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St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose feast is June 21, had to find holiness without the consent of his father, but cases like his are the exception that proves the rule.
Fathers are saint makers — or saint destroyers. Statistics show that children are much more likely to go to Church if their fathers do. If dad abandons God, kids will too.
In a much-cited Touchstone article, Robbie Low reports about Swiss research that compared families in which one parent, both, or neither regularly attended church.
Some have said that this is because we tend to get manners from our moms, but our worldviews from our dads. Whatever the reason, you can see it again and again.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for us to find the faith if our fathers didn’t. My brother, sister and I are examples of this. But so is St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591).
His father wanted him to be a soldier, and reacted angrily when the boy wanted to enter religious life instead. It took him years to pester his father into giving in.
Once in the seminary, he followed new fathers: St. Charles Borremeo was an early influence on the child and, later, St. Robert Bellarmine. “I am a crooked piece of iron,” Aloysius said, “and am come into religion to be made straight by the hammer of mortification and penance.”
In 1591 he did just that when a plague struck. He tirelessly served victims, though his spiritual director later said that Aloysius had a strong revulsion to the sights and smells of the work.
The Jesuits insisted that their young seminarians stop serving plague victims, but young Aloysius kept asking for permission — just as he had his father — until his superiors gave in. He got sick and died at age 22.
His story might show the need for fathers after all: the kind that wear Roman collars.
St. Aloysius truly gave himself as a son to his mentors. When he was wrongly punished in school, he said, “I have certainly been wrong some other time.” The imperfections of his earthly fathers helped him see the need for his heavenly father. “It is better to be a child of God than king of the whole world.”
Before his death he wrote home saying his “one desire that all my family may consider my departure a joy and a favor,” and asking for his mother’s blessing. “I have no clearer way of expressing the love and respect I owe you as your son.”