From the Archives: Celebrations of St Aloysius Gonzaga


With the Jubilee year for the 450th anniversary of the birth of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga coming to a close on March 9, 2019 we decided to highlight the work done by Fr Cyril Martindale SJ, the man in charge of organising the English Province’s celebrations for the bicentenary of the canonisation of the young Saint in 1926.

The Father Provincial selected Martindale, to his delight, as the right person for the task to organise the dual-celebrations of the canonisations of the two young Saints Aloysius and Stanislaus Kostka, who died at the tender ages of 23 and 17, respectively.  Saint Aloysius had been a huge influence to Martindale and was, simultaneous to organising Aloysius’ celebrations, writing his book The Vocation of Aloysius Gonzaga, published in 1927. This book, which was a great change from what had previously stood as the standard depiction of the saint, helps us understand how Martindale wanted his portrayal to be in the celebrations. The knowledge and insight into the life and mind of St Aloysius gained from studying his background in the British Museum made Martindale the perfect candidate for the job.

Extract of a draft letter from the Fr Provincial announcing Martindale’s selection as Promotor (ref. SJ/80/5/13)

Martindale’s strategy was clear but ambitious: over the duration of the celebratory year he would visit every school, seminary college, society, sodality, larger parish body, men’s organisation in the chief provincial towns, the colliery areas, and training ships. His visits would aim to stress the primacy of the soul over the body, obedience, not only to conscience, but also to the official Ministers of the Church. He also planned to publish a new ‘life-let’ in the Catholic Truth Society.

Though Martindale relished the opportunity to honour one of his favourite saints, meeting the vision of the Father General whilst remaining within the budget and Rome’s guidelines proved at times to be very difficult indeed. Besides the Father General’s criticism, Martindale’s plans also met with widespread criticism from others across the Society. He attributes this to a stubborn prejudice that had grown against Aloysius from past portrayals of the Saint. Martindale’s letters to the Father Provincial below demonstrate his frustrations.

Extracts from two separate letters dated 17 April 1926 (ref. SJ/80/5/6)

One of the major points of contention between Martindale and his critics was the iconography Martindale wished to employ for Saint Aloysius. The agreed upon image became a drawing by celebrated war artist Eric Kennington, one of the official artists employed by the War Office on the Western Front.

Two woodcuts drawn by Kennington published in The Catholic Times in 1927, on the left is Saint Stanislaus Kostka, on the right is Saint Aloysius Gonzaga (ref. SJ/80/5/20)

Nevertheless, Martindale did not allow criticism to deter him, as he continued with his strategy, believing that his vision, with some small alterations from the Father Provincial, was what was best suited to the English Province. To overcome the issue of budget he published an appeal for offerings towards the enterprise and received assistance from those offering a helping hand. The celebratory year became a success, which, combined with the praise for his book The Vocation of Aloysius Gonzaga, helped alter and overcome past prejudices and opinions of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga.

If you are interested in the material mentioned in this blog post, or in the work of the Jesuits in Britain Archives in general, please contact us.

Alex van Goethem, Cataloguing Archivist