The Real Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

Updated on July 6, 2018
Bede le Venerable profile image

Bede is an artist with a long time interest in the lives of the saints.

Source

Forty years ago this year, my mother gave me two books for my first Holy Communion: an illustrated book of Jesus’ life and the Picture Book of Saints. The latter was one of my favorite childhood books. The illustrations spoke more than the text. Among the illustrations was St. Aloysius; he appears as pretty as an angel amid the lilies. Most depictions that I saw later in life confirmed my verdict: St. Aloysius was a wimp. However, I decided to read a long biography of him, to try to discover the real St. Aloysius.

Typically over sentimental depictions of St. Aloysius.
Typically over sentimental depictions of St. Aloysius. | Source

My previous judgment dissolved as a truer image of St. Aloysius emerged; an image more akin to an oak tree rather than cotton candy, as artists often depict him. Here are five ways that reveal his strength of character:

1. Disgust with Court Life

As a member of the prestigious Gonzaga family of Castiglione, Aloysius (Latin for Louis), was born into phenomenal wealth and luxury. Servants constantly waited on him; he had the finest food, clothes, and personal tutors to educate him; there was unlimited money at his disposal, and perhaps most exciting of all, he was heir-apparent to one of the wealthiest and most powerful marquisates in Europe. His father, Ferrante de Gonzaga, Marquis of Castiglione, introduced him to military life at age four, in the hope that Aloysius might learn the "art of arms." For a couple months, Aloysius remained with a platoon of soldiers, shot a cannon and picked up the rough language of the camp, something for which he repented later in life.

These depictions of Aloysius were painted from life when he was 5 and 17 years old.
These depictions of Aloysius were painted from life when he was 5 and 17 years old. | Source

As early as age seven, however, Aloysius started having other plans for his life. He was bedridden with quartan ague, a type of malarial fever. Along with the germ that made him ill, God planted another seed that would germinate in time. At this age, he revealed to his mother, Marta, his desire to devote his life to God. She said that it might be difficult, as he was the eldest of the family. Nonetheless, this aspiration grew along with the conviction that court life was not for him. I believe this desire to bypass a lavish life-style reveals Aloysius’ inner strength.

2. Austerity of Life

Though coddled from his earliest days, Aloysius started living as strictly as a Carthusian monk. For example, though he had the finest cuisine available, he fasted on bread and water three days a week. While his six siblings were attired in the flamboyant costumes of the Renaissance, he chose to dress very modestly, often simply in black clothing. He avoided the parties held at the court and lived a prayerful life.

In addition to this outward disavowal of court life, he embraced quite severe penances. For instance, he would get up in the night to pray, kneeling on the stone floor without a cushion; when it was cold, he would open the window and wear light clothing; he scourged himself with a dog leash, and practiced “custody of the eyes” in the company of women. This latter instance has earned him the reputation of being overly prudish, but at least his intention seems to have been pure.

 Aloysius had great devotion to the Virgin Mary. This painting is by the 17th century artist, Carlo Francesco Nuvolone. The lily of purity is one of Aloysius' symbols.
Aloysius had great devotion to the Virgin Mary. This painting is by the 17th century artist, Carlo Francesco Nuvolone. The lily of purity is one of Aloysius' symbols. | Source

Undoubtedly, the piety of the times and his reading of the heroic deeds of medieval saints influenced his practices. To modern sensibilities, these penances seem quite harsh and even masochistic, yet in view of his wholehearted desire for holiness, it is understandable. Additionally, it took real courage to forego both courtly pleasures and popularity and reveals that he was by no means a weakling.

3. Bearing his Father’s Opposition

The seed that God planted at age seven came to maturity by age fifteen. He told his mother of his desire to join the Jesuits, still a new order at the time. His mother, who was quite devout, actually rejoiced in his decision. She informed Don Ferdinand, the dreaded Marquis, of Aloysius’ desire. His response was an outburst of rage, as he placed all his hopes on his eldest son.

When Aloysius himself approached his father, he received a severe rebuke and threat of flogging. His father was especially angered that he chose the Jesuits; St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, forbade his priests to attain higher dignities, such as a bishopric. Don Ferdinand put tremendous pressure on Aloysius to change his mind. He especially sought every avenue to dissuade Aloysius from joining the Jesuits, with the help of several priests. It was to no avail; Aloysius stood firm like the Hoover Dam.

Source

During this extended trial, Aloysius revealed manly virtue, especially patience; for as St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Patience is a virtue aligned with fortitude.” Finally, after two years of conflict, he approached his father who was bedridden with gout and said, “I am in your power, father, and you can do with me as you please. But know this, that God calls me to the Society of Jesus, and you are resisting His Will by opposing my vocation.” After Aloysius left the room, Don Ferdinand burst into tears. The father summoned Aloysius back to his room, revealed his love for him, and said, “I had set all my hopes upon you…I will not keep you back any longer; go where you will.”

4. Jesuit Novice

Having renounced the vast Gonzaga fortunes and legal rights of the marquisate of Castiglione to his younger brother, Rodolfo, Aloysius finally joined the Jesuits at age seventeen. "I am a piece of twisted iron,” he said, “I entered the religious life to get twisted straight." He soon learned that doing the twist would be painful. His novice-master recognized the generosity of the lad, but quickly put an end to his excessive penances. Aloysius was obliged to eat and sleep more, pray less, and enter into the recreational life with the other Jesuits. He obeyed, but at no small cost, since his new life seemed comparatively casual to his former life.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This is a detail of a painting by Guercino, titled the Vocation of St. Aloysius. St. Aloysius is shown renouncing the crown for the Cross.A beautiful stained glass from Lille Cathedral, depicting St. Aloysius' entrance into the Jesuit Order.An allegorical painting by Theodore Boeyermans, depicting St. Aloysius pronouncing his vows. St Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier are in the firmament while the world, flesh(cupid), and the Devil try to prevent him. Note the crown on the ground.
This is a detail of a painting by Guercino, titled the Vocation of St. Aloysius. St. Aloysius is shown renouncing the crown for the Cross.
This is a detail of a painting by Guercino, titled the Vocation of St. Aloysius. St. Aloysius is shown renouncing the crown for the Cross. | Source
A beautiful stained glass from Lille Cathedral, depicting St. Aloysius' entrance into the Jesuit Order.
A beautiful stained glass from Lille Cathedral, depicting St. Aloysius' entrance into the Jesuit Order. | Source
An allegorical painting by Theodore Boeyermans, depicting St. Aloysius pronouncing his vows. St Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier are in the firmament while the world, flesh(cupid), and the Devil try to prevent him. Note the crown on the ground.
An allegorical painting by Theodore Boeyermans, depicting St. Aloysius pronouncing his vows. St Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier are in the firmament while the world, flesh(cupid), and the Devil try to prevent him. Note the crown on the ground. | Source

In the main, he led a very conscientious and devout life as a novice, attending classes, and fulfilling the various duties imposed on him, such as working in the refectory. One day, the novice-master requested that the Brother in charge of the refectory test Aloysius frequently, by blaming and reproving him. The Brother could not succeed in upsetting him, or cause him to utter an excuse.

Aloysius also volunteered to work at the local hospital. On closer inspection, this was heroic of him since he was very sensitive to disgusting sores and odors. He strove to conquer his inborn squeamishness, and attend to the most repulsive cases. A fellow novice, Decio Striverio, remembers approaching a particularly loathsome patient, full of bleeding sores. Aloysius turned completely pale as they approached, but as if summoning some hidden strength, his color returned and he approached the victim as if he were Christ Himself. "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it for Me.” (Mt. 25:40)

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Here, St. Aloysius is shown caring  for victims of the plague .
Here, St. Aloysius is shown caring  for victims of the plague .
Here, St. Aloysius is shown caring for victims of the plague . | Source
Source
Source

5. Assistance to Plague Victims

The years 1590 and 1591 were especially difficult in Italy because of poor harvests and the arrival of a dreadful plague. The Jesuits did what they could to assist, by collecting and distributing alms and working in the hospitals. Aloysius’ duty was to collect alms, which he performed willingly. Nevertheless, he desired to assist in the hospitals. His superiors gave him permission.

Aloysius worked first at the overcrowded hospital of St. Sixtus. He traversed the streets of Rome and carried the ill on his back to the hospital; when there, he undressed and washed the victims, gave them fresh clothing, placed them in a bed and fed them. However, the Jesuit superiors took alarm, as some of the novices started dying. They assigned Aloysius to the hospital of Santa Maria di Consolazione, reserved for non-contagious patients.

While assisting at this hospital, he lifted an unknowingly infected man out of his bed, tended his needs, and returned him to his bed. Unfortunately, this act of charity cost Aloysius his life. He received the diagnosis of infection on March 3, 1591, and died on June 21, 1591. He was 23 years old. In a letter addressed to his mother shortly before his death, he wrote, “Our parting will not be for long; we shall see each other again in heaven; we shall be united with our Savior; there we shall praise him with heart and soul, sing of his mercies forever, and enjoy eternal happiness.”

This lithograph shows the act of charity that cut short Aloysius' earthly life.
This lithograph shows the act of charity that cut short Aloysius' earthly life. | Source

No Wimp but a Beautiful Man

Aloysius’ patronage extends foremost over the youth. Thus, artists have made the effort to emphasize his angelic purity, as a role model for chastity. While undoubtedly commendable, the realization of this virtue in pictorial form often results in a caricature. There is a fine line between heroic purity and honey-dripping effeminacy, at least in artistic terms. Interestingly, St. Aloysius is also the patron of AIDS patients and caregivers, due to his compassionate care and ultimate infection of an incurable disease. In the final analysis, the sugarcoated holy card depiction of St. Aloysius is misleading, as he possessed ferocious will power. Moreover, one can easily absolve his youthful quirkiness before entering the Jesuits, in light of his large-hearted compassion revealed in the end.

References

The Life of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Patron of Christian Youth, by Maurice Meschler, S.J.,

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, by Virgil Cepari, S. J.

This article has more historical details about St. Aloysius and the House of Gonzaga.

© 2018 Bede

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Bede le Venerable profile imageAUTHOR

    Bede 

    3 months ago from Minnesota

    Hi Dolores, I think you’re exactly right…the artists meant to convey his youthfulness and virtue. The thought of what extra good he may have done is sad in a way. It could be that God captured him in his youth for a good reason, such as when a gardener clips a rose at the peak of loveliness. I’m impressed that he understood what he wanted at such a young age and sought the means to achieve it, come what may.

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 

    3 months ago from East Coast, United States

    Hi Bede - I wonder if the wimpy depiction of St. Aloysius Gonzaga was an attempt to depict his youth. How sad that this incredible young man died so young. How impressive that in his short life, he was able to establish a saintly strength that speaks to us so many years later, and that he was so honored by sainthood.

  • Bede le Venerable profile imageAUTHOR

    Bede 

    5 months ago from Minnesota

    It’s the old Catholic philosophy: “first purgatory, then heaven.” It seems to work though.

    I’m glad that we have a mixture among the saints- some die as old oak trees; others get transplanted while young. It’s good to have a mix.

  • Gregory DeVictor profile image

    Gregory DeVictor 

    5 months ago from Squirrel Hill, PA

    Now that I have read your article, I really respect Saint Aloysius for his unrelenting dedication to service. Regarding his untimely death, I remember what a lay professor at VU said one evening during his lecture: “The good die young.” (In this context, Dr. M. was alluding to one of our former presidents.)

  • Gregory DeVictor profile image

    Gregory DeVictor 

    5 months ago from Squirrel Hill, PA

    Living my life backwards, I believe that the diocesan priests at Gannon were as demanding as the Augustinians at Villanova. We used to sit around the dorm or frat house in Erie and complain about all the demands that these priests were putting upon us. (We would even go the names alphabetically.) Of course, the lay professors were doing the same.

  • Bede le Venerable profile imageAUTHOR

    Bede 

    5 months ago from Minnesota

    You went to Villanova, right? I can believe that the Augustinians can be just as demanding as the Jesuits. But hey, now you’re “DeVictor.”

  • Gregory DeVictor profile image

    Gregory DeVictor 

    5 months ago from Squirrel Hill, PA

    I graduated from two Roman Catholic universities and was taught by a lot of priests. With no exception, these role models demanded work, work, and more work.

  • Bede le Venerable profile imageAUTHOR

    Bede 

    5 months ago from Minnesota

    I forgot to mention that the most demanding teacher I ever had was a Jesuit priest. He taught High School English, and it was nothing but work, work, work! He said, “you’ll thank me later.”

  • aesta1 profile image

    Mary Norton 

    5 months ago from Ontario, Canada

    Not as good as my Jesuit mentor would have wanted. I remembered submitting the first draft few pages of my thesis and he just told me it was junk. I wasn't anything. I had to practice writing paragraphs until I got what makes a good paragraph. They are truly great educators.

  • Bede le Venerable profile imageAUTHOR

    Bede 

    5 months ago from Minnesota

    I agree Mary, St. Aloysius’s life was a beautiful, self-giving life. Just think- how easy it would have been for him to be self-serving instead, following in the tradition of his Gonzaga predecessors. So, he’s a good example. That’s interesting you were educated by the Jesuits…no wonder you have such good hubs!

  • aesta1 profile image

    Mary Norton 

    5 months ago from Ontario, Canada

    It is really a life offered to service. I also graduated from a Jesuit University and really admired many of my professors. Now, I will have St. Aloysius closer in my life.

  • Bede le Venerable profile imageAUTHOR

    Bede 

    7 months ago from Minnesota

    Thanks again for the appreciation Alex…it keeps me going.

    Thanks for the comment Mamerto. You’re definitely right, he is a very good inspiration for young people in our times. I hope to put together another Hub sometime with him as an example of a particular virtue... you can probably guess.

  • Mamerto profile image

    JR Mamerto 

    7 months ago from Cabuyao

    He should be an inspiration to every young people!

  • Guckenberger profile image

    Alexander James Guckenberger 

    7 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

    Of course. I loved reading this. :)

  • Bede le Venerable profile imageAUTHOR

    Bede 

    7 months ago from Minnesota

    Thanks for the comment Alexander.

  • Guckenberger profile image

    Alexander James Guckenberger 

    7 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

    Very interesting and informative.

  • Bede le Venerable profile imageAUTHOR

    Bede 

    7 months ago from Minnesota

    Thanks for the comment, Linda. I’m glad to have dispelled St. Aloysius’ reputation for being a wimp. He received inspiration when reading about the saints as a lad, then became a saint himself. So, I guess it’s our job to become saints and pass on the flame!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    I admire the fortitude and perseverance of the saints that you describe. St. Aloysius deserves respect. I'm glad you've dispelled the impression that he was a wimp!

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)