Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hail, Aloysius, Saintly Religious and Patron of Youth

"The Vocation of St. Aloysius Gonzaga,"  G. F. Barbieri

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568 AD - 1591 AD), canonized in 1726, and named Patron of Youth by Pope Pius XI in 1926.  St. Aloysius was born into an aristocratic Italian family, and was expected to enter his father's profession of soldier.  Accordingly, at a very young age he began his military training by serving at the court of the Grand Duke Francesco d'Medici in Florence, which was followed two years later by service at the court of the Duke of Mantua.  St. Aloysius, however, was by nature very serious and religious, having by the age of nine made a vow of perpetual chastity, and was shocked by the violence and immorality of the Duke's court.  Around this time, St. Aloysius met St. Robert Bellarmine, the Jesuit Cardinal and Doctor of the Church, and received his first communion from him.   It was at this time also that St. Aloysius formed the intention of entering religious life and becoming a missionary.  Over the strenous objections of his father, St. Aloysius renounced his birthright in favor of his younger brother and entered the Society of Jesus in 1585.  While he was studying theology in Rome, plague broke out in the city.   The Jesuits opened an infirmary for plague victims, and St. Aloysius volunteered to serve in it.  Although his superiors attempted to shield him from the disease, in March, 1591 St. Aloysius nevertheless contracted the plague.  It was expected he would shortly die, and indeed extreme unction was administered to him, but St. Aloysius's condition, to everyone's great joy and surprise, improved.  However, St. Aloysius at this time had a vision, according to which, as he informed his confessor, St. Robert Bellarmine, he would die on the Octave of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, a day which that year fell on June 21.   On that day, though he seemed well in the morning,  St. Aloysius would indeed die, just before midnight.   Thirty years later, as St. Robert Bellarmine himself was near death, he expressed, to those gathered around his deathbed, his wish to be buried "at the feet of Aloysius Gonzaga."  St. Robert Bellarmine's wish was granted, and he and St. Aloysius are buried together in the Church of St. Ignatius in Rome.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron of youth, pray for us.

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