Who Was Gonzaga?


For those of you settling in for the Gonzaga-North Carolina national championship game, allow me to provide some historical context for your viewing experience.

Perhaps some of you know that Gonzaga is a Catholic (Jesuit) university in Spokane, Washington, but how many of you know anything about the man for whom the university is named?

Here is a taste of a 2011 article in America Magazine on St. Aloysius Gonzaga:

Aloysius Gonzaga needs rescuing from the hands of overly pious artists. On holy cards and in countless reproductions, the young Jesuit is usually depicted clad in a jet black cassock and snowy white surplice, gazing beatifically at an elegant crucifix he holds in his slim, delicately manicured hands. For good measure, he is sometimes portrayed gently grasping a lily, the symbol of his religious chastity.

There is nothing wrong with any of those images per se, except when they obscure what was anything but a delicate life and prevent young Christians (and older ones, for that matter) from identifying with someone who was, in fact, something of a rebel.

On March 9, 1568, in the castle of Castiglione delle Stivieri, in Lombardy, Luigi Gonzaga was born into a branch of one of the most powerful families in Renaissance Italy. His father, Ferrante, was the marquis of Castiglione. Luigi’s mother was lady-in-waiting to the wife of Philip II of Spain, in whose court the marquis also enjoyed a high position.

As the eldest son, Luigi was the repository of his father’s hopes for the family’s future. As early as age four, Luigi was given a set of miniature guns and accompanied his father on training expeditions so that the boy might learn, as Joseph Tylenda, SJ, writes in his book Jesuit Saints and Martyrs, “the art of arms.” He also learned, to the consternation of his noble family and without realizing their meaning, some salty words from the soldiers. So anxious was Ferrante to prepare his son for the world of political intrigue and military exploit that he dressed the boy in a child-sized suit of armor and brought him along to review the soldiers in his employ. By the age of seven, however, Luigi had other ideas. He decided that he was less interested in his father’s world and more attracted to a very different kind of life.

Read the entire piece here.

One thought on “Who Was Gonzaga?

  1. “someone who was, in fact, something of a rebel.”

    …that’s generally why any saint is a saint at all, actually. The issue is what they rebel against, and why. Saints are counter-cultural, because Christ is. And no saint, even those who weren’t martyred, really ever lives a “delicate” life. That wasn’t even true of St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower.”


Comments are closed.