Saints of the Day – Alphonsus Rodriguez

painting 'Vision of Alonso Rodriquez', by Francisco de Zurbarán, Museo de la Academia de San Fernando, MadridArticle

(also known as Alonso)

Born in Segovia, Spain, July 25, 1533; died at Palma de Majorca in 1617; beatified 1825; canonized 1888; feast formerly on October 31.

“The difference between adversity suffered for God and prosperity is greater than that between gold and a lump of lead.” – Saint Alphonsus.

Brother Alphonsus proves Mother Teresa’s axiom that small things done with great love is the call of the Christian. Every day Alphonsus Rodriguez prayed to more than 20 confessors, martyrs, and Church Fathers. He had a great veneration for Saint Ursula, and though modern scholarship has done much to revise and alter the story of her martyrdom, the fact remains that a liturgy might be clumsy and inaccurate and yet represent a far more fertile and living expression of religious life than one which has been cleaned and scoured to the point of rendering it sterile.

Surely the candor and devotion of Saint Alphonsus is of greater value than the scientific researches of our professors of liturgy. He was a bit mad perhaps – when he was told to eat his plate, he took his knife and tried to cut it into pieces and swallow them. Perhaps that sounds stupid, but it was he who was in the right for he had, on entering the Jesuits, made his vow of obedience, and his obedience was so perfect that he obeyed hasty or perhaps joking orders to the letter.

Alphonus was the third child of a large family of wool merchants. When Blessed Peter Favre and another Jesuit came to preach a mission at Segovia, they stayed with Alphonus’s family and took up the invitation for a short holiday at their country house. Young Alphonsus, then about 10, went with them and was prepared for his First Communion by Blessed Peter.

When he was 14, Alphonsus was sent with his elder brother to study under the Jesuits at Alcala. Before the year was out, their father Diego was dead and it fell to Alphonsus interrupt his studies to manage the family business. When he was 23, his mother retired and Alphonus inherited his father’s business. Like Saint Francis of Assisi, he sold cloth all day long, buying with one hand and selling with the other.

He married Maria Suarez when he was 27. Soon the business was failing due to hard economic times. Then his little daughter died. When he was about 35, his wife died shortly after giving birth to their only son. Two years later his mother died. The business didn’t prosper either. This succession of misfortunes forced Alphonsus to seriously consider God’s plan for his life. He began to realize that he was meant to do something different from the numerous businessmen who led exemplary but unheroic lives in Segovia. So he sold his business and took his son to live with the boy’s two maiden aunts, Antonia and Juliana.

From these two ladies, Alphonsus learned to meditate for at least two hours a day. He was an assiduous communicant. His life was austere and happy, though he still longed to devote himself to God. So, after abandoning his business, he resumed his studies at the point where he had broken them off. He had always taken religion seriously so when his son died, Alphonsus decided it was finally time to become a Jesuit, if possible, as an ordained priest.

Alphonsus was nearly 40, barely literate, and his health tenuous. It’s no wonder that the Jesuits of Segovia unhesitatingly refused him entry. Undaunted, Alphonsus presented himself to Father Luis Santander, SJ, at the novitiate of the Jesuits of Aragon at Valencia. Father Santander recommended him to be ordained as soon as possible, and requested that he learn Latin. He had given away most of his money by now, so he became a hired servant, hoping to pay for his necessary extra education by this and by begging. Thus, he put himself through school with the young boys.

Happily the provincial of the order spotted the saintliness of Alphonsus’s life, and, in 1571, overruled those who had refused him permission to join them. He was admitted as a lay brother and six months later was sent to Palma de Majorca, where, after serving in various capacities, he became door-keeper at Montesión College.

He was diligent in carrying out his assignments, but every spare moment was given to prayer. Though he achieved a marvelous habitual recollection and union with god, his spiritual path was far from an easy one. Especially in his later years he suffered from long periods of aridity. Yet he never despaired, knowing that in God’s own time he would be seized again in an ecstasy of love and spiritual delight. Persevering, Brother Alphonsus professed his final vows in 1585, at the age of 54.

Many of the varied people who were thus brought into contact with him learned to respect him and value his advice; in particular Saint Peter Claver as a student used to consult him frequently and received from Brother Alphonsus the impetus for his future work among the slaves of South America.

In May 1617, the rector of Montesión, Father Julian, was struck with rheumatic fever. Alphonsus spent the night interceding for the priest. In the morning, Father Julian was able to celebrate Mass.

After receiving Communion on October 29, Alphonsus lay as if dead, but he was in ecstasy. At midnight on October 31, the ecstasy ended and the final death pangs began. One-half hour later the brother regained his composure, lovingly looked at his brethren, and kissed the crucifix. Still a porter, he died in 1617, saying only one word: Jesus.

A collection of his notes, reflections, thoughts, which he wrote down at the request of his superiors, along with some quotations that he borrowed from the spiritual classics but which were mistakenly attributed to him, was frequently copied and widely circulated during his lifetime. Many people found true spiritual nourishment in them. There is a sonnet on Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez among Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Poems (2nd ed., 1930).

Alphonsus bears considerable resemblance to the Carmelite Brother Lawrence, of the next generation. He was a man of practically no education, but he had deep religious sensibility of a mystical kind. His faith was uncomplicated and simple, untroubled either by Protestantism or the threat of Islam. He had cultivated the Spanish faith of his father and mother, he believed in Jesus Christ, the Holy Church, and in the communion of saints (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Encyclopedia, Walsh, Yeomans).

This Alphonsus Rodriguez must not be confused with two Jesuit contemporaries of the same names, one a writer of well-known religious books, the other a martyr in Paraguay. Neither of these has been canonized, though the second is venerated as a beatus.

In art he is depicted as an old Jesuit with two hearts on his breast, connected by rays of light to Christ and the Virgin. Venerated at Majorca (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 16 August 2020. Web. 27 November 2020. <>