Today, June 21, is the Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga.
Aloysius de Gonzaga, the oldest of seven children, was raised in an aristocratic Italian family. Since he was the eldest son, he was in line to inherit both his father’s titles and vast properties.
Gonzaga’s early education took place in a military school, but he also received instruction in the liberal arts. As a young boy, he was sent to serve at the court of a Grand Duke in Milan. While there, Aloysius fell ill. During his recuperation Gonzaga read books about the saints of the Catholic Church. The lives of these saints greatly affected him. Later, after reading a book about Jesuit missionaries in India, Aloysius felt sure that he himself was called to religious life.
Aloysius soon experienced a desire to join a religious order and become a priest. He specifically felt called to the Jesuit Order. While his mother very much liked the idea, his father was completely against it. Aloysius, however, would not relent; and in 1585 he set aside all rights to his inheritance, traveled to Rome, had an audience with the Pope (Sixtus V), and was accepted into the Society of Jesus (age 18).
In 1591 a terrible plague broke out in Italy, and the Jesuits opened a hospital to help those affected. There, Father Gonzaga gave himself to working with the sick and dying. He would walk the streets looking for those who were sick. When he found someone, he would pick them up and carry them back to the hospital. There, he would wash and feed them, and administer the Holy Sacraments to them.
Shortly before his 23rd birthday, Father Gonzaga himself became infected with the disease of the plague. He became bedridden, and his health became increasingly worse. At that time Father Gonzaga said that he had been given a vision that he would die that very year on the Octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi (June 21, 1591).
When that day arrived, Father Gonzaga seemed to be in stable condition. However, he continued to assert that he would indeed die before the day was through. Late in the day, Father Gonzaga took a turn for the work, and his confessor, Father Robert Bellarmine administered last rites. Father Gonzaga died shortly before midnight on June 21, 1591, the Octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi. Father Tylenda, who was at Gonzaga’s side, said that the good priest died with his eyes fixed on the crucifix as he spoke the name of Jesus.
Shortly before his death, Father Gonzaga’s name was changed from Aloysius to Robert, in honor of his confessor. He was buried in the Church of the Most Holy Annunciation in Rome (today, the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola).
Almost immediately after his death, many began to consider Gonzaga to be a saint. The mystic, St. Maria Magdalena de Pazzi, said that in a vision she had on April 4, 1600 she saw Gonzaga immersed in radiant glory, this a result of his godly “interior works.” In 1605, only fourteen years after his death, Gonzaga was beatified by Pope Paul V. And, in 1726, he was canonized (Saint Aloysius Gonzaga) by Pope Benedict XIII. He is the patron saint of young students, Christian youth, and plague victims.
Christo et Ecclesiae,