Deacon's Corner | St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Patron Saint of Youth

Read about St. Aloysius Gonzaga | Feast day: June 21

Image of St. Aloysius (Pinterest)Who was St. Aloysius Gonzaga? He is an Italian Jesuit saint of the 16th century, and his feast day is celebrated on June 21. 

Aloysius is the Latin form of his given name, Luigi. In English, the equivalent form would be Louis.

Aloysius Gonzaga was born at Castiglione near Mantua, Italy, in 1568 to a family of wealth and prestige. As the first born son of his father, Ferrante, and his mother, Marta, he was in line to inherit his father's title of Marquis. As a little boy he spent some time with his father in the army. There he picked up some rough language. His mother scolded him and taught him what a terrible thing it is to offend God even in a small matter. He grew up amid the violence and brutality of the Renaissance Italy and witnessed the murder of two of his brothers. 

At age seven he experienced a profound increasing spirituality. His prayers included the Office of Mary, the psalms, and other devotions. At age 8, he began to suffer from a chronic kidney disease, which he considered a blessing as it often left him bed-ridden with time for prayer. By age eleven he was teaching catechism to poor children. 

Aloysius was sent to Madrid, in Spain, to become a page to a prince, and to receive an education. His motto was: “I was born for greater things.” His innocence remained uncontaminated amid the vanities of the court, nor could the world draw his heart from God. At twenty, he signed away forever his right to the title of Marquis and the lands of the family and became a Jesuit novice. His fellow students loved him because he was kind and willing to help them. They respected him because of his great love for purity. 

In 1591 a plague struck Rome. Aloysius would regularly go out into the streets of the city to care for victims of the plague. He nursed the victims of the disease in a hospital, and before long he himself was ill; The sores caused by the disease were very painful. Aloysius never reached the priesthood. On June 21, 1591, he passed away quietly as he gazed at a crucifix where he found strength to suffer. He was only twenty-three years old, six years short of his ordination as a Jesuit priest.

His spiritual director was Robert Bellarmine who later was canonized and declared a doctor of the church. When Robert was dying, he asked to be buried next to the grave of Aloysius. Today, they rest next to each other in the church of St. Ignatius Loyola in Rome. Pope Benedict XIII canonized Aloysius in 1726, and three years later declared him to be the patron saint of young students in the Catholic Church, an honor later confirmed by Pope Pius XI in 1926.

Owing to the manner of his death, he has been considered a patron saint of plague victims. For his compassion and courage in the face of an incurable disease, Aloysius Gonzaga has become the patron both of AIDS sufferers and their caregivers. 

In art, St Aloysius is shown as a young man wearing a black cassock and surplice, or as a page. His attributes are a lily, referring to innocence; a cross, referring to piety and sacrifice; a skull, referring to his early death; and a rosary, referring to his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Tags: St. Aloysius, Patron Saint of plagues

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