After reading a book on Jesuit missionaries in India, he felt strongly about becoming a missionary himself. He began teaching catechism classes to young boys practicing missionary values. While his mother fully supported his decisions, Aloysius' father was furious and prevented him from pursuing a religious life.


Many family members tried convincing Aloysius to avoid becoming a priest, but when they realized that their efforts could not alter his plans, they pushed the idea of becoming a secular priest. At age 18, Aloysius finally attained his father’s approval and gave up all rights of inheritance to become a Jesuit missionary.


The rest of Aloysius' life was riddled with health problems. His kidney problems persisted, and he developed a skin disease. It is said that he had a vision in which the Archangel Gabriel told him that he would die within a year. This did not prevent Aloysius from devoting what was left of his life to others.


As a missionary, Aloysius volunteered at a hospital during the plague in Rome. Due to his health issues, he was forced to work in an area of the hospital with no plague victims. However, a man in his ward became infected, and Aloysius began developing symptoms. To everyone’s surprise, he survived the plague, but his health was worse than ever.


Aloysius then had another vision of the cardinal, and later saint, Robert Bellarmine. In the vision he was told he would die on the Octave of the feast of Corpus Christi. Although he seemed healthy that morning, he insisted that his death would come. He received last rites and recited prayers before dying. He died just before midnight.


Aloysius is the patron saint of young students for his missionary work early in his life. In addition, for displaying courage in the face of disease, he is considered the patron saint of incurable disease, plague victims, and AIDS sufferers and their caregivers. In 1926, he was named the patron saint of all Christian youth by Pope Pius XI.


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