Alphonsus was what we call a “gifted” student today. He was a lawyer by the time he was 16 years old! He came from a wealthy family in Naples, Italy, and had every advantage in life from the moment he was born in 1696. But his parents were spiritually devoted people, and Alphonsus was taught that the greatest blessing he had been given was his faith. He prayed often and attended Mass even on days when he was appearing in court.
Alphonsus found that he was not happy with his life. He sought to understand God’s will for him and finally realized he was being called to the life of a priest. He studied theology and was ordained when he was 29.
Alphonsus became famous for his preaching. He spoke so that everyone in church—even people who had never gone to school—could understand his message. He gave retreats for the poor and he encouraged people to pray more often. He founded an order of priests called the Redemptorists. These men were devoted to serving the average working family and peasants.
Even though he was such a busy priest, Alphonsus tooktime to write books and hymns. He also worked to correct a false teaching of his day known as Jansenism that said that people were too sinful to ever be worthy of receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Alphonsus taught that receiving Communion helped us to overcome our sins and to become more holy.
He suffered from physical afflictions that left him in great pain in his later life, and he died at the age of 91. Alphonsus was canonized a saint in 1839 and in 1871 was named a Doctor of the Church—a person who made an important contribution to the Church by helping us to understand what it means to be Catholic.