The Final Four teams have been set. Come Saturday, South Carolina will be tipping off against Gonzaga and Oregon will face North Carolina for spots in the 2017 NCAA title game.
But one of these teams isn’t like the rest. No, this isn’t about UNC being the only team with actual Final Four experience after World War II. Three of the schools: Oregon, UNC and South Carolina all bear the names of the state in which the university is located.
But Gonzaga? There is no Gonzaga, Wash.
So why is it named Gonzaga?
Gonzaga University, a Jesuit School, is named after St. Aloysius Gonzaga — a 16th-century Italian Jesuit saint. According to the school’s website, when Fr. Joseph Cataldo founded Gonzaga in 1887 (then called Gonzaga College), he thought it would be fitting to name the institution after a fellow Italian.
Gonzaga is the only Jesuit university named after St. Gonzaga, but far from the only Jesuit school to experience success in college hoops. Five Jesuit schools have won the NCAA tournament — Holy Cross, Georgetown, Marquette, San Francisco and Loyola-Chicago — while others like Creighton, Xavier, St. Joseph’s and Loyola Marymount have made their mark.
St. Gonzaga and his surname are well known in Italy. He was born in 1568 near Mantua, Italy, to a wealthy family. He grew up during the Renaissance and witnessed the murders of his two brothers. His parents, Ferrante and Mantua, sent him to Florence and the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco de’Medici.
Eventually, he traveled to Madrid with his parents to join the court of Philip II and joined The Society of Jesus. This caused tension with his father, who wanted him to return to Italy and inherit the title of Marquis and the riches that came with it. In November of 1585, he joined the Society of Jesus in Rome. He used to walk around the streets aiding those who had been infected with the plague. Eventually, he contracted the disease and died from it in 1591.
Now, there is a parish church named St. Aloysius (the equivalent of Louis in English) across the street from Gonzaga University.
So when Gonzaga takes the court on Saturday, it will have at least one saint on its side.