Saint Aloysius Gonzaga and the plague

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga and the plague

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga was at a Novitiate in Milan, when one day, as he was praying, he had a vision revealing he would not be on earth much longer. This filled his Heart with unfathomable joy, and from that time he had only one vision, to prepare for things Above, not below.


He more and more separated himself from the distractions of the world. His superiors saw his health getting progressively worse, his strength ebbing out of him, draining him. The weather in Milan tended to be harsh in the winter. In Rome, the climate was temperate, and consequently more agreeable to his health.

It was decided that Aloysius would go to Rome to complete his studies in Theology. Upon arrival, he managed to choose the most austere niche in the house, a room in the attic. A tiny window in the roof of his room provided the only light, which at rare intervals cut through the darkness, to brighten his little cubby hole. His simple furnishings consisted of a bed, one chair and a stool upon which he placed his books. But to him, this was more splendid than the most magnificently adorned room in the palaces where he had lived. Here, he and the Lord could communicate, undisturbed.

The other seminarians commented they could see him deeply absorbed, meditating. He seemed oblivious of his surroundings at school, and when walking in the corridors of the cloister. He would become so deeply contemplative, he would often be seen going into ecstasy at the most unlikely places, at the most unlikely times. It could be at dinner, or during his strictly prescribed recreation time. Lost in prayer, unaware of his surroundings, the noise, the other students, he would be deeply immersed in some sort of dialogue with another People in another World, ecstasy. Even when the other seminarians called to him, shouting that recreation time was over and they had to go back to class, he did not acknowledge them.

He was restricted to the amount of time he could spend contemplating God (as it would bring him into a state of ecstasy and further weaken his health). Whatever time he did have was so filled with unsurpassable joy, he so longed to be united with Jesus in Heaven, he would get lost in ecstasy. As with other Saints, just the thought of the Lord, the mere mention of His Name, would lead him to contemplate on the Lord he would be with someday, the One he would behold in His Beatific Vision, and that was enough to have him go into ecstasy. His superiors tried to restrain him from weakening himself, but all they could do was pray for this little future Saint, in their midst, that the Lord would keep him with them a little longer.

It was 1591. Luther and Calvin had swept Europe with their heresies, cutting away at the very heart of the faithful, causing division. Mankind, confused, started to turn away from God. A plague broke out. An epidemic spread until it reached and ravaged Rome. No one was excused from its tentacles of pain and misery, the dead piling high in the streets, with barely enough well people who would dare take them away. Loved ones, often frightened of catching the dreaded disease, left the ill to die, uncared for, alone. The Jesuits opened a hospital to tend the sick. With the Father General leading the way, other Jesuits risked their lives, as they spent every waking moment giving solace and comfort to the sick and the Sacraments to the dying. Aloysius begged to join his brothers and was reluctantly given permission to work alongside his fellow Jesuits.

He went among the ill, bathing them with love and compassion. An angel of mercy, he was very often responsible for bringing them closer to Jesus, preparing them to meet their Savior. He tended them, placing cold cloths on their feverish foreheads, cleaning them, gently washing their pain-wracked bodies. He made their beds, cleaned out their bed pans. No job too menial, too trivial, to him they were Jesus and he had an opportunity to soothe Jesus’ Wounds, as he could not while He was alive. In this way, by soothing their wounds, these “the least of His children,” he was in his small way soothing the Wounds of his Lord. As was expected, the Jesuit priests, aiding the sick and dying, also fell victims to the plague and Aloysius nursing them, caught the death-threatening disease.

Aloysius, believing that this was the end and he was dying, was filled with joy. This was what the prophecy meant; this was how and when he was to die; he was soon to be with his Jesus! Anxious to be on his way, he received his Viaticum and was anointed. His delight was all too premature. To the amazement of everyone, especially his own, he recovered. But the epidemic left its scars; a low fever further crippled him; he was reduced to an invalid barely able to lift his head. He went from bad to worse. Three months after having been afflicted, he was confined to his bed. At night, when he could muster enough strength, he would rise from bed, and he would worship his Lord on the Crucifix. He would painfully shuffle from holy picture to holy picture, kissing our Blessed Mother, all the Angels and the Saints depicted. Then, braced between the bed and wall, he knelt and prayed, for as long as his strength held up.

Paradise his dream, he humbly asked his confessor and spiritual director, if it was possible that anyone could go directly to God in Heaven, without passing through Purgatory. St. Robert Bellarmine assured him it was not only possible, but knowing him the way that he did, it was altogether feasible that he, Aloysius would receive that Grace from God. With that, Aloysius fell into a deep ecstasy that lasted through the night. It was during this ecstasy, he was to learn that he would die on the octave of Corpus Christi, the Feast Day of the Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus in the Eucharist Whom he so passionately loved. On each of the eight days Aloysius would intone the Te Deum, in thanksgiving to the Lord for deeming it His Will that Aloysius would soon see Him.

Those with him, would at times hear him recite, “I rejoiced when they said to me: We will go into the house of the Lord.” At other times, he would say, “We are going, gladly, gladly!” On the eighth day of the octave, he looked so much better, they spoke of sending him to the town of Frascati. But to their dismay, he pleaded to receive Viaticum, as he tried to make them understand he would die before the morning sun. They reluctantly complied with his wishes. When his provincial came into his room to see how he was doing, Aloysius joyfully greeted him with, “We are going, Father; we are going.” To which the provincial asked, “Where?” Aloysius replied, “To Heaven.” The provincial, seeing the great improvement in Aloysius said, “Listen to the young man. He speaks of going to Heaven, as we speak of going to Frascati.”

Evening came. As Aloysius was looking so well and definitely out of danger, they left him with just a couple of Jesuits to watch over him. All the rest were relieved of their watch and sent to bed. But at Aloysius’ insistence, St. Robert Bellarmine intoned the prayers for the dying. The little soldier of Christ lay still, breaking the silence with his occasional whispering, “Into Thy Hands.” No one believed he was dying, until he suddenly turned for the worse. It was between eleven and twelve o’clock at night, when they noticed his labored breathing. He began to sink deeper and deeper into the World he so often spoke of. His earthly strength giving out to new promise and Heavenly power, he began to breath his last. His eyes fixed on the Crucifix he so loved, he called out Jesus, and at midnight the evening of June the 20th, the boy who traded the riches of this world for those of the next, went Home! He was twenty-three years old.

The relics of St. Aloysius lie under the altar in the Lancelotti Chapel of the Church of St. Ignatius in Rome, where they can still be venerated. Miracles began to happen immediately. In so short a time, the virtue and piety, the holiness of this young man who lived his life with an eye on eternity, spread to all parts of Italy, the rest of Europe and then across the sea to the United States. Living a holy life on earth, he received the key to eternal life with his Savior. A word to the young and the not-so-young, Pray to St. Aloysius for purity. He will bring you to Sainthood.

He was proclaimed a Saint by Benedict XIII, on December 31, 1726. He was named Protector of Catholic students of the entire world, November 22, 1729. And in 1926, Pope Pius XI declared him Patron Saint of the youth of the World.

We are in the days of great Saints and deadly sinners. Live your life with your eyes on Jesus and He will lead you to Sainthood and Home! Cast your lot with the enemy of God with his false, fleeting promises and he will not only betray you on earth, he will drag you down with him to the bowels of hell. Saints like St. Aloysius made a choice in life, while very young. He chose the crown awaiting him in Heaven rather than the temporary crown on earth which will tarnish. Look in the mirror! What do you see? Is that the one you want to stand before Our precious Lord, Who loved you so much, when asked,”How much do you love me?” opened His Arms wide on the Cross and said, “This much.” We love you!

You can be a Saint!


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