Aloysius Gonzaga vs. Thomas of Villanova

Happy Friday! The first full week of Lent Madness 2022 is nearly complete. Today we head back up to Confusion Corner as Aloysius Gonzaga tips off against Thomas of Villanova. If you're not a college basketball fan, this matchup may well seem rather confusing. Then again, if you're not a college basketball fan, the whole idea of a bracket competition may have initially been confusing.

Yesterday, Columbanus revved his way past Drogo 53% to 47% to secure a spot in the Saintly Sixteen against Madeleine Sophie Barat.

Enjoy your weekend. We realize that Lent Madness Withdrawal (LMW) is a real thing and we assure you of our...thoughts and prayers. But we'll be back at it first thing Monday morning as Perpetua takes on Cecilia. Go vote!

Aloysius Gonzaga

Aloysius Gonzaga, one of the great saints of the Jesuit order, was born to nobility in 1568. As was common among boys of his station, he was placed by his father on a path toward the life of a soldier; as early as age four, he began practicing the “art of arms,” learning how to fire miniature guns, bear a pike at the shoulder in military parades, and even how to set off a canon. Yet through it all, Aloysius Gonzaga’s piety was “precocious”—and fervent.

Aloysius found his tenacious faith amid the violence of the Italian Renaissance and the violent trajectory of his father’s chosen life for him. During his childhood, he witnessed the murder of two of his brothers. In his youth, he found a spiritual quickening. At a young age, he became ill with kidney disease, which would trouble him throughout his short life. During this illness, he fell in love with the lives of the saints and developed a discipline of prayer; after reading a book about Jesuit missionaries in India, he felt a call to religious life. By fourteen, he began thinking in earnest about forgoing his noble privileges to join the Jesuits. His mother agreed; his war-mongering father refused. But Aloysius showed bulldogged persistence; by 1584, his father relented, and the next year, Aloysius renounced his privileges and inheritances and became a Jesuit. Upon arriving at his cell, he said, quoting the psalms, that “this is my rest for ever and ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it.”

Aloysius’s health continued to cause problems. He made his final vows in 1587 and began preparations for ordination, but by 1590 he had a vision in which the Archangel Gabriel told him he would die within a year. In 1591, plague broke out in Rome, and Aloysius volunteered to care for the stricken. He worked to overcome his revulsion for the grotesque symptoms of the plague, throwing himself into his work. In time, he was removed for his health but reinstated because of his continued persistence to care for the ill. While assigned to a hospital without plague, he carried a man from his sickbed, only for that man to show the dreaded boils days later. Aloysius caught the plague and grew ill, dying only a few days after his twenty-third birthday, the name of Jesus on his lips. A Carmelite mystic, Maria Magdalena de Pazzi, described Aloysius Gonzaga as radiant in glory because of his “interior works,” a hidden martyr for his great love of God.

Collect for Aloysius Gonzaga

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Aloysius Gonzaga, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

David Sibley

Thomas of Villanova

Tomás Garcia y Martinez was born in Spain in 1488 to a comfortable family. Both his parents were known for their charity to the poor and needy in their village. Thomas followed his parents’ examples of charity—sometimes to the extreme. He was often seen walking naked around town because he had given his clothes to the poor

Thomas was educated at the University of Alcalá and continued there as a popular professor of arts and philosophy. His love for God and care of the poor eventually led him to join the Augustinian religious order in 1516 and be ordained to the priesthood in 1518.

Known in academic circles for his absentmindedness, he was known among the people as the father of the poor. He wore the same robes he received in his novitiate his entire life, mending tears and worn places himself. He first refused the archbishopric of Granada, then was pressured into accepting the episcopacy in Valencia, a diocese that had not had a resident bishop for more than a century. He received a substantial amount of money from the cathedral to furnish his episcopal residence. He instead gave all the money to a local hospital. He explained that he knew God would be better served in that way. “After all,” he commented, “what does a poor friar like myself want with furniture?”

Poor people lined up each day at Thomas’s door, and each day he gave them bread, wine, money, and prayer. Many of Thomas’s fellow clergy criticized him, saying that people were taking advantage of him. Thomas replied, “If there are people who refuse to work, that is for the governor and the police to deal with. My duty is to assist and relieve those who come to my door.”

Thomas was an eloquent preacher, and his sermons encouraged the wealthy to accumulate charitable acts rather than monetary wealth. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V is rumored to have said that Thomas’s sermons could move stones to life. Thomas’s sermons also attacked the luxurious life of priests and bishops and the violence of bullfighting—no small criticism in Spain.

At the end of his life, Thomas willed all the money he possessed to be distributed to the poor. In 1555, mass was being celebrated in his presence as he was dying, and after he received communion, he breathed his last, reciting the words: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Collect for Thomas of Villanova

Heavenly Father, Shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Thomas, who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock; and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by your grace grow into the stature of the fullness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Laurie Brock


Aloysius Gonzaga: John Hill, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Thomas of Villanova: Grabado de Luis Fernández Noseret por dibujo de José Maea, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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134 comments on “Aloysius Gonzaga vs. Thomas of Villanova”

  1. Young Gonzaga, di Castiglione’s heir
    A rich nobleman’s life could not bear.
    Though his family railed,
    Aloysius prevailed:
    Died in youth, offering plague victims care.

    1. It is not mentioned in his write-up, but Aloysius Gonzaga is the patron saint of young students, young Christians and plague victims (in particular victims of AIDS and their caregivers).

      This confirmed me in my choice today.

    2. Thank you, John, for your limericks! I've always enjoyed them.
      Keep up the good work.

  2. As a Jesuit educated woman, I wanted to go with Gonzaga, and as a Big East fan, I wanted to stay away from Villanova. However, his acts of charity were inspiring, so Villanova it is.

    1. Yes, caught that too. This must have confirmed Gonzaga in his holy pursuits!

    2. Most 4-year-olds could manage to try the patience of a canon at times, up to and including setting off the aforementioned canon.

  3. "...often seen walking naked around town because he had given his clothes to the poor..." um, sure, okay.

    1. Yum often seen walking around the town naked and this merited sainthood?? I think not. That’s an eccentricity I find deplorable in any age of time.

  4. 6,000,000+ deaths in 2 years is a plague for our time. Tragic, courageous Aloysius for me.

  5. It was close to a dead heat until I red about him standing up against bull fighting 500 years ago. That broke the tie. Go Villanova!!

  6. A bishop wearing a patched and threadbare novitiate's robe lifelong won me over for Bishop Tomás. (Why do we anglicize the spelling of his name?) I also love that he was absentminded.

    1. It's probably anglicized because three quarters of the names in this list are non-English people. If we tried to decipher names from Greek, Phyrigian, Damascene, and Aramaic we would never know who was being discussed.

      1. But we have a Jose in another section of the bracket, not anglicized to Joseph. I think most folks could figure out Tomas.

  7. Thomas of Villanova's work with the poor is inspiring. But I am reluctant to vote for a man who roamed nekkid in public. Many saints are sort of nutty, but this goes too far. Aloysius is a worthy choice.

    1. More public nudity! LOL Hardly a decision-making criterion, because Adam was naked in the Garden until the serpent tricked Eve into perdition.

    2. I think this is covered in Safe Church training as something not to do. Although not explicitly mentioned I could infer that giving away the clothes of your back to the homeless would be frowned upon.

      However, Tomas was a child when he was doing this so I assume the clothes were child sized and were being given to the naked poor children so net nakedness was maintained.

  8. I can definitely relate to a saint known for his absentmindedness. Now, where did I leave my car keys!? Did I lose them again!!?

  9. Oh dear I thought the vote would be much closer. I voted for AG because his story of caring for the sick made me cry.

  10. My goal for many, many years is to try to confine my irrational prejudices and grudges to my NCAA March Madness brackets. At least one bracket in a pool makes no basketball sense - may those with the best/weirdest mascots, underdogs, 100-year-old cheerleading nuns, KU, and Creighton always win and may Duke, Villanova, Syracuse, Baylor, and Gonzaga always lose.

    And today is Villanova v. Gonzaga.

    Fortunately the biographies made it easy. The world would be a better place if we lived a bit more like Thomas of Villanova, fearlessly and generously.

  11. You made this one very hard but very interesting. I've always like Gonzaga's basketball team but never knew where the name came from. So this one was not only fun but interesting info. Thanks

  12. Both deserving; tough choice. Pope Francis channels the spirits of both men: upholding and caring for the poor (both); humble in leadership (Thomas); faithful service in difficult circumstances (Aloysisus).

  13. I'm not sure how many points Villanova is getting against a powerhouse like Gonzaga, but I'm going for the upset.

  14. Aloysius himself had a chronic illness and he cared for those who were suffering during the plague--he definitely has my vote

  15. why do you just present saints from hundreds of years ago? why not modern ones? How do we even know these things happened? My favorite was the lady with the seals.

    1. I think we look at people from the past because we like to consider those whose whole lives have been examined for "saintliness." Of course there are many amazing saints whose names and stories will be known to God and to their families and friends, but not to the world. We remember them in our hearts, and they take their place in the great cloud of witnesses!
      I honor Thich Nhat Hanh, a living saint, who just recently passed. He was a Buddhist monk, but I commend his writing to any Christian who wants to learn about mindfulness, and especially about the difficult challenges of forgiveness.
      I think our most recent saint on this Bracket is Bishop James Holly. There are photographs of him and we definitely have historical records of his accomplishments! For many we have their writings, for some only their legend. All are worthy of consideration. 🙂

      1. Jose Gregorio Hernandez (1864-1919) is actually the closest to the present day. This year the SEC has not included a "Mostly Modern" quarter of the bracket and this shows in the choices -- Constance (1855-1878), James Holly (1829-1911) and Emma (1836-1885) are the only other three from the 1800s and there is nobody who was still living even 100 years ago. More than half of the bracket predates the turn of the *first* millennium. However, the Golden Halo does seem to be awarded predominantly to "modern" (ie 1800 and after) saints. The only two Biblical winners are Mary Magdalene and Martha of Bethany, and 7 of the 12 previous winners are post-1800. 3 of the 12 are 20th century. It will be interesting to see this year's outcome!

        1. Great point! I'll bet the SEC did this on purpose, and as a result we'll learn a lot more this year about the earlier saints. I became excited for this year's matchup when I saw that I recognized virtually no one on the bracket.

    2. Also, it depends on the year. C.S. Lewis won the one year and Bonhoeffer another and they were both mid 1900s... I think there's been some later ones even, too, (maybe even one who lived into the 00s or nearly?) but I can't recall who.

      In fact, from like 2018 to last year there was an entire bracket subsection named "Mostly Modern" which had a range of more recent folks in it.

    3. There are “modern” saints. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from WWII era) won a few years ago. Hang in there!

  16. Apparently, Villanova is not only one of my favorite basketball teams, but also a priest whose heart for the poor is an amazing witness.

  17. Since Gonzaga is "just up the road" in Spokane, I had to vote for Aloysius. Go Zags! I am hoping that once Thomas put some clothes on, he also did laundry every so often. I am curious which canon Aloysius set off: literary or biblical? Both of these men seem somewhat like "Holy Innocents." I am reading Gilead right now, and each reminds me of the grandfather, the crusty old preacher who committed constant pillaging within his own household to aid the poor. He helped everyone except his own family. It's fortunate both of these figures lived within an institutional setting and didn't have families they could rob blind or bring plague home to. Honestly it's six of one half dozen of the other today. Charity and selflessness are good virtues, but not when they contribute to early death or cause a needed social or institutional structure to deteriorate to the point that it fails to serve on any but an ad hoc basis and cannot thrive long term. These figures seem better as pious stories from the past than as viable models to emulate now.

      1. Yes, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. It, Home, Lila, and Jack comprise the Gilead cycle. Gilead itself is presented as an epistolary novel but seems to me rather to be a long reflective sermon, an "exegesis" of human life perhaps. It's quite lovely. An elderly parishioner dies, and the narrator comments that she kindly did so before his bedtime to spare him inconvenience, and he adds: "These old saints bless us every chance they get." He also drinks his whiskey standing up in the pantry with the curtain drawn: "That's how my mother did her drinking, and I'm a traditionalist." He doesn't tell us what denomination he pastors, but my money is he's Episcopalian; the book is purely a sermon on the incarnation. His best friend is a staunch Presbyterian, there being no other kind. It's a gentle, witty book. You could have no kindlier Lenten reading than this book. Kind. That's what this book is: kind.

  18. aha! here we go again, keeping my perfect record of underdog votes. Thomas grew up with good examples and perfected the model in his life. But Aloysius changed from soldier to caregiver. That for me is the hallmark of saintliness.

  19. Two worthy competitors. It’s nice to finally “meet” those saints for whom the institutions are named. Villanova is just down the road from me, on the Philadelphia-to-Paoli Main Line, one of few villages on the line with a non-Welsh name. My brother and his high school track team called it “Villa-nowhere”—the university hosts a large high school track meet annually. While I’m glad to learn about Señor Gonzaga, I shall support the locals today, for theirs is a worthy name to carry. Maintaining principles of caring hard for those less fortunate, under criticism, deserves reward.

    1. Two worthy candidates, and I'm a big fan of the Jesuits, but my brother ran track at Villanova so Thomas gets this Episcopalian's vote today.

    2. I read the book awhile ago; your comments will lead me to read it during this Lenten season. Thanks, Cecelia!

  20. Oh that I could be like Thomas,how ever will probably not bare it all. Did like Aloysius,s decision to not stick with the military career, as many of us chose other means to support our country.

  21. In the biography of Aloysius Gonzaga, the word "canon" should have been "cannon".

      1. Fortunately the Cannons of the Episcopal church are enacted at the General Convention under the direction of the fire marshal.

  22. It was not an easy choice for me today. Both men were incredibly generous and unselfish. Both strove to help as many people as they could, even to their own detriment.
    I was thinking of voting from Aloysius because a friend of mine at work who served selflessly in Africa for many years is a huge Gonzaga basketball fan, both men and women's teams.
    Finally I decided Thomas made an impact on many more people than Aloysius was able to reach, so I would cast my vote for him. Both men gave their all, Thomas was lucky enough to have more to give.

  23. I've already voted, but could again, but won't because I'm honest -- the "voting mechanism" is, again, acting up