Born March 9, 1568, Aloysius was the first son of Ferdinand Gonzaga, the Marquis of Castiglione, and his wife Martha de Santena, who was descended from a noble family. Aloysius' parents met in the court of Philip and Isabella. The Italian noble Gonzaga was residing in the court of King Philip II of Spain. When Philip married Isabella, daughter of Henry II of France, Martha came from France with the new Queen. Gonzaga consulted the King on his interest in Martha.
While pregnant with Aloysius, Martha read spiritual books to an extent that she had never done either before or afterwards. She prayed for a son who would serve God in the religious life.
Aloysius' birth met with complications as the lives of both mother and child were thought to be in danger. Fears surrounding Martha's health were dashed, but for an hour after his birth Aloysius showed no sign of life. When he finally let out a brief cry, Ferdinand marked the birth of an heir by issuing an official proclamation, providing bread and wine to the townspeople, and staging various sports and entertainments.
Aloysius displayed his holiness at a very young age. As soon as he learned to navigate his castle he would often disappear. When Aloysius was found, he would be kneeling in some corner with his hands folded in prayer. Before the boy could even speak he managed through gestures to instruct his attendants to give alms to beggars. His happiness at helping others was obvious to those who looked after him.
One year Ferdinand decided to bring his young son to his military camp. Aloysius enjoyed firing muskets and the soldiers were happy to hand their weapons over to the child. His affection for guns led to an accident with gun powder in which he burnt his face. Aloysius' firing rights were summarily dismissed by his father. The boy was defiant. One night he readied a cannon and discharged it while Ferdinand was asleep. The father believed that his men were rising against him. But he soon learned that it was his young son who had fired the cannon and was miraculously not seriously harmed by the weapon's recoil.
While at the camp, Aloysius also became accustomed to the indecent language of the soldiers. He repeated what he heard, not fully knowing because of his young age what he was saying. For Aloysius, this was a grave sin for which he could never forgive himself. For the rest of his life he would confess and also make himself suffer for the language he used at the military camp. Whenever he heard similar words uttered throughout his life, Aloysius would blush.
Fr. Virgilio Cepari states in his book "The Life of B. Aloysius Gonzaga" that besides this very early language he cannot find any other sins committed by the Saint to be more culpable.
Ferdinand sent Aloysius home to Castiglione in 1573. Martha had a strong influence on the boy's life thereafter. At such a young age Aloysius already talked to his mother about joining a religious order. He continued to pray constantly.
Besides foul language, being in the company of women also caused Aloysius to blush. He avoided interaction with the opposite sex. His feelings were such that he had trouble talking to his mother without the acompaniment of witnesses. His close friends called him "the Woman-hater." Denying his virtue, he attributed his ways to his bashfulness.
During this period a respected Franciscan friar came to the monastery of Santa Maria, not far from Castiglione. Possessed persons were brought to this friar for exorcisms, and on one of these occasions Aloysius and his brother, Rudolph, were present, along with many others. At this exorcism a demoniac pointed at young Aloysius and cried, "Do you see him? He will be in heaven one day, and be in great glory."
At the age of ten, Aloysius resided in Florence. The boy spent much of his time in prayer at Our Lady of the Annunziata, in front of a picture with the same name as the Church. The picture of the Blessed Virgin inspired Aloysius. The boy wanted to honor Mary with a gift, and he decided upon a vow of perpetual chastity.
At the age of twelve, Aloysius received Holy Communion from St. Charles Borromeo. The Cardinal came to Castiglione and was welcomed into the Gonzaga home by Martha. But the humble Saint decided to stay with a parish priest. It is there that Aloysius visited Charles, who was very impressed with the young boy. When the Cardinal learned that Aloysius had not yet received the Eucharist, he instucted him, although he needed little teaching, and offered the boy the Bread of Life.
The Body and the Blood of Christ became a tremendous part of Aloysius' life. Whenever he received Communion his face would be covered in tears.
The young boy always made himself to suffer. He had many luxuries to choose from on account of his father, who was troubled by his son's mortifications. However, for Aloysius, the Passion of Christ inspired him to imitate the suffering of Jesus. The boy was often weak from fasting and Ferdinand failed in trying to convince his son to give up his strict life.
One night Aloysius was so exhausted from his lifestyle that he passed out, leaving a lit candle next to his bed. He was awakened by an intense heat as his bed was on fire. He got up in time and managed to avert another possible disaster.
At the age of thirteen Aloysius made the decision to join a religious order. His father could not have been more upset.
The above picture is from Fr. Maurice Meschler's "Life of St. Aloysius Gonzaga."
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