Little Lives of the Great Saints – Saint Aloysius of Gonzaga, S.J., The Illustrious Patron of Youth

Saint Aloysius GonzagaArticle

Died A.D. 1591.

Just eight years before the birth of Saint Vincent de Paul, and while Saint Francis de Sales was but a sweet little babe of seven months old, and the lovely Saint Teresa was yet on earth, leading her nuns on the narrow path to heaven, there was born at the princely castle of Castiglione, on the 9th of March, 1568, a child who was destined to be a brilliant mirror of purity and innocence, and the wonder of all succeeding ages. It was Aloysius Gonzaga.

His father, the Marquis Gonzaga, was a Spanish prince, and his mother belonged to a noble and distinguished family. It is said that the child – her first-born – was the fruit of his mother’s pious prayers. She besought the Almighty to grant her a son who would consecrate his life to the service of his Creator. God was pleased at the request of the good lady. Aloysius was the answer to her tender petition.

As may easily be supposed, the marchioness watched over the education of little Aloysius and her other children with a motherly and religious solicitude. The first words he was taught to utter were the holy names of Jesus and Mary; and the first action that he learned was to make the Sign of the Cross. His infant soul was thus early impressed with pious sentiments.

Nor was the boy’s wealth of goodness a hidden jewel which it took a long time to discover. From the first his compassion for the poor was extraordinary. He gave away all his pocket-money to beggars. His manners were kind and amiable, and in praying he seemed like a little seraph. Thus in Aloysius age and grace grew together. Such bright and happy inclinations at the very dawn of life gave hopes that its meridian would be still more brilliant, and it was well argued that the bud which promised so well would not fail to produce in due season rare and admirable fruit.

His father – ignorant of the designs of Providence – desired to train up Aloysius for the military profession. He furnished the child with little guns, pikes, and swords. The marquis even carried him, while but four years of age, to Cascal, where he had assembled a division of the army. Here he was delighted to see the boy carry a little pike and march before the ranks.

It was during his stay at Cascal that Aloysius, thrown amid the rude, vicious society of army officers, picked up some unbecoming words, which, of course, he did not understand. On making use of them in the hearing of his tutor, he was at once rebuked. The child, however, must be excused from all blame, as he wanted both age and knowledge; but to the last day of his life he bewailed this fault as a subject of deep sorrow and humiliation. Nor could he ever after endure the presence of any one who cursed or used improper or profane language.

When he had reached the age of seven years, reason came to the boy’s aid in forming pious habits. He began to recite the Office of the Blessed Virgin every day. He said the Seven Penitential Psalms on his knees – a custom which he observed to the end. Thus, at a time when other children are scarcely able to distinguish between good and evil, our young Saint began to lay the foundations of that spiritual edifice which grew daily, and finally received its crowning glory beyond the stars.

At the age of eight, Aloysius and his younger brother, Ralph, were placed at the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, that they might learn Latin, Italian, and various accomplishments suited to their rank. But none of these things interfered with his steady progress in virtue. He became exceedingly devout to the Blessed Virgin; and his desire to imitate her celestial chastity induced him to make a vow of chastity. He kept it with marvelous fidelity. To such a degree did Heaven bestow upon him the perfection of this beautiful virtue that never in his whole life did he feel the least temptation against holy purity. This we have from the testimony of his confessors, the learned Father Platus, S.J., and the celebrated Cardinal Bellarmine, S. J.

But Aloysius cultivated this extraordinary grace by ceaseless prayer and mortification. His modesty was proverbial. He did not even know the faces of many ladies among his own relations with whom he frequently conversed. The language of this noble boy was the mirror of a spotless mind; and from his very action there shone forth the grace and beauty that reigned within.

He was the very soul of kindness and courtesy. Never did he speak to his servants in words of command. “Please do this,” he would say; or, “You may do this”; or, “If it be no trouble, you may do this.” To his governor he was obedient as a novice, and towards all he was affable and gentle.

At the age of eleven his father removed him from Florence to Mantua. It was here that he first experienced the ravishing delight of a soul engaged in pious meditation. He found “how sweet is the Lord to those who love Him” He spent whole hours before a crucifix. Often he was so deeply absorbed in heavenly thought that his governor and attendants would enter the apartment and make a considerable noise, in order to attract his attention, without, however, causing him to make the smallest sign to show that he was at all aware of their presence.

When the great Saint Charles Borromeo paid a visit to Brescia, Aloysius went to receive his blessing. The cardinal was delighted with the young marquis, whom he advised to prepare for First Communion. He prepared with inexpressible diligence for this great and happy act. The day came. Aloysius received the Bread of Angels as one who shone with the beauty and brilliancy of another world. He was now twelve years of age.

After several years of study, piety, and the practice of severe mortification, he resolved to consecrate his life entirely to Heaven. It was his desire to enter the Society of Jesus. When he told his mother, the good lady smiled with pleasure, but his father was indignant. From all sides came difficulties. But the Saint prayed and confided in Heaven. He finally conquered, by his kindness, firmness, and humility, where he would have been defeated by an intemperate opposition.

The old marquis at length gave his consent. “My dear son,” said he, “your choice is a deep wound in my heart. I ever loved you, as you always deserved. In you I had found the hopes of my family; but you tell me that God calls you another way. Go, then, in His name, wherever you please, and may his blessings everywhere attend you.”

Aloysius now made over all his estates and lordly titles to his brother Ralph, and the affair was ratified by the emperor in 1585. When the day of departure came, his subjects crowded around, and sorrow was expressed in every countenance. The Saint bade them all farewell, saying: “I seek nothing but the salvation of my soul; may you all do the same.”

On arriving at Rome he paid his respects to the pope, and at once sought the novitiate. He was scarcely eighteen years of age. When he was conducted to his cell he entered it as a paradise. “This is my rest forever,” he exclaimed in the words of the prophet; “here will I dwell, for I have chosen it.”

He was now hidden amid that silence and retirement peculiar to a religious life. He was daily preparing for himself a crown of glory both here and hereafter. But, like a brilliant diamond in the dark he shone not the less brightly in his new solitude and obscurity.

The bud which had opened with such early promise did not fail, as we have seen, to produce fruit in due season; and as its opening had been in advance of its fellows, so it maintained the start which it had obtained, until it gave rich indications of a premature but full and perfect growth.

The angelic life which Saint Aloysius led among men rendered him worthy to be called away at an early age to the mansions of the blessed. It was revealed to him one day, while saying his morning prayers, that in a year from that time the call would come. He was then finishing his studies in theology.

Not long after this a deadly pestilence swept over Rome. The Saint devoted himself to the service of the sick and dying. Like a ministering angel he passed through the wards of the hospital. He exhorted the poor patients, washed their feet, made their beds, changed their clothes, and performed the most loathsome offices with inexpressible tenderness. But he soon fell sick himself, and joy shone over his youthful countenance. The promised hour was coming. He received the last Sacraments, and, after murmuring the holy name of Jesus, the beautiful soul of Aloysius Gonzaga winged its flight to that heavenly home where –

“From every eye is wiped the tear,
All sighs and sorrows cease;
No more alternate hope and fear,
But everlasting peace.”

His happy death took place on the 21st of June, 1591, in the twenty-fourth year of his age. He was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726.

MLA Citation

  • John O’Kane Murray, M.A., M.D. “Saint Aloysius of Gonzaga, S.J., The Illustrious Patron of Youth”. Little Lives of the Great Saints, 1879. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 September 2018. Web. 18 January 2019. <>