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Rome Diaries - Week 121

May 21st, 2011

My two candidates for Confirmation have finally reached their goal. The family came to me in the fall frustrated because of their language problems. The father is an Italian diplomat who has spent much of his career in China and India. His wife is from India and speaks English, but not Italian. His son was born in China and speaks English. In just ten months they were planning to be reassigned to another non-Western posting. Could I prepare them for Confirmation in the only language all of them know? Of course.



May 24th, 2011



24 May – In the spirit of “tying up loose ends,” before my August departure, I visit Sant’Andrea al Quirinale and ask its surly custodian to see the rooms of Saint Stanislaus Kostka. To my relief, he does not follow me around, but shuts the door behind me. I am alone in the 16th century rooms of what was once the novitiate for the entire Jesuit Order. Here are displayed paintings from the life of the eighteen-year-old Polish novice who walked from Vienna to apply for Jesuit membership. Less than ten months later, in 1568, he succumbed to fever, but not before convincing his superiors and fellow-novices of his profound sanctity. Less than twenty years later another young man, Aloysius Gonzaga, would occupy the same novitiate and, soon after, die from ministering to plague victims in Rome. He was 23. These two pious and sometimes reckless souls were sculpted by Pierre Legros the Younger in the course of his intensely busy work of decoration for the Jesuits of Rome. Aloysius Gonzaga’s altar in the Church of Sant’Ignazio was completed in 1699 and three years later, Legros began making a polychrome marble deathbed scene of Sanislaus Kostka. While thousands each year see the altar at Sant’Ignazio, few find their way here, to the novitiate rooms where Sanislaus Kostka died. A prie-dieu is set before the massive sculpted block of Sicilian jasper that forms his bed. It is a time for praying over the amazing power of a fragile yet spiritually driven life. The black basalt of the Jesuit habit contrasts sharply with the pallor of his white Carrara marble face and hands. Caught at the moment of death, he still holds his missionary cross and rosary in one hand and a medallion of Mary in the other, his face, at that moment, now turned aside. One excitement about the newly-founded Jesuits was their willingness to go into the uncharted and dangerous lands beyond Europe in search of converts; Francis Xavier embodied this ambition. But Kostka and Gonzaga, never in the greatest of health, showed forth something else the interior force needed before anything grand could begin.



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