Due to his short lifespan, a look at the life of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga deals mainly with his childhood and seminarian life. He was born Luigi Gonzaga, the eldest son of Ferrante, the Marquis of Castiglione, an Italian nobleman, on the 9th of March, 1568. From the earliest age, the young saint was given to prayer. Legend has it that his first spoken words were the Holy Names of Mary and Jesus.
Aloysius was the oldest son, raised in the castle Castiglione delle Stivieri in Lombardy, with many servants, and plenty of wealth and comfort. Aloysius was a bright and cheerful boy who got along well with other people. It was natural for his father to have had great hopes that he would have a military career and succeed him in the nobility with title and property. Aloysius was, therefore, trained for soldiery and court life from a very young age. Aloysius was also deeply faithful and pious. The hand of God would not allow him to become a soldier.
By the age of 9, he had privately decided on a religious Life and made a vow of perpetual virginity. He practiced many devotions and mortifications and safeguarded himself at all times from possible temptation. He had many friends among the soldiers and in the court, who encouraged him to join them for their parties and celebrations. They wanted him to behave just like them. But Aloysius preferred to spend his free time in prayer, kneeling on a cold stone floor or in the church in front of the Blessed Sacrament. His friends and other students teased him for this piety and devotion. Even his parents didn’t understand or approve of this.
In 1577, his father took Aloysius (Luigi) and his brother to Florence to study and improve their Latin and Italian. As it would happen, the young man would develop an affinity for the study of the saints even more than his regular studies.
At this time Aloysius read of the Jesuit missionaries in India, and he resolved to join the Society of Jesus. He began this direction in life by instructing the poor boys of Castiglione in the catechism. At Casal-Monferrato, where he spent winters, he assumed the discipline of a monk, fasting three days a week, scourging himself, and praying at midnight on the stone floor of his unheated room.
Over the next two years, Aloysius would fight with his father, mother, royalty, and delegates over his impending Jesuit vocation. At the age of 12, he encountered the great ecclesiastic Saint Charles Borromeo and he received his first Holy Communion from him. When Aloysius was in his teens, nearly old enough to begin working as a soldier, he became sick with kidney disease, so sick that he had to stay in bed. He wasn’t sorry though, even though anyone would prefer running and playing to being sick in bed for months and months. Aloysius said he was glad that he was ill because it gave him more time to pray and meditate. He also used this time to instruct others in their catechism.
His father and mother were disappointed that Aloysius was sick, but they were even more disappointed when he said that he wanted to become a Jesuit instead of inheriting his father’s title and estate. He signed over all his inheritance to his younger brother. His parents, teachers, and friends argued with him about this decision for three whole years!
His parents continued to disagree with his choice to follow a religious life on the grounds he should follow in his father’s stead. Finally, they relented after most of the family title and responsibilities fell to his younger brother Rudolpho, thus allowing Aloysius to enter his novitiate in November 1585.
Aloysius’ health was so poor that he received Holy Viaticum and Extreme Unction on several occasions. Even though Aloysius was still ill from his kidney disease, he insisted being allowed to assist with the sick and he served in a hospital during the plague of 1587 in Milan. In time, he fell victim to the dreaded disease himself, and died at the age of 23, after receiving the last rites from Saint Robert Bellarmine, who later wrote the Life of Saint Aloysius.
It was revealed to him that he would pass on the Octave of Corpus Christi, and though he appeared much better in the days preceding the Feast, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga did, in fact, die on the Octave of Corpus Christi, June 21st, 1591. This young man, a patron to all young people, was beatified in 1621 and declared a saint in 1725. Aloysius’ relics are buried under the altar of Saint Ignatius Church, Rome.
Who would serve as a better example or be a good patron saint for young people if not St Aloysius? Who would make a good advocate and intercessor for young people and their prayers in Heaven? This young saint is a model for all Catholic youth. He was filled with a love of God, remorse for his sins, and a desire for purity of mind, body, and heart.
Our youth face the same kinds of challenges such as peer pressure, struggles with remaining pure, and difficulties in choosing and pursuing a vocation that Saint Aloysius did. Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is a wonderful example. Despite being among very rough and impure people, and despite many arguments from his parents, he maintained a pure heart and became a Jesuit priest.