After athletics put Gonzaga on the map, people have been mispronouncing and wondering if GU was a real school for years. The name of the university is unique, but holds value.

GU was named by Joseph Cataldo in 1887, in remembrance of his fellow Italian brother in the Society of Jesus, St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga is known among the Jesuit community and around the world as being the patron saint of youth, pandemics and caregivers which lines up with the university's standards for its students, in the mission statement and the world-wide pandemic of COVID-19.

GU’s mission statement discusses caring for the whole person and those in need.

“Gonzaga University is an exemplary learning community that educates students for lives of leadership and service for the common good,” the GU mission statement said. “The Gonzaga experience fosters a mature commitment to dignity of the human person, social justice, diversity, intercultural competence, global engagement, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, and care for the planet.”

Fr. Bryan Pham, S.J., the GU chaplain, professor and lawyer, said St. Aloysius dedicated his life to social justice, helping those in need and caring for the whole person.

“For him, caring for people spiritually and physically was very important,” Pham said. “As a priest we care for people spiritually, but Aloysius wasn’t a priest yet, so for him caring for a person means to go out there and bathe them and wash them and feed them.”

Born into a rich and noble family, St. Aloysius left the luxurious lifestyle and devoted his life to service. St. Aloysius spent his life serving others and stood in solidarity with them until he passed away in the 16th century from the plague.

“The young Jesuit regularly went through the city, doing whatever he could for the victims, including carrying them to hospitals where he would care for them, washing their wounds and feeding them. Not surprisingly, he contracted the disease himself,” the GU website said.

The plague epidemic is similar to COVID-19. Both viruses do not discriminate among their victims, causing social isolation and fear. However there are people who have stepped up, like St. Aloysius did, and care for those in need.

COVID-19 affects everyone but is disproportionately affecting minority groups. In the United States, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and the lower class have a higher rate of infection and deaths than other ethnic groups and the middle class or higher class population.

Similar to COVID-19, during the plague the poor were disproportionately affected.

“They did not have their own bedrooms, they all lived together as families,” Pham said. “Wealthy families had their own bedrooms, they could social distance, as we would say now.”

As a society, our response to the virus is similar to that of the plague. Pham said the actions taken to save or not to save someone are based on economics and social factors. 

“I think how we respond and I think how Aloysius Gonzaga responded, is an example for us on how we need to respond to people because they are in need, not because of who they are,” Pham said.

Pham offered some “creative ways” that GU students can do to live like how St. Aloysuius did during the 16th century plague and stand in solidarity with those who need it most during COVID-19.

Pham suggested that students acknowledge how fortunate they are. Then he gave an example of two different lifestyles in the Spokane area.

The Catholic Charities' House of Charity houses and feeds many homeless people in the Spokane area. To the homeless population in the area, COVID-19 is not the most pressing problem in their life.

“I go to House of Charity and COVID-19 is on their mind, but their lives have been turned upside down for decades,” Pham said. “So COVID-19 is just another issue they have to handle now.”

Pham said social distancing is not possible at the homeless shelter because the homeless would rather have a bed and food rather than be on the streets maintaining social distancing.

Another piece of advice Pham offered to students was to take care of themselves and to not be reckless, but if you have the ability to volunteer, do it.

At GU, faculty are practicing what they teach.

David Gracon, assistant professor of integrated media at GU, spends his time volunteering at Spokane Food Fighters, where he delivers food for those with food insecurities in the Spokane area.

“For me this is a great opportunity to do the mission of Gonzaga,” Gracon said. “The idea of food insecurity is a social justice issue. Food insecurity is linked to poverty and social inequality and economic inequalities, so this is a way to give back to our community.”

Gracon has stability. To him it is only natural to give to the community during the global pandemic.

“I work at Gonzaga, my duty is to do the mission and it’s not only doing the mission in the classroom or research and creative projects I make, but it’s also about service in the community I live in,” Gracon said.

Gracon encourages his students to do work similar to that of Spokane Food Fighters. Whether it is using skills to help operate a web page, raise money or delivery food, Gracon finds doing some sort of social justice work and acting on the GU mission is an important thing for students to do during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pham suggested that students should get through the pandemic by not only reaching out into the community and volunteering but staying in communication with other students as well.

“Reach out to classmates, care for each other and try to make life as normal as possible,” Pham said.

During the plague, St. Aloysius did not have the ability to jump on a Zoom call. Instead he was physically isolated from the Jesuit community. Social distancing took on a new meaning while he lived in the attic of the church, only coming in contact with the sick.

“They were afraid of something they could not see, afraid of someone they did not know because they think they might be a carrier of the plague,” Pham said. “Today is the same thing, we practice social distancing, which is good, but that doesn’t mean human distancing. Even though we are not together we still must respect and honor the other person.”

Caring for the whole person is something GU prides itself on. During these times, students of GU are called to live a life dedicated to standing in solidarity with the sick and poor, following the mission statement.

“The poor and vulnerable are struggling to eat, to pay their rent month to month, so to try and do something, such as related to food insecurity, I think it really helps to try and serve the common good, which is straight out of our mission,” Gracon said. “It fosters human dignity.”

Hannah Hislop is a staff writer.

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