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PATRON OF CATHOLIC YOUTH

Father Francis's picture
Saint Aloysius

The short life of Aloysius Gonzaga was marked by contrast and struggle. His aristocratic family had planned a brilliant career but God called him to take a very different road.

Born in 1568, the eldest son of an eminent Italian nobleman who held high office at the court of King Philip II of Spain, he was expected to become a great soldier and then a successful courtier.

At the age of nine his father took him and his brother to Florence to be educated, and it was during this period of his life that Aloysius developed his great religious fervour, spending most of his spare time in prayer and spiritual reading. A few years later he suffered from chronic kidney ailment which often confined him to bed, where he would pray and study the lives of the saints. He became attracted to the idea of joining the Jesuit missionaries in India and working for the conversion of heathens. He also decided to give up his title as the older son in favour of his brother. He began to prepare himself for missionary life by teaching poor boys and instructing them in the catechism. His preparation also included fasting and prayer.

In 1581 Aloysius told his parents that he had made up his mind to become a Jesuit. His mother approved while his father was furious but Aloysius was adamant and, aged 17, entered the Jesuit novitiate in Rome. He proved to be an ideal novice, obedient and keen to learn but his health was always poor, and one morning at prayer he received a revelation that he would not live much longer.

In 1591 the plague broke out in Rome. The Jesuits opened a hospital to care for the sick and Aloysius volunteered to help, generally taking on the lowliest jobs. Many of the Jesuit fathers died of the plague and Aloysius caught it.

Throughout his final illness he struggled to get up and pray before his crucifix, propping himself up for as long as possible between his bed and the wall. He received another revelation telling him that he would die on the octave of Corpus Christi and, although he seemed much better when the day came, he asked to be anointed and by evening it was evident that he was close to death. His peaceful and holy death occurred on 21 June 1591, at the age of 24. He is buried in the church of St. Ignatius in Rome and was canonised in 1726.

What lessons can we learn from the life of this saint? Aloysius was fortunate in knowing from a very early age what God was calling him to do with his life. Many people search for years for God's will about their vocation. When they find it may they respond as eagerly as Aloysius did.

He has been declared the patron of Catholic youth. May he encourage all young people to live the best lives they can, and to stand up for what they believe to be right. He was totally opposed to all that was expected of him by his family and friends. His father’s ambitions for him were fulfilled in God's own way, for Aloysius became a soldier of Christ in the Society of Jesus and devoted his life to service - not of pampered princes, but of the sick and dying.

Saint Aloysius, pray for the present members Society of Jesus, especially our Pope, and for all of us.