The Story of Aloysius Gonzaga

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Giovanni Arledler, SJ

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Visiting the so-called “rooms” or “chapels” of St. Aloysius Gonzaga in Rome, to a certain extent one can measure the distance – about four and a half centuries – between our time and his. But he also seems very present, because some things belonging to him – the crucifix, objects for daily use, the letters written in a beautiful script – seem to indicate to the visitor (as if the statue which portrays him very naturally, located in the great hall, is about to come to life and continue one of his favorite talks) the primacy of God over all of reality and, consequently, how little weight we must give to all the rest.

Up until a few years ago it was not necessary to insist upon the importance of Aloysius Gonzaga within the Church, because the statistics of his popularity showed him to be about the 10th-most-well-known saint, after Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, Rita of Cascia, Padre Pio, Pope John XXIII, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Don Bosco, John Paul II, and Thérèse of Lisieux. However, not many were aware that he was Italian (the surname sounds Spanish to some) and a religious of the Society of Jesus.

His belonging to the Society of Jesus suggests a distinctive note, which probably helps to take in the witness of his life that we will try to treat in its essence: every good Jesuit, starting with the founder of the Order, Ignatius of Loyola, tends to identify himself through his own mission, which is at times specified practically by the pope himself. He does so continually asking: “What would Jesus do in this situation?”

This continual process of identification, step by step, ought to bring the member of the Society of Jesus to identify himself with the Lord, and thus, at the same time, his personality (a strong character like that of Francis Xavier, patron of the missions, also comes to mind) loses many of its characteristics. Thus, Aloysius the little marquis, Aloysius the court page, Aloysius the young ascetic[1] becomes quite rapidly the companion of Jesus who exhausts himself in a few years for his brothers, gives his life with abandonment, and wants always to be united to the Lord in eternal life.

Difficult birth

Aloysius was born in Castiglione delle Stiviere, March 9, 1568, to Don Ferrante Gonzaga, marquis of Castiglione and to Lady Marta, born Tana, of the counts of Sàntena da Chieri, near Turin, lady-in-waiting to the queen of Spain, Isabella de Valois. Ferrante was often present at the Spanish court as a military commander. The parents of Aloysius were well-prepared from the religious point of view for marriage and merited the consent of their parents and of the sovereigns that they were serving.

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