Feast Day : October 30 (formerly October 31)
Also known as: Alonso Rodríguez
Alphonsus Rodriguez was born in Segovia, Spain, on July 25, 1533, the third child in a large family of wool merchants. When he was about 10, Bl. Peter Faber arrived in Segovia to preach, stayed with Alphonsus’s family, and took them up on their offer to spend some time in their country house. While there, he prepared Alphonsus for his first communion. Peter was one of the group of seven who founded the Society of Jesus along with St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. In 1547, when he was 14, Alphonsus was sent along with an elder brother to study under the Jesuits at Alcalá. However, when their father died a short while later, Alphonsus was called home to help manage the family business. When his mother retired in 1556, he inherited the business. Four years later, he married Maria Suarez. Alphonsus and Maria had three children, although two died young. Maria herself died shortly after giving birth to the last child, their only son. Two years later Alphonsus’s mother died. Since the business wasn’t prospering either, he sold it, and took his son to live with the boy’s two maiden aunts, Antonia and Juliana. He had taken to praying and doing penance, and from Antonia and Juliana he learned to meditate daily. Finally, he decided to resume his studies with the intention of pursuing the religious life. Alphonsus was then well into his 30s and barely literate. His health also was precarious. Not surprisingly, therefore, he was rejected by the Jesuits at Segovia. He turned to the novitiate of the Jesuits of Aragon at Valencia, where he was rejected as a candidate priest, but allowed to enroll in the school. He picked up his studies where he had broken them off in his youth; after two years, he applied to become a Jesuit brother, but was rejected again. At this point the provincial stepped in, declaring that if Alphonsus was not to be a Jesuit priest or brother, at least he could become a Jesuit saint. Thus, in 1571, Alphonsus joined the Jesuits and was sent to Montesión College on the island of Majorca. In 1585, at age 54, he professed his final vows as a brother. At Montesión, Alphonsus held the position of doorkeeper. He was diligent in his duties, but he also spent much time in prayer. One day, tempted by impure thoughts, he passed in front of an icon of the Virgin Mary and cried in Latin: “Sacred Mary, Mother of God, remember me!” Immediately, he felt the temptations disappear. From then on dedicated himself to communicating with Mary, praying several rosaries each day and reciting psalms in her honor. He was rewarded with frequent visions, and in his most extreme illnesses felt as if he were living in Nazareth at the time she and her son were there. Alphonsus was 72 in 1605 when he met St. Peter Claver, then a young man who wanted to serve God but didn’t know how. Alphonsus had a vision in which he was told that Peter would do great things in South America. He urged him to go as a missionary to Cartagena (Colombia), where he did indeed do great things, becoming apostle to the African slaves passing through the port. In May 1617, when the rector of Montesión, Father Julian, was struck with rheumatic fever, he called Alphonsus to intercede with God and the Virgin Mary on his behalf. Alphonsus spent the night in prayer, and by morning Julian was completely recovered. On October 29, 1617, Alphonsus entered his final ecstasy. This lasted until midnight on October 31, when the death pangs began for real. After half an hour, he briefly regained consciousness, looked lovingly at his brethren, kissed the crucifix, and expired. His last words were: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” He was 84. In art, Alphonsus is depicted as an old Jesuit with two hearts on his breast, connected by rays of light to Christ and the Virgin.