St. Aloysius Gonzaga was born in Northern Italy, between Brescia and Mantova. His father was a famous condottiere, a mercenary soldier. Saint Aloysius received military training, but his father also provided him with an excellent classical education, sending him and his brother Ridolfo to Florence to study while serving at the court of Francesco I de Medici.
In Florence, Saint Aloysius became ill with a kidney disease, and, during his recovery, he devoted himself to prayer and the study of the lives of the saints. At the age of 12, he returned to his father’s castle, where he met the great saint and cardinal Charles Borromeo. Aloysius had not yet received his First Communion, so the cardinal administered it to him. Shortly thereafter, Saint Aloysius conceived of the idea of joining the Jesuits and becoming a missionary.
His father was adamantly opposed to the idea, both because he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps as a condottiere, and because, by becoming a Jesuit, Aloysius would give up all rights to inheritance. When it became clear that the boy was intent on being a priest, his family tried to convince him to become a secular priest and, later, a bishop, so that he could receive his inheritance. Saint Aloysius, however, was not to be swayed, and his father finally relented. At the age of 17, he was accepted into the Jesuit novitiate in Rome; at the age of 19, he took vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. While he was ordained a deacon at the age of 20, he never became a priest.
In 1590, Saint Aloysius, suffering from his kidney problems and other ailments, received a vision of the Archangel Gabriel, who told him that he would die within a year. When a plague broke out in Rome in 1591, Saint Aloysius volunteered to work with plague victims, and he contracted the disease in March. He received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and recovered, but, in another vision, he was told that would die on June 21, the octave day of the Feast of Corpus Christi that year. His confessor, St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, administered Last Rites, and Saint Aloysius died shortly before midnight.
Pious legend has it that Saint Aloysius’s first words were the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and his last word was the Holy Name of Jesus.