Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez , Religious SJ

Alphonsus Rodriguez was born in Segovia, Spain on 25 July, 1533. He was the son of a wool merchant, who failed in his business and which he handed over to his son who was still a young man of 23. At the age of 26, Alphonsus married Maria Suarez. Five years later, his wife and two of his three children had died. When his third child also died, he developed a desire to enter religious life. He had met some of the first Jesuits to come to Spain, including (Saint) Peter Faber, but his lack of education was a major obstacle to his joining the Society. His penitential practices had also undermined his health. Eventually, on 31 January, 1571 at the age of 38, he was accepted into the Jesuit novitiate as a brother.

After just six months, he was assigned to the College of Montesion in Palma de Mallorca, where he served as porter or doorkeeper until the end of his life 46 years later. Over this long period he exerted an extraordinary spiritual influence, not only on his community, but on the students and all those who came to the porter’s lodge for advice and direction.

He was already 72, when a young Jesuit, (Saint) Peter Claver, came to the college, filled with a desire to do something for God but uncertain how to do so. The two became friends and often discussed prayer and the spiritual life. The elderly Brother mentor encouraged the student to go to the American missions. Peter would become famous as the apostle to the thousands of slaves brought over from Africa and who landed in Cartagena.

Alphonsus practised very severe penances and suffered sometimes from scruples. His obedience was total, and at all times he was steeped in prayer. He left behind quite an amount of writing, some of it simply notes from spiritual talks given to the community. He had no intention of making them public, and some were written in obedience to superiors.

He died on 31 October, 1617 aged 84 at Palma, Mallorca, and was declared Venerable in 1626. In 1633, he was chosen by the Council General of Majorca as one of the special patrons of the city and island.

In 1760, Pope Clement XIII decreed that “the virtues of the Venerable Alonso were proved to be of a heroic degree”, but the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain in 1773 and their suppression, delayed his beatification until 1825. He was canonised by Pope Leo XIII on 6 September, 1887. His remains are enshrined at Majorca.

Alphonsus is remembered for his fidelity, kindness, spiritual struggles, and widespread influence as a counsellor to the students and others who sought his advice. He is featured in a poem by the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who recalled his outstanding holiness in a singularly unspectacular and humdrum life:

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

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