Aloysius Gonzanga was born on March 9, 1568. He was an Italian aristocrat who joined the Society of Jesus. Gonzanga was born the eldest of seven children at his family castle in Castiglione delle Stiviere, between Brescia and Mantova in northern Italy. Aloysius is the Latin name of Gonzanga’s given name Luigi.

As the first born son, he had to inherit his father’s title, Marquis. His father desired of him to become a soldier. His military training started at an early age. He also studied languages and arts. His father was very pleased to see him marching in the military camp that he had joined at the age of five. He grew up amid the violence and brutality of Renaissance Italy and witnessed the murder of two of his brothers. In 1576, at the age of 8, he was sent to Florence, along with his younger brother, Rodolfo, to serve at the court of the Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici and to receive further education. While there, he fell ill with a disease of the kidneys, which was to trouble him throughout his life. While he was ill, he took the opportunity to read about the saints and to spend much of his time in prayer. He is said to have taken a private vow of chastity at the age of 9. He returned to Castiglione and there he met Cardinal Charles Borromeo. He received his first holy communion from the Cardinal in 1580. Strongly inspired by the book he read on the Jesuits missionaries in India, he became a missionary himself. His family was called to Spain to assist The Holy Roman Empress Maria of Austria in 1581. They arrived in Madrid in 1582. After that he thought of joining a religious order and considered joining Capuchins. But he had a Jesuit confessor in Madrid and decided to join that order. Aloysius’ mother agreed to this decision but his father prevented him from doing so.

In 1584, he still wanted to be a priest. But his family persuaded him to change his mind. All their efforts were in vain. In November 1585, he gave up all his rights of inheritance which was confirmed by the emperor. He joined the novitiate on 25 June 1585. His health continued to give him problems along with his kidney problem he developed a skin disease, chronic headaches and insomnia. On November 25, 1587 he took the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In 1591, a plague broke out in Rome. The Jesuits opened a hospital for the stricken, and Aloysius volunteered to work there. Aloysius showed the first symptoms of being infected. It seemed certain that he would die in a short time, and he was given Extreme Unction. To everyone’s surprise, however, he recovered, but his health was left worse than ever. While he was ill, he spoke several times with his confessor, the cardinal and later saint, Robert Bellarmine. Aloysius had another vision, and told Bellarmine that he would die on the Octave of the feast of Corpus Christi. On that very day, which fell on June 21 that year, he seemed very well in the morning, but insisted that he would die before the day was over. As he began to grow weak, Bellarmine gave him the last rites, and recited the prayers for the dying. He died just before midnight.

In 1729, Pope Benedict declared Saint Aloysius as patron saints for young students. In 1926, he was named the patron saint to all Catholic youth by Pope Pius XI.

Sharon Vas, Student representative, ACC

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