October 31st: St Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJ

Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez , SJ

Born : July 25, 1533
Died : Oct 31, 1617
Beatified : May 29, 1825
Canonised : Jan 15, 1888

Alphonsus Rodriquez was born in Segovia, Spain, the second of eleven children of a wealthy wool and cloth merchant. It was at their home that Fr Peter Favre stayed when he came to Segovia to preach during which time he prepared young Alphonsus for his First Communion.

Alphonsus was sent to study at the Jesuit college at Alcales when he was about twelve but he did not complete his studies because of his father’s sudden death. Alphonsus helped his mother to operate the family business and soon took over the management completely. He married Maria Suarez when he was 27 and they had three children but their happy life together did not last long as they died in quick succession one after another.

Not only was Alphonsus now without family but his cloth business began to decline due to heavy taxes levied on exporting wool products that he was finally forced to give it up.

The young widower viewed himself a failure, and filled with internal anxiety and distress, he sought spiritual direction from the Jesuits who had recently arrived in Segovia.

Alphonsus spent these sad and lonely years in prayer and penance seeking to do God’s will and there gradually grew in him the desire to give himself to God as a Jesuit. When he presented himself as an applicant for the priesthood at 35, he was told he was too old and that he lacked the necessary education to pursue the studies leading to the priesthood, and that his health was not sufficiently vigorous to endure the hard life of the Society.

Alphonsus did not give up but returned to the classroom to complete his studies in Valencia. After two years of further education he reapplied to the Society indicating that he would be happy to be a brother if they could not accept him as a priest. Again he was rejected for his age and his health. The Jesuit Provincial however overrode their decision and granted Alphonsus permission to enter saying that “if Alphonsus were not fit to be a priest or a brother, he could, nevertheless, enter to become a saint.”

As doorkeeper, his duty was to receive visitors who came to the college, search out the fathers or students who were wanted in the parlour, deliver messages, run errands, console the sick at heart who, having no one to turn to, came to him, give advice to the troubled, and distribute alms to the needy. In his memoirs, Alphonsus tells that each time the bell rang, he looked at the door and envisioned that it was God who was standing outside seeking admittance. On the way to the door, he would say: “I’m coming, Lord!” Every visitor that came to Montesion was greeted with the same happy smile with which he would have greeted God.

For fifteen years, Bro Alphonsus was in charge of the porter’s lodge, a lowly job but one demanding humility and holiness. He was endeared by all the students who came to him for advice and encouragement and asked his prayers, which he most willingly said for their needs. He spoke to them of devotion to our Lady and would copy the entire little office of the Blessed Virgin for their private recitation and the rosary was always in his hand. The young Peter Claver came to the college in 1605 when Alphonsus was 72 but they became great friends, often meeting on the college grounds to discuss prayer and the pursuit of holiness. It was Bro Alphonsus who urged Peter to go to the South American missions.

The quality and depth of the prayer life of Bro Alphonsus was known to only a few during his lifetime. It was only after his death, when his memoirs and spiritual notes were discovered, that it was learned how the humble brother was favoured by God with remarkable mystical graces, ecstasies, and visions of our Lord, our Lady, and the saints.

Bro Alphonsus became very feeble when he reached his eighties and in his last months, his memory began to fail and he was not even able to remember his favourite prayers. At his death-bed, Bro Alphonsus opened his eyes wide and looked at all his Jesuit brethrens who surrounded him. He then lowered his eyes to the crucifix in his thin hands, kissed it, and said, “Jesus!” and with that he went to God.