Saint Aloysius Gonganza

Catherine Fournier

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Saint Aloysius Gonganza
Feast Day: June 21
Patron: Catholic youth, Jesuit students, teenage children, teenagers, young people
Symbol: crucifix, lily

Young Families

Who would be a good patron saint for young people? Who would make a good advocate and intercessor for young people and their prayers in Heaven? It might be someone who faced the same kinds of challenges that young people face today, like peer pressure, and difficulties in choosing and pursuing a vocation.

Saint Aloysius Gonganza is a wonderful example. Despite being among very rough and impure people, and despite many arguments from his parents, he maintained a pure heart, and became a Jesuit priest.

Also known as Luigi, Aloysius was the oldest son of an Italian noble. He was raised in a castle, Castiglione delle Stivieri in Lombardy, with lots of servants, and plenty of wealth and comfort. Since Aloysius was a bright and cheerful boy, who got along well with other people, his father had great hopes that he would have a military career as well as succeed him in the title. He was raised and trained for soldiery and court life from a very young age.

He had many friends among the soldiers and in the court, who encouraged him to join them for their parties and celebrations. They wanted him to behave just like them. But Aloysius preferred to spend his free time in prayer, kneeling on a cold stone floor or in church in front of the Blessed Sacrament. His friends and others teased him for this piety and devotion. Even his parents didn't understand or approve.

When Aloysius was in his teens, nearly old enough to begin working as a soldier, he became sick with kidney disease, so sick that he had to stay in bed. He wasn't sorry though, even though anyone would prefer running and playing to being sick in bed for months and months. Aloysius said he was glad that he was ill, because it gave him more time to pray and meditate. He also used this time to instruct others in their catechism.

His father and mother were disappointed that Aloysius was sick, but they were even more disappointed when he said that he wanted to become a Jesuit instead of inheriting his father's title and estate. He signed over all his inheritence to his younger brother. His parents, teachers and friends argued with him about this decision for three whole years!

Aloysius stood firm, though, because he knew that God had called him to this vocation and that God would eventually bring it about. Sure enough, finally his father relented and allowed Aloysius to join the Jesuits. Aloysius could finally devote his life to prayer, study and adoration of Our Lord.

Plague broke out in Italy, many people became sick and died. Even though Aloysius was still ill from his kidney disease, he insisted being allowed to assist with the sick. Aloysius caught the disease while performing this service and died, on the 21st of June 1591.

Practiced Families

Saint Aloysius was born in Castiglione, Spain on the 9th of March in 1568. According to popular legend, the first words Saint Aloysius spoke were the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary which indicates that he was raised to be aware and devoted to the Catholic faith.His father Farrante, the Marquis of Castiglione, destined his oldest one for the military. Farrante himself was in service to King Philip II and wanted his son to follow his footsteps.

But, though a cheerful and outgoing lad, well suited in temperament for the life of a soldier and courtier, Aloysius was also deeply faithful and pious. By the age of 9 he had privately decided on a religious Life, and made a vow of perpetual virginity. He practiced many devotions and mortifications, and safeguarded himself at all times from possible temptation. These endeavours gained him much ridicule from fellow students and others.

He received his first Holy Communion from Saint Charles Borrome.

A kidney disease confined Saint Aloysius to his bed for some time, removed from the normal full social life of a young man in his position. Bedrest would be a difficult challenge for any vigourous young man, but Aloysius resigned himself to it. Far from being bored, or despairing of his health, he spent his time in prayer and reading the Lives of the saints. His resolve to become a Jesuit was formed and firmed at this time.

When he recovered, he was appointed to be a page in Spain. Still, despite the distractions of life at court, Saint Aloysius kept up his many devotions and austerities. His family eventually moved back to Italy, where he taught catechism to the poor. At the age of sixteen, he renounced his inheritance to his younger brother, and petitioned to join the Jesuits. Immediately a storm of protest from all sides arose. This too, would be a difficult cross for a young man to bear with patience and fortitude, but Aloysius remained firm in his intentions and eventually won the permission he needed.

He served in a hospital during the plague of 1587 in Milan. In time, he fell victim to the dreaded disease himself, and died at the age of 23, after receiving the last rites from Saint Robert Bellarmine, who later wrote the Life of Saint Aloysius. This young man, patron to all young people, was beatified in 1621, and declared a saint in 1725. Aloysius' relics are buried under the altar of Saint Ignatius Church, Rome.

Experienced Families

This profile is based on a short article from The Catholic Pages.

The short life of this patron of youth means that most of what is known of the life of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is his childhood and seminarial life. This young saint is a model for all Catholic youth. He was filled with a love for God, remorse for his sins, and a desire for purity of mind, body and heart. He was born Luigi Gonzaga, the eldest son of Farrante, the Marquis of Castiglione, on the 9th of March, 1568. From the earliest age, the young saint was given to prayer, including the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the seven Penitential Psalms and other devotions.

As the eldest son, it was expected by all that Aloysius would carry on the family name, and fulfill his father's wish for him to become a soldier. God had other plans for this holy young man.

In 1577, Farrante took Luigi and his brother to Florence to study. While remaining a good student in his other studies, the young man developed an affinity for study of the saints. After two years in Florence his father arranged to place the brothers into the court of the Duke of Mantua. It was there that decided to abjure his claim to his father's title and place, passing it to his brother Ridolpho. The Saint then suffered a malady that allowed him to stay out of the public eye, withdrawn in prayer and study of the Saints.

At this time Aloysius read of the Jesuit missionaries in India, and he resolved to join the Society of Jesus. He began this direction in life by instructing the boys of Castiglione in the catechism. At Casale-Monferat, where he spent winters, he assumed the discipline of a monk, fasting three days a week, scourging himself, and praying at midnight on the stone floor of his unheated room.

Over the next two years, Aloysius faced opposition from his father, mother, regals and delegates over his impending Jesuit vocation. They disagreed with it adamently on the grounds he should follow in his father's stead. Finally, they relented after he signed most of the family title and responsibilities over to his younger brother Ridolpho. Aloysius began his novitiate in November, 1585.

In the third year of study, it was revealed to him that he would not live long. He once asked his confessor, Saint Robert Bellarmine, if it was possible to avoid Purgatory after death. Saint Robert assured it was possible, and Aloysius aspired to this end. When the plague struck in 1591, he was sent to aid the ill in the Jesuit hospital of Rome. He performed the lowliest of duties, and contracted the disease.

Aloysius' health was so poor that he received Holy Viaticum and Extreme Unction on several occasions. It was revealed to him that he would pass on the Octave of Corpus Christi, and though he appeared much better in the days preceeding the Feast, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga did in fact die on the Octave of Corpus Christi, June 21st, 1591.


God of all heavenly gifts, You gave Saint Aloysius both a wonderful innocence of life and a deep spirit of penance. Through his merits grant that we may imitate his penitence and purity. Amen.

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