Aloysius Gonzaga, St.

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Patron of youth; b. Castiglione, near Mantua, Italy, March 9, 1568; d. Rome, June 21, 1591. The firstborn of Ferrante Gonzaga, Marquis of Castiglione and Prince of the Empire, and Marta Tana Santena, Aloysius grew up amid the brutality and license of Renaissance society, which witnessed the murder of two of his brothers. Between Aloysius and his devout mother a tender affection developed, while his father began early to prepare him for the military life envisioned for him. In Pierfrancesco del Turco he had a wise and competent tutor. In 1577 Aloysius was sent to attend the court of Francesco de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. In 1581, he accompanied his parents, who joined Empress Maria of Austria on a visit to Spain. At the court of Philip II he acted as page to the heir apparent, Don Diego, and pursued the study of philosophy. At Alcalá he was invited to participate in a public debate. While in Spain Aloysius decided to enter the Society of Jesus. His father firmly resisted his decision and began a struggle of wills that lasted for several years and still continued after their return to Castiglione in 1584. Aloysius prevailed, renounced the rights to his inheritance, and entered the novitiate in Rome on Nov. 25, 1585. As a novice he studied philosophy at the Roman College and gave a public defense in that subject. He pronounced his first vows on Nov. 25, 1587. For four years he studied theology, having as one of his masters the brilliant Gabriel Vázquez. In 1589 he returned to Castiglione for a brief stay in order to settle some intricate family affairs. While attending the sick during an epidemic in Rome in March 1591, he contracted the plague, and died three months later.

The steps in the spiritual growth of Aloysius are clear. At seven he manifested a strong sense of responsibility and love for vocal prayer. A book by Gaspar Loarte, SJ, and his later reading of Louis of Granada, opened up for him the area of mental prayer to which he gave several hours a day. With intensity, calmness of judgment, and power to face facts he firmly decided on a life of holiness. His calm purpose to conquer himself was expressed in severe penance. At Florence, before the Madonna in the Church of Annunziata, he made a vow of virginity. A distaste for court life at Mantua led him to read the lives of the saints. In 1580 he received First Holy Communion from St. Charles Borromeo, and this inspired him to a lasting devotion to the Holy Eucharist. He showed his basic humility and obedience in the novitiate by surrendering his own ideas about prayer and penance. His charity, which was practical, was revealed in the catechetical lessons he gave and in his care for the sick. While he was at the Roman College his spiritual director was St. Robert Bellarmine. His letters, uneffusive and unpretentious, reveal a direct and calm soul.

He never signed himself Aloisio or Aloysius, but Aluigi or Luigi. Francesco Sacchini, competent historian of the early Society of Jesus, objected to the form Aloysius in 1612, arguing for Ludovicus or Louis. However, Francesco Gonzaga, head of the family at the time, insisted on Aloysius. Benedict XIII canonized Aloysius in 1726, and three years later declared him patron of youth, an honor confirmed by Pius XI in 1926.

Feast: June 21.

Bibliography: a. gonzaga, Lettere ed altriscritti, ed. e. rosa (Florence 1926). Aloysius, ed. c. stevens and w. h. mcnichols (Huntington, Ind. 1993). c. c. martindale, The Vocation of Aloysius Gonzaga (New York 1927). p. blanc, Saint Louis de Gonzague: un saint de 23 ans (Paris 1977). v. cepari, Life of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, tr. f. schroeder (Einsiedeln 1891). e. delpierre and a. nochÉ, St. Louis de Gonzague et la Renaissance italienne (Le Puy 1945). e. ferri, Luigi Gonzaga (Milan 1991). a. lambrette, St. Louis de Gonzague (Museum Lessianum, Section Ascétique et Mystique 22; Louvain 1926). m. meschler, Leben des hl. Aloysius von Gonzaga (Freiburg 1891). m. paganella, San Luigi Gonzaga: un ritratto in piedi (Milan 1991). m. scaduto, Il mondo di Luigi Gonzaga (Rome 1968). r. simoni, Luoghi aloisiani: IV centenario della morte di San Luigi Gonzaga (Castiglione delle Stiviere, Italy 1990). g. vigna, Il santo dei Gonzaga: San Luigi e il suo tempo (Milan 1991).

[w. v. bangert]