Head to the brackets and vote for your favorite during Jesuit Madness 2014.
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St. Francis Borgia, SJ (1510—1572)
Some people wish they had all the skills needed for the game; Borgia is not one of them. At the young age of eighteen this saint jumped onto the court ready to impress—that is, the imperial court of Spain. He impressed local and far away Church scouts both on and off the court with his ability to father eight kids and still never miss a practice. But after his wife, Eleanor de Castro, died, he got the call from upstairs and laced up for the second half. He entered religious life with the Jesuits and quickly went from novice to MVP in a few short years.
Why Francis wins The first three reasons: Pope Alexander VI, King Ferdinand of Aragon, and Emperor Charles V—yup, Borgia was related to all of them. This saint brings with him a center and two guards that together form the dream team for missionary work unparalleled by any other religious order at that time. Another reason why Francis wins is the fact that he brings discipline to the game. He was able to build religious players (Jesuits) with such execution that it’s no accident that under his guidance he helped establish the New World in Florida, Mexico, and Peru. Francis is known to have told his players frequently, “That being naked of earthly things, we may also embrace the cross.” Borgia takes care of business.
St. Alberto Hurtado (1901-1952)
St. Alberto Hurtado is a Chilean Jesuit who is best known for his work with the poor in Santiago. He founded the hugely popular, El Hogar de Cristo which “welcomes the poorest of the poor to help them expand their opportunities for a better life.” He also oversaw the foundation of the widely distributed Spanish periodical Mensaje, which addresses many of the social, religious, and faith issues in Latin America. Hurtado was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
Hurtado should be seriously considered as a contender primarily due to his fierce commitment to social justice, before it was “a cool thing.” He struggled for workers’ rights and the development of the Chilean Trade Union Association. He deserves a slot in the final four. You better believe it.
St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552)
A close friend of Ignatius and a founding member of the Society of Jesus, Francis is best known for his zealous missionary spirit which sent him from his native Spain to Goa, the East Indies, and Japan. Along the way, Francis is known to have baptized thousands and overseen the instruction of hundreds of catechists. As the saying goes, ‘the best defense is a good offense,” and for Xavier, his aggressive evangelization tactics won the Church many converts and sowed the seeds of Christianity in Asia.
Xavier must be considered a favorite. His never say die attitude, coupled with untapped supply of energy (and abundant grace) should make him ‘a shoe in’ for the finals. Who could doubt a man who said the following: “Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like — even to India.”
St. Stanislaus Kostka, SJ (1550—1568)
Is he just an eighteen year old rebel without a cause? Stanislaus Kostka did rebel against his Polish Father and older brother but it wasn’t without a cause. This saint’s family sent Stanislaus to an intensive training camp in Vienna for gifted young nobility of the time. Going against his Father’s wishes, instead of political sport Stanislaus opted for religious sport. Like the greats of the past for any game, this young saint defines determination. Nothing would stop him from joining the team known as the Society of Jesus, not even having to walk a thousand miles—he would’ve walked a hundred more!
Why Stanislaus wins: First of all, respect. Do not let his youthful face fool you. When the Jesuit general, Fr. Francis Borgia, met with Stanislaus to sign him for the upcoming novitiate season he wrote of him, “We expect great things from him.” Fr. Borgia does not easily impress. When Fr. Borgia sees talent you can bet your money the kid will not disappoint. Remarkably, Stanislaus spiritual prowess is defined not by what he does, but what he doesn’t do. In his first season, after only ten months of court time, Stanislaus predicted his own death and died on August 15, 1568. Stanislaus accomplished nothing during his life—expect perfect union with God, but whose counting?
Peter Claver, SJ (1581-1654)
Claver was born about 50 miles from Barcelona, Spain in June of 1581. When he was 20 years old he took his game to another level and entered the Society of Jesus. He was sent to do his philosophy studies in Mallorca where he met super-star Brother, Alphonsus Rodriguez. A-Rod urged Claver to give his life to the missions in South America where the motto was, “New Spain, New Gain.” Sure enough he was missioned to play ball in Cartagena, Colombia in 1610. Little did P Claves know that his life would be forever changed by the African slaves that he met in the “new world.”
Hard work and dedication are what make Peter Claver a perennial guest at the Big Dance. He labored tirelessly to care for the survivors of the brutal Atlantic slave-ship crossing from Africa. He brought medicine, food, and comforting words to men and women who were being treated like live-stock. He insisted that each African captive be treated as a dignified Christian and as a result over 300,000 slaves were baptized during his 40 years of ministry. He was branded the “Apostle of Cartagena” and was given a hero’s burial in 1654. Claver is known as the “Most Valuable Peter” for good reason. He knows how to act when things look bleak and he hustles hard till the very end.
St Alphonsus Rodríguez, SJ (1532-1617)
Rodriguez comes from a mid-majors background. His mother, wife, and son all died within a few years of each other. Struggling to make it as a trader, Rodriguez realized a late call to the Jesuits, but was initially rejected from the Company for lack of education. He headed back to grammar school training. He entered the Jesuits as a brother at age 40. Though suffering from scruples, Alphonsus worked hard as porter at Montesione College in Majorca. There, he took up informal spiritual coaching, eventually guiding powerhouse St. Peter Claver to missionary work among slaves.
Rodriguez is a mid-major dark horse. With a bit of red-shirt age on him, he proves a strong but un-lauded pick. Alphonsus sometimes struggles with confidence, but has an unquenchable desire to stand under the Banner of Christ. Look for him to start a bit slow, but come on strong late in the game. Reasons to pick: Calm but fierce determination; absolute love and dedication despite setbacks; and we all love an underdog.
St. Peter Canisius, SJ (1521–1597)
Peter has been proving that there’s “no land like the Lowlands” since 1521. He was born in the Netherlands but took his “A-game” all over Germany, Austria, and Bohemia. In fact, he was the first Dutchman ever to enter the newly minted Society of Jesus in 1543. He is a Cinderella story for the ages. When the Protestant reformation was in full-court press, Canisius battled back with renowned preaching, several Catechisms, and care for plague victims… talk about a triple threat! This humble approach won the “Apostle to Germany” not only big-time street cred but many converts as well. He was canonized in 1925 for his efforts.
Here’s a guy who never gives up. When Reformation theological debates were at their hottest, Canisius urged those around him to remember that argumentation would not win any admirers. When the pressure was on he helped launch the first Catholic printing press… talk about ice cold! As if that wasn’t enough, the slipper was proven to fit this Cinderella’s foot when death came knocking at his door. He survived a near-death stroke in 1591 and lived for six more years devoted to writing and takin’ care of bidniss. He might not seem like a favorite at first glance…but Canisius has proven time and time again that “Dutch is Clutch.”
Paulo Miki (1562-1597)
Son of a wealthy military leader? Sounds familiar, but Miki is no copycat of the other big names. Paulo Miki hails from the Big East. He was a Japanese Jesuit of a military family. Born around 1562, Miki came of age during the heyday
of Japanese Catholicism. After being educated at a Jesuit school (typical powerhouse institutions), Miki entered the Society. He learned the rhetoric of Buddhist priests so he could debate with them. The Emperor Hideyoshi government executed Miki just before his ordination.
Looking for the well-conditioned, in-it-to-win-it saint? Look no further than Miki, who marched 300 miles to his execution. With some old school flare of Roman-style persecution, Miki and companions are a formidable group. Look for well-executed Gospel-handling skills, understanding of the opponent and desire to finish. Reasons to win: passion and fire; hard work and conditioning; this guy has good, complete sense of the game.
St. Jean de Brebeuf, SJ (1593-1649)
Brebeuf comes from a long line of sturdy, handsome, Frenchman and is a yearly favorite come March. This big man was known for his massive build, commanding presence, and brilliant intellect which makes him a perennial powerhouse in the tournament. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1617 and in 1625 went to play internationally in the missionary leagues of what is now known as Canada. As a top seed, this “Apostle of the Hurons,” won his first converts to Catholicism in just ten years (1635). He was brutally martyred in 1649 along-side a fellow Jesuit… but was respected until the end because of his bracket busting bravery. It is said that Brebeuf endured a brutal martyrdom that included being scalped and then “baptized” with boiling water.
It’s hard not to put your money on J de. As one of the North American Martyrs he’s the ultimate team player. His mental toughness is key when you consider that he not only wrote the Jesuit Relations, but also the famous Huron Carol, which is recited to this day. The Huron (Ouendat) People called him “Echon” which translates “healing tree” because of his savvy use of medicines coupled with his impressive physique. Show me the versatility: This man simultaneously coined the word “Lacrosse” and was the first Jesuit fluent in the Huron language. How about good under pressure: legend has it that after Brebeuf finally died, the Huron ate his heart, not only out of respect but also to gain the courage that allowed him to endure his agonizing death without even crying out in pain once. Don’t doubt the real deal…this Jean’s got it goin’ on!
St. Jean-Francois Regis, SJ (1597-1640)
Jean Francois was born in the south of France in 1597 and entered the Jesuit novitiate at age 19. His enthusiasm for the faith was contagious and he strived for the conversion of the French Huguenots. He is a major player thanks to his courageous work with people suffering from bubonic plague. His skill as a preacher and evangelist were second to none, and he was known to convert entire crowds to the faith in one fell swoop!
Regis should not be overlooked because of his skinny and often infirm constitution. He is fiery, courageous, and “has heart,” which makes him a serious threat to those more established/well known saints. He’s got a horse in this race, and you’d better believe it!
St. Aloysius Gonzaga, SJ (1568–1591)
Better known to some as “Alo-Swishes” Gonzaga grew up in the lap of Italian Duchy. This classy, Mid-major knew from an early age that he would not sign with his Duke lineage. This kid began training as soldier and courtier at age 4 and by age 9 made private vow of chastity. Showing maturity early on, this scrappy instant classic gave away his inheritance in 1585 against his parent’s wishes and entered the Society of Jesus at age 17. Who’s surprised though? AG received his First Communion from St. Charles Borremeo and had St. Robert Bellarmine as a confessor… LEGACY! It took a plague to kill this shooting star in Rome in 1591.
G-zags is no prima dona but is also no stranger to the limelight. He’s comfortable with the accolades he’s earned on and off the hard court. Aloysius is the “Patron of all students and Jesuit novices” because he is a youngin…but he’s due to earn some big boy hardware any moment now. He began to cement his legacy almost immediately after his death. He was beatified 14 short years after his death and then canonized a saint in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. We celebrate Gonzaga’s feast day on June 21st even though he is already immortal in so many ways. When the plague took his life he was 23 years old. 23… hmm. Coincidence, I think not! Greatness flows in this class act’s veins. Period.
Claude de la Colombiere (1641-1682)
This Jesuit saint tutored the children of Colbert—what more could you want? (OK, so they were the kids of Jean Baptiste Colbert). Claude was born into French nobility in 1641. He ditched his active social life to concentrate on his Exercises, entering the Society at just 17 years old. Eventually, the Jesuits missioned Claude to the college at Paray-le-Monial. There, Colombiere met a formidable and visionary teammate, Margaret Mary Alacoque. After coaching Margaret, the Jesuits assigned Claude to England. There, he was accused of participating in the Popish Plot to assassinate King Charles II. The monarch exiled Claude to France where he died two years later at the age of 41.
Claude unabashedly takes on a visionary model in Margaret Mary Alocoque’s Sacred Heart. Colombiere takes the basic tools he learned in the Exercises and applies them to new ways of seeing the game. On the downside, Claude frequently struggles with injury and illness; but his instincts and understanding make for an overall excellent choice. Reasons to pick: ability to combine basic skills with new methods; excellent teammates; toughs it out on the road.
St. Edmund Campion (1540-1581)
Edmund was born in London, England. He showed his talent early on at St. John’s College in Oxford. Eventually he earned a Master’s degree at Oxford and received Holy Orders as an Anglican Deacon. Five years later he publically left the Anglican Church and spent the rest of his life hiding from pursuers, since it was illegal to be Catholic in England. In another bold move, he joined the Jesuits in 1573 and spent much of his time teaching rhetoric and philosophy. In 1580 he joined a clandestine mission back to his homeland in England. You know Campion had ice water in his veins because the penalty for being a professed Catholic in England was certain torture and death.
Within a year of sneaking into England under the guise of being a jewel merchant, Campion’s presence was sniffed out by Anglican and governmental authorities. He was captured by a spy and given the chance to renounce his faith in order to avoid death. Not surprisingly he argued flawlessly in order to spare his life and the lives of several on trial with him. Unfortunately, those who hunted him wanted to condemn him. In November of 1581, he and several others were sentenced to be hung, drawn, quartered, and then beheaded. At 41 year of age Edmund Campion was brutally killed in the same London that once lauded him as a fortunate son. He is always a good bet in the tournament because persistence and hard-nosed grit are what make this Campion a Champion.
St. Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621)
One of the most loyal defenders of the Church during the Reformation, Robert Bellarmine stood out to the recruiters in the minor leagues during his philosophy and theology studies. After ordination, he started a new franchise as he served as the first professor of theology at Louvain and taught courses aimed at answering the challenges of Luther and Calvin.
No stranger to controversy, he worked in Rome, first at the Roman College (the Gregorian University), then as an author before he was named rector of the university and provincial of the province of Naples. The honors kept coming: first he made the league All Star team as cardinal, then the Olympic team as archbishop of Capua. In the later part of his life, he switched from player to coach: his evident holiness edified many people through his spiritual works, and shortly before his death many church officials visited him and asked him to pray for them in heaven.
St. Roch Gonzales de Santa Cruz (1576–1628)
A native son, Roch received personal coaching from his local bishop and then the Jesuits who opened a school in his hometown of Asuncion in Paraguay. He turned down the GM position (vicar general) of his first team to start a club team in a rural area (the reductions).
First he had to teach the natives to play ball. Then he had to make the team economically viable. His success brought invitations to start other teams throughout the Amazon basin. He died in action when a jealous witch doctor split open his skull with an axe. Roch is a humble sleeper with lots of experience building and revitalizing teams. He plays, coaches, and manages. Moreover, his success inspired the biggest movie since Hoop Dreams: The Mission.
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – 1556)
Why play by the rules when you can make up your own? In an age where some people thought that there were too many religious orders in the Church, Ignatius founded the largest male religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. A former Spanish nobleman, he had a conversion experience while recovering from a battlefield injury and never looked back, traveling to the Holy Land and then attending the University of Paris, where he met St. Francis Xavier and Saint Peter Faber. Together they put together the ultimate Dream Team: the seven men who formed the first members of the Jesuit order.
Besides the ability to inspire people to follow him, Ignatius brings excellent communications skills to the game, owing to his experience navigating the Church of the Renaissance. Having survived a battlefield injury and done rehab before pain pills, he is impervious to injury and will play through the pain. His focus and discipline are second to none: once he spent a year in prayer in a cave alongside Manresa.