Being selfless in the care of others is a quality to which Jesuits and all Christians aspire. Though he lived only a short life, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga gave his time in the service of God and of those in need.
Aloysius Gonzaga was born in 1568 to a prominent noble Italian family, the eldest of seven children. As the firstborn son, he would inherit the title of Marquis (of high social rank) from his father, and so from an early age his father set about instructing him in the ways of the court, as well as in military training. At five he was sent to a military camp and at eight he served with his younger brother at the court of Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici in Florence. Here Gonzaga grew ill, contracting a kidney disease which would remain to trouble him over the course of his life. While convalescing, he read religious books and spent much time in prayer. This spiritual side of Gonzaga began to develop further, at the age of nine he swore a private vow of chastity and at twelve he received first Holy Communion. Shortly after he decided he wanted to become a Jesuit.
Gonzaga’s father, expecting his son to take on the title of Marquis after him, was appalled at the idea. At first he tried convincing his son to give up the idea of entering ecclesiastical service, and when this failed, tried to instead persuade him to become a secular priest, with the notion of assisting his ascension up the hierarchy. Gonzaga refused, and in 1585 travelled to Rome where he entered the noviciate of the Society of Jesus, giving up all rights of inheritance. Two years later he took the three religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and began studying theology in preparation for ordination.
In 1591 a plague broke out in Rome, and Gonzaga volunteered at a Jesuit hospital. Here he cared for the sick and dying, taking them in off the streets and nursing them. After being forbade to continue working at the hospital for fear that he would contract the disease, Gonzaga refused and requested permission to go on working. His superiors relented, but only allowed him help at a different hospital, which only accepted noncontagious cases. Here however Gonzaga fell ill, and remained so for several months before dying at the age of twenty three. Beatified in 1605 and canonised in 1726, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is the patron saint of young students and of all Christian youth.