March madness is finally over, reaching its frenzied climax in the big NCAA men’s final. Even though North Carolina triumphed, many were amazed that Gonzaga had finally made it to the big NCAA show. This year was the ultimate showdown between the new basketball (Gonzaga) and the “blue bloods” (North Carolina). But now that the dust is settling, perhaps it would be worth looking back and asking, “Who in the world was Gonzaga?” By now, most people know that Gonzaga is a Jesuit university in Spokane. But, few know what the school was named after.
Aloysius de Gonzaga was the oldest son born in 1568 into an Italian aristocratic family. In those days it was customary for the oldest son to serve in the military, and Aloysius was inclined to follow that tradition from the earliest age. However, two things happened which began to turn him to the Lord. First, he witnessed the murder of two of his brothers. Second, he fell ill with a kidney disease. These experiences sent him searching until he eventually felt God calling him to be a Jesuit missionary.
Alousius’ father vigorously opposed his son’s desire to become a priest, because it meant the renunciation of his inheritance, title, land, and so forth. He was even offered a bishopric if he would only become a “secular priest” and avoid the full vows of “poverty, chastity and obedience.” However, Aloysius, after several years of training, took the vows and became a Jesuit. In 1591a plague broke out in Rome and Aloysius volunteered to serve the dying in a hospital in Rome. Aloysius himself eventually caught the plague and he died in 1591 at 23 years old.
He was venerated for many years and eventually in 1729 was declared by pope Benedict XIII to be the patron saint of young students. He was also regarded as the patron saint of plague victims and eventually became the patron saint for all those suffering from AIDS. He is usually shown either with someone suffering from a plague or in the presence of a skull, reminding us of his own early death in the cause of Christ. One of his most famous sayings is the line, “It is better to be a child of God than King of the World.”
Indeed, at this time of the year it will do us well to remember that being “king of the world” or NCAA champions pales in comparison to being a child of God.