St. Aloysius Gonzaga's outstanding quality was his radiant purity and the Church praises this perfect innocence with the words, "Thou has made him little less than the angels." He was baptized in the womb, because his life was in danger, and he made a vow of chastity at the age of nine. When he was sixteen he joined the Society of Jesus and died at the age of twenty-three in 1591 as a result of his devoted nursing of the plague-stricken.
Aloysius, born Luigi Gonzaga, grew up in 16th century Italy, in a time not unlike today, an indulgent time period, with syphilis one of the major diseases of the time. Luigi was determined to become a saint, and performed self-inflicted penances, such as getting up in the middle of the night to kneel on the floor of his bedroom, or whip himself with a belt, and fasting three days a week. He did many of penances to preserve his purity, such as avoiding looking directly at women.
Although his father expected Luigi to be a soldier, the saint was drawn to the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and became a Jesuit. Once in his order, he received direction to get more sleep, and eat more, so austere were his penances.
When the plague struck, the Jesuits served the sick, which was an extreme sacrifice for Aloysius, who had a kidney disorder from childhood. Nursing the victims of the plague, carrying them to their quarters on his back, washing and dressing them, Aloysius eventually caught the disease. Before he died, he asked his confessor if it was possible to avoid Purgatory. His extreme penances and strong will may have benefited him in that regard.
Aloysius' purity and selflessness makes him a powerful patron for Catholic youth, especially teens. His image is frequently pictured with the crucifix, a lily, and a skull, for his devotion to the Cross of Christ, his purity, and his serving the sick.
St. Aloysius, pray for us!
Fr. Hardon's talk on St. Aloysius.