In the first hundred years of its existence, the Jesuit order attracted a wide variety of men to God’s service. Many of them came from the aristocracy of Europe, and were gifted with remarkable talents and gifts of character. Among these the name of Aloysius – or Louis – Gonzaga stands out. He was conspicuous for his single-mindedness of purpose, his extraordinary intelligence, and the brevity of his life. He was just 23 and six years a Jesuit seminarian, when he died. Aloysius was the eldest son of the Marquis of Mantua, a city state in 16th century Italy. His father had great hopes that his son would become a great statesman or a soldier. But Aloysius had set his heart on spiritual things, and though his family tried to distract him by placing him in the various courts of Europe, he finally obtained his father’s consent to join the Fathers of the Society of Jesus, and signed away his claims of inheritance to his younger brother. “I’m a piece of twisted iron,” Aloysius was wont to say. “I entered religion in order to get straightened out.” Although a prince by upbringing, he adapted to Jesuit common life and lived with great austerity. His outstanding virtue was obedience to his superiors, and this produced in him a marvelous sense of peace, which was always evident. A little anecdote illustrates this well: his Jesuit companions in the Roman college were all preoccupied with a forthcoming task, and one of them asked Aloysius, “what would you do, Louis, if you knew you would fall dead in half an hour?” Aloysius smiled and said, “I’d just keep on doing what I’m doing now.” In 1590 a major famine swept through Italy, followed by a plague. The Jesuits in Rome opened a hospital and Aloysius was at the forefront , collecting alms and nursing the sick. The inevitable happened. He caught the infection and for three months languished in illness and pain, before he finally succumbed. Aloysius Gonzaga has been named patron of youth and more recently, patron of all those who work with those afflicted with AIDS.
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