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.

New York Times Article on Gonzaga Basketball

March Madness is on the horizon and that means the Gonazaga Bulldogs basketball team will once again be in the national spotlight.  If you are college basketball fan, and especially a fan of the so-called “mid-major” conferences, you should definitely read Greg Bishop’s profile of the Bulldogs and their coach Mark Few.  With Indiana’s loss to Minnesota last week, Gonzaga is now the #1 team in the nation.

Here is a taste of Bishop’s article about this small Catholic college’s success story on the hardwood:

Those who looked at Gonzaga before 1998-99 did so mostly by accident. When forward Casey Calvary, the backbone of that team, arrived on campus, he scoured the bookstore and two local malls and found not one piece of basketball-related Gonzaga merchandise. After practice, Calvary said, the players often sprinted across campus, lest the student center close before they could eat.
The year before, Coach Dan Monson and the Zags built a résumé worthy of the N.C.A.A. tournament but landed in the National Invitation Tournament instead. The Zags entered the next season, Calvary said, “like Rodney Dangerfield, like, we don’t get no respect.”
The Gonzaga roster consisted of players overlooked and undersize but talented nonetheless. The Zags entered the postseason as a No. 10 seed. They toppled Minnesota and Stanford and flew for the first time on a charter plane, albeit one with an armrest that came off in midflight. Calvary marveled at how lucky the freshmen were to not have to transport the three large VCRs commercially, as he did; then he tipped in the winning basket to beat Florida, a score as famous as any in Bulldogs history, and advance to the regional final.
“I look back and I think about just how naïve we were,” said Monson, who is now the coach at Long Beach State. “I had to end every press conference by reminding people how to pronounce Gonzaga. We had police escorts. Someone asked if we would go on Letterman or Leno. Matt Santangelo said we were more of a Jerry Springer-type team.”
That off-season, Monson left for Minnesota despite a slew of starters slated to return. He cried when he called Calvary, but the dollars were so different, the gulf in resources so wide, that Monson thought he had no choice.
“That forced the administration to take a long look at why he’d leave,” Calvary said. “I know they had some closed-door meetings.”