Father Alonso de Barzana was one of the first Jesuit missionaries in South America, most notably in Tucumán (Argentina). Echoes of his activities reached Fr. Jorge Bergoglio during his time there. Once he became Pope Francis, he encouraged the historical research that made it possible to declare Alonso “venerable” in December 2017.
The Spanish period (1530-1569)
Alonso was born in Belinchón (Cuenca, Spain) around 1530, the eldest son of a family of Jewish origin, consisting of his itinerant doctor father, his mother, two sisters and a brother. Because of his father’s profession, Alonso had an itinerant childhood. After his father died in Alcaudete (Jaén), the family settled in Baeza when Alonso was about 15 years old. “He wore very handsome, fine, dignified clothes. He wished to be noticed and to be known, as in fact he always was, for he was of good character, with a well-proportioned build, and a face so pleasant and serene that it made him likable. He was able, discreet, measured and formal, ready for playful joking and amusements, which were his greatest mischief. Any other mischievous behavior I have neither known nor heard about.”
Learning from Saint John of Avila
In Baeza (Jaén) Alonso came into contact with the disciples of Saint John of Ávila, in particular with Professor Bernardino de Carleval, a lecturer and the rector of the university. Listening to one of his sermons, he had such a radical conversion that he spent the next seven years in fasting and mortifications. He entered the school of Saint John of Ávila, which was characterized by apostolic zeal for the reform of the Church, an austere life, a solid spirituality and the guidance of Saint John. It seems that the master had thought of founding a congregation, but, seeing that St. Ignatius had already done so, he renounced the project and directed a good number of his disciples toward the Society. As for him, although he did not enter the Society, he asked to be buried in the grounds of the Jesuit college at Montilla (Córdoba).
While studying, Alonso also acted as tutor to the son of Don Luis Chacón in order to support his family. Let us recall the stages of his academic curriculum: in 1547 he enrolled in the grammar course of Juan Giménez at the highest level; in 1548 he began to study philosophy; in 1551 he became a bachelor of arts; in 1555, licentiate in arts; in 1558, master of arts; in 1557, bachelor in theology.