A Feast of 
Jesuits


(Adapted from various sources)

* Aloysius Gonzaga (1568 - 1591)

Aloysius Gonzaga was the eldest son and heir of the marquis of Catiglione. Aloysius relates that it was at the age of seven that he was converted from the courtly manner of life to which he was accustomed to a more interior life. When he was nine years old he and his brother, Rudolph, became part of the Medici court in Florence. However, he refused to participate in the games, plays and empty show of the Florentines.

During 1582 he traveled with Empress Maria of Austria to Madrid. By this time he was convinced that the princely life was not for him and thought more and more about becoming a Jesuit. His confessor informed him that he had to get his father's permission for such a move. Needless to say, Aloysius' attitude was not welcomed by his father, both of whom were equally firm in their opinions.

He eventually worn his father down and in 1585 he renounced his inheritance, left for Rome, and presented himself to Fr General, Claudio Aquaviva. He entered the novitiate on November 25, 1585, at the age of seventeen. He propnounced his first vows in 1587 and received minor orders in 1587. He then began the study of theology. In 1589 he returned to home town of Castilgione to negotiate peace between his brother Rudolph and the Duke of Mantua. When he had succeeded in this, he returned to Rome in 1590.

In the following year there were famine and plagues in Italy. He begged alms for the plague-stricken and also worked directly with the sick. Eventually in 1591, Aloysius himself became infected. He lingered for a long time and eventually died at the age of twenty-three. His remains are currently in the church of St Ignatius in Rome. He was canonized with St Stanislaus Kostka in 1726. His feast is celebrated on June 21.

* James Berthieu (1838-1896).

During the last session of Vatican II, the Church proclaimed Fr. James Berthieu a martyr to the faith. He was martyred on the island of Madagascar, off Africa's east coast, in 1896 and was little known outside of that territory. He was born in the Auvergne in 1838. As a youth he attended the minor seminary and was ordained a diocesan priest in 1863. With his Bishop's permission he entered the Society of Jesus in 1873.

Before he finished his second year of novitiate he was appointed to the missions in Madagascar where he took his first vows as a Jesuit. For the next five years he engaged in the ordinary pastoral duties of catechizing the children, administering the sacraments and tending the sick on the island of St Mary's off the Madagascar coast. In 1880, however, the French government closed the Jesuit schools and forced the Jesuits into exile. This had its effects in Madagascar too. Eventually when peace was more or less restored in 1885, he reopened a mission at Ambrositra. A few years later he went to evangelize the Merina people in the district of Anjozorofady, a short distance north of Tananarive.

In 1886 another rebellion broke out only a few hour's walk from his mission. Fr Berthieu ordered his villagers to flee. He described the situation as "a persecution of the Catholic faith mixed with a certain desire for independence." Fr Berthieu and his people took to the road and headed for the capital of Tananarive.

On their way, however, they were attacked by one of the tribes and were forced to scatter, seeking safety in the nearby villages. They found refuge in a village that was predominantly non-Catholic, but were made welcome since hospitality was held in the highest esteem. Within a few days Fr Berthieu was captured and led away to another village. The chief of that village knew of Fr Berthieu's influence among the Catholic population and attempted to get him to apostatize, but without success. Finally, the chief said to him: "Renounce your villanous religion and stop deceiving these people. We will then accept you as our leader and counselor and we will not kill you.". His response was simple: "I cannot consent to that. I prefer to die."

Thus, in the village of Ambiatibe, 60 km from Tananarive, he was killed. They took his body and threw it into the river, never to be recovered. It was 8 June 1896.

On the 75th anniversary of his death the parishoners of his home parish in France brought earth from the Auvergne and mixed it with Madagacan soil: symbolizing the close union of the martyr with the people he served. The Society of Jesus celebrates his feast on February 4 together with a number of other martyrs and missionaries.

* St Francis Borgia (1510-1572). Fr Borgia was the third Superior General of the Society and it was during his term of office that the first Jesuit missionaries came to what was to become the United States (Florida). A member of the Spanish nobility, his great grandfather was Pope Alexander VI (!), one of his grandfathers was King Ferdinand of Spain. In 1529 he married Eleonor de Castro of Portugal, the first lady-in-waiting of Empress Isabella of Spain. They had a family of eight children. At the death of the Empress Isabella in 1539, he began to rethink his priorities and regarded that event as the day of his "conversion". He was subsequently appointed viecroy of Catalonia and then Duke of Gandia. In 1546, now a widower, made a retreat under a Jesuit and subsequently decided to become a Jesuit as soon as he could arrange for the disposition of his temporal affairs.

Fr Ignatius, apprised of the situation, recommended that he continue to live as befit his noble rank, but at the same time to begin his study of theology. In 1550 Francis earned a doctorate in theology from the university which himself had founded.

In early 1551, he resigned his title, passed it on to his son, and donned the Jesuit habit. By 1554 he had founded some twenty colleges in Spain. In 1561 Pope Pius IV called him to Rome. He was chosen to serve as vicar general of the order when the General, Fr Laynez, went to attend the last session of the Council of Trent. In 1565 he was elected as the third Fr General. He was beatified by Pope Urban VIII in 1624 and canonized in 1671.

* St John Ogilvie (1579-1615). Born in Drum-na-Keith, Banffshire, raised as a Calvinist. Toured Europe, determined to become a Catholic and was received into the Church at Louvain, Belgium, at the Scots College. Joined the Austrian province in 1599. Ordained in Paris in 1610. Wanted to minister in Scotland and was permitted in 1613 to do so. Disguised as a horse dealer, he began to minister in Edinburgh and Glasgow and surrounding areas. Betrayed by a man claiming he wanted to enter the Church, Ogilvie was captured and imprisoned by the Protestant archbishop. He was tortured and examined for several days, put on trial, found guilty of high treason and executed on March 10. Canonized in 1976, his feast is celebrated Oct. 14.

* St Alphonsus Rodriquez (1533-1617) Alphonsus Rodriguez was the second of eleven children. Fr Peter Faber, one of Ignatius' first companions, came to Segovia, Spain, to preach and teach catechism to children. He was offered the hospitality of the Rodriguez home and it was there that Alphonsus first met the Jesuits. Fr Faber prepared him for First Holy Communion.

When Alphonsus was about twenty-seven he married Maria Suarez. They had three children. Unfortunately, within quick succession, his wife and all of his children died. Alphonsus spent a number of sad and lonely years in prayer seeking God's will. He eventually presented himself as a candidate for the priesthood, but was told that he was too old (he was about 35 at the time), that he lacked the requisite education, and that his health was not sufficiently vigorous.

Several years later, after two years of further education, he presented himself to the Society as a candidate to be a coadjutor brother. He was rejected by those who examined him, but the Provincial overrode their decision and gave him permission to enter. The Provincial is supposed to have said that if Alphonsus could not enter to become a priest or a brother, he could nevertheless enter to become a saint.

At the age of 37 he entered the Society. He was soon sent to Palma on the island of Majorca off the coast of Spain. He was to remain there for the next 46 years of his life. In 1579 he was made the doorkeeper of the Jesuit college there. A modern-day equilvalent would be receptionist. In his memoirs he tells us that whenever the doorbell rang, he envisioned that it was God himself who was outside seeking entrance. No one came to the college without feeling the presence and influence of Alphonsus. People came to him for advice and encouragement and asked for his prayers. When he was 72 the young Peter Claver came to the college. They became friends and it was Alphonsus who urged Peter to go the South American missions where the latter labored heroically among the slaves brought from Africa.

Brother Alphonsus was canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, the same day that his friend Peter Claver was raised to the honors of the altar. Alphonsus' feast is celebrated on October 31.


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