Saint Aloysius Gonzaga or Luigi Gonzaga, as he was baptized, was born on March 9, 1568, in the castle of Castiglione della Stivieri in Lombardy, Italy. St. Dominic Savio, another Saint of the young, whom we have also written about in this book, and who was called another Aloysius, died on March 9th, only in 1857, almost three hundred years after the birth of St. Aloysius. Coincidence or God’s way of telling us something, putting the pieces of the puzzle of life together. I believe we will discover, as his story unfurls, why St. Dominic Savio was called another Aloysius.
Every time, we write a book, you ask us why this book now? As we are writing these chapters on these young Saints, God’s word keeps coming to us. It’s like the unreal changes of weather we have been having in this, the end of the last century of the Second Millennium. All I keep thinking, Is God talking to us, and is anyone listening? “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
Dominic was born into a life of poverty, of parents who were poor materially, but rich in faith. Aloysius, on the other hand, was born into a family of wealth and position. He was the oldest son of Don Ferrante, the Marquis of Castiglione and Marta Tana Santena, who as part of the royal court of Philip II of Spain, was lady of honor to the Queen. Not only did his mother have a highly esteemed honor, his father held a prestigious position in the court, as well. So, baby Luigi (Aloysius) was born into the velvets and purples of his century.
Now, it is noteworthy to mention that he was also born of a people who had resisted the holocaust of Lutheranism and Calvinism that had spread to the northern parts of Europe, swallowing up whole nations. The Spaniards held fast to their Faith. After almost seven hundred years of domination by the Moors, when uttering the Name of Jesus and worshiping in the Catholic Church was punishable by death, the Catholic Queen Isabela determined, never again would her fair land be lost to Jesus and His Church. When the Church was again threatened, Isabela’s loyal sons would carry on for her and block the enemy from entering her land and conquering the souls of the faithful. She had claimed them for Jesus and Spain, a land of soldiers and poets, and she fought to keep Spain for Jesus and His Church.
When Ferrante’s first-born son came into the world, like most fathers, he had a dream and a plan for Luigi; he was to be a great soldier. His son would fulfill his father’s dream for him, but as a soldier of Christ. Ferrante began executing his plan for his son, at age four, starting him off with a miniature battlefield, equipped with a set of tiny soldiers, scale model guns and all forms of battle regalia, all in minuscule dimensions.
A year later, at five years old, his father took him to Casalmaggiore, where three thousand men were being trained to join a Spanish expedition which would attack Tunis (or Tunisia). The little boy of five was enthralled with all the parades and the life-size soldiers practicing real life maneuvers; it was like a huge playground, and he was playing with the big guys. The months spent there were like a dream come true for a little boy. He was allowed to join the big soldiers, marching in the parades, often up in the front of a platoon. He was a sight to behold; they had outfitted him with a long wooden spear sporting a metal arrowhead, which he carried slung over his tiny shoulder. The spear, at least four times his size, trailed behind him, as he jaunted proudly trying to keep in step with the others.
Luigi was a typical little boy, left on his own, open to mischief and trouble. One day, he picked up a gun which someone had carelessly left around for a little person to find and... Well, the opportunity presenting itself, without any assistance, except his own resourcefulness, he loaded the musket with ammunition and fired it off while the entire camp was resting. After they were sure he was unharmed, they were not very happy campers or soldiers.
His father had wanted him to be a soldier, well he was sure learning; but I don’t think it was what his father had in mind, when he brought him there. Hanging around the soldiers, he almost became part of the woodwork and they hardly noticed him listening to their flowery language. He learned a vocabulary which was not in keeping with a gentleman and future knight. When he returned home, he innocently repeated the colorful but coarse language he had picked up. Needless to say, his tutor was not very happy. He was careful to explain that such language was not only scandalous but blasphemous and made Jesus most unhappy. Little Luigi, head downcast, was deeply remorseful, tears spilling from his eyes, at the thought he had wounded Jesus. Even years later, he sorrowed over the sin which he had so grievously committed.
At age seven, Luigi was to have the Hounds of Heaven begin to pursue him. Although he began saying morning and evening prayers from the time he was just a baby, his spirituality was to accelerate when at age seven he began reciting the Office of Our Lady, the seven penitential psalms, and other devotions. He could be seen praying on his knees on the bare stone floor, without the comfort of even a cushion. Luigi had completely, unconditionally surrendered his life to God, so much so that his spiritual director, St. Robert Bellarmine, as well as his other confessors, said that in their opinion, Aloysius (Luigi) never committed a mortal sin, in his lifetime.
Aloysius goes to Tuscany
In 1577, when Aloysius was nine years old, his father took him and his brother Ridolfo to Florence, Italy. He left them with tutors, who were to help the boys improve their Latin and learn how to speak the Italian of Tuscany, which was considered the proper Italian of the aristocracy. From his later writings, we never see a glimpse of the progress Aloysius made in the sciences of the world, but when he expressed his love for Florence, calling the city “the mother of piety,” he clearly showed the strides he made there in the sciences of the Saints. God was again forming a young boy into a spotless vessel, introducing him to the lives of the great Tuscan Saints Catherine of Siena and Bernardine of Siena, to mention a few.
Florence has always been a city of great contrasts, as Aloysius would soon discover. His station, as son of a nobleman, required he appear at the grand duke’s court, frequently. There he saw the seamier side of Florence, a civilization polluted by deceit, an unquenchable thirst for power, all-consuming greed, which stopped at nothing to fill its gluttonous desires. Poison, fraud, licentious behavior, perversion of all kinds permeated the court. Rather than lead the young nobleman Aloysius into a life of decadence and self-will, he became more and more aware it was the devil’s handiwork, and it caused him to more ardently desire a chaste, virtuous life.
He protected not only his soul, but the cherished souls of his companions, sharing with them spiritual exercises and disciplines reminiscent of the early desert fathers. We can see the Hand of the Lord, again in the life of Aloysius, as this could not be the ordinary response of a nine year old boy. That the Lord is bestowing upon him, extraordinary Grace is evident; but the Lord having won his heart, the boy is cooperating with that Grace. They said of him that he would avert temptation, shielding his eyes and soul from the women of the court, keeping his eyes lowered in their presence. Modesty was his vanguard, allowing no one to see any part of his body, concealing it from even his valet; not the smallest toe on one of his feet would he bare.
Aloysius leaves one court, only to be placed in another.
A little more than two years passed, when Aloysius and his brother had to move once again. Their father, in response to the Duke of Mantua making him governor of Monserrat, brought his two sons to Mantua to serve in the duke’s court. It was November, 1579 and Aloysius was eleven years and eight months old. This move was exceedingly painful for him, and counterproductive to boot. Aloysius had already decided to relinquish his right, as the eldest son, to the title of Marquis of Castiglione, to his younger brother Ridolfo. He had this plan, in spite of the fact that he, Aloysius had already been commissioned by the emperor to succeed his father, after his death, as Marquis.
Aloysius was in a difficult situation; it was required he take his place, as heir-apparent, to make appearances in the Court. God to the rescue! Aloysius was debilitated by an extremely excruciating attack, due to a diseased kidney, and had to curtail his activities! Now confined to his quarters, doctor’s orders, we find Aloysius earnestly devouring stories of the Saints and when not reading, praying. This illness left him so incapacitated, it so affected his digestive system, he was incapable of eating and ingesting most food.
Aloysius had an unquenchable thirst to learn about the Faith and the history of the Church. Again, we see the merciful God coming to the aid of His Church. His Church was under attack, with Luther and Calvin, trying their darnedest to lead the faithful away from their Church. God raised up a Saint in the most unlikely of places, in the midst of a decadent society - checks and balances. Aloysius became interested in the Jesuits. One of the books he had been reading told of the evangelization that brave Jesuit missionaries were doing in India. This burned Aloysius’ heart! He could think of nothing but becoming a Jesuit missionary, leaving for India and working toward the conversion of the unbelievers to Jesus and the Catholic Church.
So few of us do anything, waiting for what we believe the Lord is calling us to do, that ministry we want to join or better yet start, we end up dying, never having served the Lord, at all. Not so, with Aloysius! What better way to bring the Treasures of the Church to the souls in India, begin by teaching Catechism to the poor children of Castiglione! And this is how he spent his summer months, and holidays, waiting upon the Lord to send him to India.
Summer over, Aloysius would spend his winters in Casale Monferrato, going from one church to another, borrowing spirituality from the Capuchins and then from the Barnabites. He began to practice the ascetic life of a monk; he fasted three times a week solely on bread and water; he flagellated himself with a whip; he would rise at midnight and pray on the stone floor. Now, if you ever have the opportunity to visit an ancient monastery or castle, even in the heated days of summer, the rooms are cold and dank; Aloysius would not permit a fire to warm his room, no matter how cold it was.
[He reminds me of us, when we began our Journey of Faith. Having just returned to the Church, we couldn’t get enough; we were spiritual hogs devouring every morsel of spiritual food, seeking all the Treasures of the Church, spending every free moment we could muster, every vacation - going to Europe, pilgrimaging to places where the Saints lived and died, following their lives and their spirituality. I guess our hunger has not been satisfied; we’re still reading, studying and journeying. And so it was with Aloysius. I guess, we like him, allowed the hounds of Heaven to catch up to us and capture our hearts.]
Two years have passed; it is time for Aloysius to move on.
It is 1581, and Don Ferrante, Aloysius’ father, is called by the Crown to accompany the Empress Maria of Austria on her trip from Bohemia to Spain. He took his entire family with him. When they arrived in Spain, Aloysius had to face another crisis; he and brother Ridolfo were selected to serve as pages to Don Diego, Prince of Asturias. Although his heart was elsewhere, out of obedience to his father and loyalty to the Emperor, Aloysius tirelessly cared for the young Prince, helping him with his studies, and patiently waiting on him, addressing his every whim.
His faithful allegiance to his appointed task did not take away from Aloysius’ commitment to saying his prayers. His usual spiritual exercises entailed hours; Aloysius had to be satisfied with the menial hour available to him for his daily meditation. But to meditate one hour without distraction, which was his goal, required hours of soulful preparation. Because of this, he appeared solemn and introspective; his mind seemed to be elsewhere (which it was). The other members of the court began to whisper about Aloysius. They started to make fun of him, saying he wasn’t human; and if he was, he was not quite all there!
Aloysius knew it was time to break it to his parents that he desired to become a Jesuit. He thought it best to tell his mother; then she could tactfully discuss it with his father. He had no problem with his mother who immediately gave her consent. Now, it was time for his father. His mother Marta barely finished her sentence when Don Ferrante blew! He was livid! His temper overriding his good judgment, he fumed, he ranted, he raved and then he threatened to have Aloysius whipped. It was hard for him to understand why a young man of privilege with a promising career ahead of him, wanted to give it all up to become a missionary.
As he had lost large sums of money, he suspected his wife was telling him this, to coerce him into giving up gambling. However, friends of his at court, who had noticed Aloysius’ reserved prayerful demeanor, convinced Don Ferrante of the boy’s sincerity. His father reluctantly gave his consent, on the provision he would wait until his obligation at the court was completed. It was obvious Don Ferrante was playing for time, but time was to run out, the young Prince died! The two brothers were released from their duties. Their two year stay in Spain over, the family left for Italy, July, 1584. Aloysius was now sixteen years old.
The battle not over - Aloysius faces additional opposition
Upon the family arriving in Italy, they went directly to their estate in Castiglione and the war resumed on another front; Italy was not about to bring Aloysius any more relief than he’d had at court in Spain. His relatives, including the Duke of Mantua, all joined in, siding with his father, to oppose vehemently the young Aloysius’ aspirations to become a Jesuit. They called in reinforcements. Prominent clergy and distinguished laity took turns arguing, then pleading; cajoling, then attacking; reasoning turned into threat making, all to no avail. Aloysius was resolute in his desire to become a Jesuit!
Don Ferrante left no stone unturned; he was fighting for what he felt was his son’s best interest. Ferrante’s god was one of position and power, how could he understand his son’s God Who chose to be born of little estate and die for the sins of the world? A new plan! Send Aloysius to all the kings of northern Italy. Italy was composed of twenty-seven small kingdoms or principalities, each with its own sovereign. His father was sure this would change Aloysius’ mind. That failing, he insisted he accept different secular positions. Surely that would pique his interest and he would forget the whole foolish idea. At least it would forestall the inevitable. But to his father’s consternation, Aloysius was not moved; rather he was more adamant than ever, to follow his star to Jesus through joining the Jesuits.
The journey begins; Aloysius is on his way
Each day was filled with hope, only to end with disappointment. One day, his father would give his consent; the next day he would take it back. This went on and on, until the emperor sent a delegation with his edict that the rite of succession to the seat of the Marquis of Castiglione had been transferred to Aloysius’ brother Ridolfo. Finally realizing all opposition was futile, his father gave his consent. At last, his parents having blessed him, Aloysius departed for Rome and his dream.
On November 25, 1585, Aloysius now eighteen years old, at last entered the Jesuit Novitiate House of Sant’ Andrea. Settled in his tiny cell, he could be heard ecstatically exclaiming, “This is my rest forever and ever; here I dwell, for I have chosen it.” Six weeks passed when his joy was turned to grief mixed with bliss. His father died, but not before having completely turned his life around; he called for a priest and was given the Last Rites of the Church. His eldest son had relinquished all rights to fame and position, acclaim in this world, for service to His Heavenly King and life eternal in His Heavenly Kingdom. Aloysius had refused a golden crown on earth and God gave him the most precious crown adorned with priceless stones and diamonds, the souls (including his father’s) saved through his sacrifice and example.
[In the ministry, we have found that every time we are called to sacrifice, the Lord blesses us equal to, if not more than the magnitude of the sacrifice.]
The sign of a Saint is not the gifts bestowed upon him: gifts like bilocation, ecstasy, the stigmata, reading men’s souls, heavenly fragrance and others; they are simply gifts from the Lord. It is the living out of a virtuous life, in keeping with one’s vocation. One of the greatest signs of sainthood is obedience! You will find it in the lives of all the Saints.
Aloysius’ biographers say that there is not much known about how he spent the two years following his entrance into the Novitiate, except, and that’s a big except, he obeyed, even when he found it a hardship. His superiors were keenly aware of his frail health. In an attempt to strengthen him, and restore him to good health, they required that he have some sort of recreation. He was to curb his fasting and eat more than he had at home. And most trying of all, he was to try to think of things which would divert his attention from the deeply spiritual. They hoped, in this way to prevent him from going into ecstasy. He was forbidden to pray or meditate, except at designated times. This act of obedience, training his mind to refrain from dwelling on the Treasures of Heaven, was the most difficult for Aloysius; his heart was already there, his eyes focused on what lay ahead for him with the Father.
Now, think about it; he joined the Novitiate to live a life centered on the Lord and future life with Him, and he has to limit his thinking of Him? It doesn’t sound logical. It is super logical or Divine. By this sacrifice, was God asking him to be there to do His Will, and to die to Aloysius’ will? How would Aloysius know his Father’s Will? Obey his superiors, even when he was not in agreement, especially when he was not in agreement. In studying the lives of the Saints, we find God telling them that by obeying their superiors they were doing His Will.
[When someone applies for entrance into the ministry, we ask why they want to enter. If they say they have come because they want to do God’s Will, we can be pretty sure they will stay. If instead, they have a pre-existing notion or agenda, the Lord will blow them out of the ministry.]
Aloysius made every action a prayer! Coming from the aristocracy, he was fully aware he was not proficient in physical labor of any kind. He had been trained to be a knight, not a peasant. But this is what he chose to do! The more humble the assignment, the more subservient the job, the more physically and demeaning the work, the happier he was. As with Saints Anthony of Padua and Teresa of Avila, he found God among the pots and pans; he loved to work in the kitchen washing dishes and cleaning up after others around the novitiate. He genuinely performed all the servile duties allowed him, with excitement. What the world judged menial, he found meaningful.
He was at a Novitiate in Milan, when one day, as he was praying, he had a vision revealing he would not be on earth much longer. This filled his Heart with unfathomable joy, and from that time he had only one vision, to prepare for things Above, not below.
He more and more separated himself from the distractions of the world. His superiors saw his health getting progressively worse, his strength ebbing out of him, draining him. The weather in Milan tended to be harsh in the winter. In Rome, the climate was temperate, and consequently more agreeable to his health.
It was decided that Aloysius would go to Rome to complete his studies in Theology. Upon arrival, he managed to choose the most austere niche in the house, a room in the attic. A tiny window in the roof of his room provided the only light, which at rare intervals cut through the darkness, to brighten his little cubby hole. His simple furnishings consisted of a bed, one chair and a stool upon which he placed his books. But to him, this was more splendid than the most magnificently adorned room in the palaces where he had lived. Here, he and the Lord could communicate, undisturbed.
The other seminarians commented they could see him deeply absorbed, meditating. He seemed oblivious of his surroundings at school, and when walking in the corridors of the cloister. He would become so deeply contemplative, he would often be seen going into ecstasy at the most unlikely places, at the most unlikely times. It could be at dinner, or during his strictly prescribed recreation time. Lost in prayer, unaware of his surroundings, the noise, the other students, he would be deeply immersed in some sort of dialogue with another People in another World, ecstasy. Even when the other seminarians called to him, shouting that recreation time was over and they had to go back to class, he did not acknowledge them.
He was restricted to the amount of time he could spend contemplating God (as it would bring him into a state of ecstasy and further weaken his health). Whatever time he did have was so filled with unsurpassable joy, he so longed to be united with Jesus in Heaven, he would get lost in ecstasy. As with other Saints, just the thought of the Lord, the mere mention of His Name, would lead him to contemplate on the Lord he would be with someday, the One he would behold in His Beatific Vision, and that was enough to have him go into ecstasy. His superiors tried to restrain him from weakening himself, but all they could do was pray for this little future Saint, in their midst, that the Lord would keep him with them a little longer.
It was 1591. Luther and Calvin had swept Europe with their heresies, cutting away at the very heart of the faithful, causing division. Mankind, confused, started to turn away from God. A plague broke out. An epidemic spread until it reached and ravaged Rome. No one was excused from its tentacles of pain and misery, the dead piling high in the streets, with barely enough well people who would dare take them away. Loved ones, often frightened of catching the dreaded disease, left the ill to die, uncared for, alone. The Jesuits opened a hospital to tend the sick. With the Father General leading the way, other Jesuits risked their lives, as they spent every waking moment giving solace and comfort to the sick and the Sacraments to the dying. Aloysius begged to join his brothers and was reluctantly given permission to work alongside his fellow Jesuits.
He went among the ill, bathing them with love and compassion. An angel of mercy, he was very often responsible for bringing them closer to Jesus, preparing them to meet their Savior. He tended them, placing cold cloths on their feverish foreheads, cleaning them, gently washing their pain-wracked bodies. He made their beds, cleaned out their bed pans. No job too menial, too trivial, to him they were Jesus and he had an opportunity to soothe Jesus’ Wounds, as he could not while He was alive. In this way, by soothing their wounds, these “the least of His children,” he was in his small way soothing the Wounds of his Lord. As was expected, the Jesuit priests, aiding the sick and dying, also fell victims to the plague and Aloysius nursing them, caught the death-threatening disease.
Aloysius, believing that this was the end and he was dying, was filled with joy. This was what the prophecy meant; this was how and when he was to die; he was soon to be with his Jesus! Anxious to be on his way, he received his Viaticum and was anointed. His delight was all too premature. To the amazement of everyone, especially his own, he recovered. But the epidemic left its scars; a low fever further crippled him; he was reduced to an invalid barely able to lift his head. He went from bad to worse. Three months after having been afflicted, he was confined to his bed. At night, when he could muster enough strength, he would rise from bed, and he would worship his Lord on the Crucifix. He would painfully shuffle from holy picture to holy picture, kissing our Blessed Mother, all the Angels and the Saints depicted. Then, braced between the bed and wall, he knelt and prayed, for as long as his strength held up.
Paradise his dream, he humbly asked his confessor and spiritual director, if it was possible that anyone could go directly to God in Heaven, without passing through Purgatory. St. Robert Bellarmine assured him it was not only possible, but knowing him the way that he did, it was altogether feasible that he, Aloysius would receive that Grace from God. With that, Aloysius fell into a deep ecstasy that lasted through the night. It was during this ecstasy, he was to learn that he would die on the octave of Corpus Christi, the Feast Day of the Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus in the Eucharist Whom he so passionately loved. On each of the eight days Aloysius would intone the Te Deum, in thanksgiving to the Lord for deeming it His Will that Aloysius would soon see Him.
Those with him, would at times hear him recite, “I rejoiced when they said to me: We will go into the house of the Lord.” At other times, he would say, “We are going, gladly, gladly!” On the eighth day of the octave, he looked so much better, they spoke of sending him to the town of Frascati. But to their dismay, he pleaded to receive Viaticum, as he tried to make them understand he would die before the morning sun. They reluctantly complied with his wishes. When his provincial came into his room to see how he was doing, Aloysius joyfully greeted him with, “We are going, Father; we are going.” To which the provincial asked, “Where?” Aloysius replied, “To Heaven.” The provincial, seeing the great improvement in Aloysius said, “Listen to the young man. He speaks of going to Heaven, as we speak of going to Frascati.”
Evening came. As Aloysius was looking so well and definitely out of danger, they left him with just a couple of Jesuits to watch over him. All the rest were relieved of their watch and sent to bed. But at Aloysius’ insistence, St. Robert Bellarmine intoned the prayers for the dying. The little soldier of Christ lay still, breaking the silence with his occasional whispering, “Into Thy Hands.” No one believed he was dying, until he suddenly turned for the worse. It was between eleven and twelve o’clock at night, when they noticed his labored breathing. He began to sink deeper and deeper into the World he so often spoke of. His earthly strength giving out to new promise and Heavenly power, he began to breath his last. His eyes fixed on the Crucifix he so loved, he called out Jesus, and at midnight the evening of June the 20th, the boy who traded the riches of this world for those of the next, went Home! He was twenty-three years old.
The relics of St. Aloysius lie under the altar in the Lancelotti Chapel of the Church of St. Ignatius in Rome, where they can still be venerated. Miracles began to happen immediately. In so short a time, the virtue and piety, the holiness of this young man who lived his life with an eye on eternity, spread to all parts of Italy, the rest of Europe and then across the sea to the United States. Living a holy life on earth, he received the key to eternal life with his Savior. A word to the young and the not-so-young, Pray to St. Aloysius for purity. He will bring you to Sainthood.
He was proclaimed a Saint by Benedict XIII, on December 31, 1726. He was named Protector of Catholic students of the entire world, November 22, 1729. And in 1926, Pope Pius XI declared him Patron Saint of the youth of the World.
We are in the days of great Saints and deadly sinners. Live your life with your eyes on Jesus and He will lead you to Sainthood and Home! Cast your lot with the enemy of God with his false, fleeting promises and he will not only betray you on earth, he will drag you down with him to the bowels of hell. Saints like St. Aloysius made a choice in life, while very young. He chose the crown awaiting him in Heaven rather than the temporary crown on earth which will tarnish. Look in the mirror! What do you see? Is that the one you want to stand before Our precious Lord, Who loved you so much, when asked,”How much do you love me?” opened His Arms wide on the Cross and said, “This much.” We love you!
You can be a Saint!
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”
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