St. Alphonsus (also known as Alonso) was born in Spain in 1532. He married when he was 26, and worked as a cloth merchant. After a series of personal tragedies — his wife and two of their children had died by the time he was 31, his last child died after he embraced a life of prayer, and his business went under — Alphonsus began to consider religious life.
Because he had not received higher education, Alphonsus had trouble joining the Jesuits or pursuing ordination. He attended the college of Barcelona for two years, but was unable to graduate. The Jesuits in Valencia refused him, but a provincial of the society, moved by Alphonsus’ dedication to his faith, allowed him to join as a lay brother.
In Alphonsus’ time, lay brothers assisted the priests of the society, cooking, doing construction, and farming. He was sent to the College of Montesion in Majorca, where he worked as a doorkeeper, greeting guests, carrying luggage, delivering messages, and distributing alms to the poor.
Even as a doorkeeper, Alphonsus gained a reputation for his wisdom and his faith. Students sought him out, and the Jesuit superiors took note, asking Alphonsus to begin recording his thoughts and his life. Alphonsus developed a friendship with one man in particular, and encouraged him to go to South America as a missionary. That man, St. Peter Claver, followed his advice, and went on to baptize 300,000 slaves in South America.
In 1617, Alphonsus died. Examining his written records, his superiors found a simple but saintly way of life. Alphonsus believed that every person who appeared at his door was Christ, and his work was to encounter God in every task. This simple philosophy led him to a life of contemplation.
Alphonsus was declared a saint in 1887, and he is buried on the island of Majorca, where he found Christ in every person he met.