Saint Camillus de Lellis, Confessor

July 18

Today is the feast day of Saint Camillus de Lellis.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Camillus de Lellis was born at Bacchianico, Naples, 1550.  He was the son of an officer who had served both in the Neapolitan and French armies. His mother died when he was a child, and he grew up absolutely neglected. When still a youth he became a soldier in the service of Venice and afterwards of Naples, until 1574.  While in the service he became a confirmed gambler, and in consequence of his losses was at times reduced to a condition of destitution. The kindness of a Franciscan friar induced him to apply for admission to that order, but he was refused.

By Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877

On the Festival of the Holy Apostles, St. Peter and St, Paul, in the year 1746, Benedict XIV., with great solemnity, canonized Camillus, the founder of the congregation of regular priests, who, besides the three usual vows, bound themselves especially to serve the sick. Camillus was born in 1550, in the diocese of Theatie, in the kingdom of Naples. His mother dreamed before he was born, that she had given birth to a boy, who wore upon his breast a cross, and who was followed by a great many other boys, who wore the same emblem. The signification of this dream was not recognized until St. Camillus had founded an order, whose members, in consequence of a decree of the Pope, wore a dark red cross on the right side of the breast. The first years of his life were spent piously under the eyes of his parents; but later he became so addicted to games of chance, that he not only lost all he possessed, but also visibly injured his health. Obliged by poverty, he hired himself as nurse in a hospital, but soon becoming tired of this, he joined the army. The life of a soldier pleased him still less, and he therefore took service in a Capuchin cloister, not knowing what other course to pursue.

God at length had compassion on the lost sheep, and once more led him upon the right road. The cause of this was a sermon which he heard by chance, and even against his will. Pondering on it, he suddenly recognized his iniquities, and the judgment which he had to expect on account of them, and casting himself on the ground, he bitterly bewailed his past life, and resolved most earnestly to change it. From that moment, he appeared a different man, and having made a sorrowful confession, he not only avoided every shadow of sin, but also desired to be admitted into the seraphic order of St. Francis. He was received, but dismissed again before his probation had ended, in consequence of a sore on one of his feet, from which he had suffered a long time, and which made it impossible for him to perform the work assigned him. Sadly disappointed, Camillus went to Rome, to the hospital of St. James, where, as mentioned above, he had served for a time. God so directed it, that he was entrusted with the administration of the finances; in which office he consecrated himself entirely to the sick. Perceiving that the hired nurses performed their duties with negligence, he deliberated within himself, how he might obtain nurses, who, to receive an eternal recompense, should, after his example, wait upon the sick. Consulting St. Philip Neri, who was then living at Rome, he founded a society to which were admitted only those who were willing to serve the sick without any temporal reward. This society at first consisted of only a few secular persons ; but these were soon joined by several priests, who bought themselves a house in which they might reside in common.

This society formed itself into a religious order, and it spread as well over Italy and Sicily, as over other parts of Europe. The members of it nursed the sick, day and night, as well in hospitals as in private houses, and gave them every assistance, as well temporal as spiritual. St. Camillus was an example to all. Exhorted by St. Philip Neri, he had followed the example of St. Ignatius, and though already advanced in years, had devoted himself to study and was ordained priest, that he might assist the sick spiritually as well as corporally. The bull of his canonization proves that the most devoted mother could not have nursed her only child with greater love, than St. Camillus bestowed without exception upon all the sick. Whenever one was found, he went to comfort and to cheer him: he gave medicine, cleansed the bed and room, bandaged wounds, and in one word, did all that charity could think of or the condition of the sick require. Thus he acted uniformly towards all, but especially towards those who awakened in others aversion, on account of many sores, bad odors, or other disgusting circumstances. He often remained whole nights, without food or sleep, with them, although greatly suffering himself from the sore on his foot, to which we have alluded above. More than once he was so exhausted by his labors, that he fainted away by the side of the sick; but he continued in his work of love, while he had any strength left.

At the time of a terrible pestilence which ravaged Rome and several other cities, he worked real miracles of Christian charity. He went with his brethren through all the streets, assisting the suffering. He carried many, whom he found lying in the streets, stricken down by the pestilence, into the house where he and his priests resided, and nursed them there most tenderly, without in the least fearing death or infection. The same zeal he manifested at Milan and Nola, whither he went to nurse the sick at the time of the pestilence. He was incited to these great sacrifices by the love of God, which, since his conversion, inflamed his whole heart. He desired to gain numberless souls, to awaken in them an equal love to God and hatred of sin. Hence, his first care was that the sick should reconcile themselves to their Maker, by confession, and bear their sufferings patiently. The whole life of this Saint was, according to the above mentioned bull, truly divine. At the time of prayer they often found him in ecstacy, and surrounded by a heavenly light, or raised high up from the ground. St. Philip Neri gave evidence that he frequently saw angels standing beside St. Camillus while they waited upon the sick. God graced him also, with the gift of prophecy, and of miraculously restoring the sick in an instant, of which his life offers many examples.

The Inhabitants of Rome, therefore, looked upon him as a Saint, and greatly esteemed him ; he, however, humbled himself beneath all on account of the sins of his youth, over which he daily wept bitterly; he deemed himself unworthy to live among men. He esteemed and called himself the greatest sinner, who had deserved hell a thousand times. To praise him was only to rouse his indignation or to sadden him. He firmly refused the name of Founder of a religious order, and although for twenty-seven years he discharged the functions of an Abbot, he rested not until he was allowed to resign the office, and live under the obedience of another. St. Camillus united with profound humility and desire to obey, the virtue of mortification. Notwithstanding the great hardship of nursing the sick, and the pain that for years his foot gave him, he mortified his body by continual fasting, watching, and other penances, in such a manner that the prolongation of his life was regarded as a real miracle. A happy death ended, at last, his holy and useful life. In the year 1614, at the age of 60, after he had endured for 33 months, a most painful malady.

The thought of the torments of hell which he had merited by his transgressions, made, according to his own words, all suffering easy to bear. Before his end, he admonished his brethren to continue in their work of love to God and men. The many miracles that have taken place since his death by his intercession, have made the name of St. Camillus famous over the whole Christian world. (2)

In 1591 Gregory XIV erected the congregation into a religious order, with all the privileges of the mendicants. It was again confirmed as such by Clement VIII, in 1592. The infirmity which had prevented his entrance among the Capuchins continued to afflict Camillus for forty-six years, and his other ailments contributed to make his life one of uninterrupted suffering, but he would permit no one to wait on him, and when scarcely able to stand would crawl out of his bed to visit the sick. He resigned the generalship of the order, in 1607, in order to have more leisure for the sick and poor. Meantime he had established many houses in various cities of Italy. He is said to have had the gift of miracles and prophecy. He died at the age of sixty-four 14 July 1614 while pronouncing a moving appeal to his religious brethren. He was buried near the high altar of the church of St. Mary Magdalen, at Rome, and, when the miracles which were attributed to him were officially approved, his body was placed under the altar itself. He was beatified in 1742, and in 1746 was canonized by Benedict XIV.

[Note: In 1930, Pope Pius XI named St. Camillus de Lellis, together with St. John of God, principal Co-Patron of nurses and of nurses’ associations.]

Prayer from the Liturgical Year
By Dom Prosper Guerenger 1909

Angel of charity, by what wonderful paths did the Divine Spirit lead thee! The vision of thy pious mother remained long unrealized; before taking on thee the holy Cross and enlisting comrades under that sacred sign, thou didst serve the odious tyrant, who will have none but slaves under his standard, and the passion of gambling was well nigh thy ruin.

O Camillus, remembering the danger thou didst incur, have pity on the unhappy slaves of passion; free them from the madness wherewith they risk, to the caprice of chance, their goods, their honour, and their peace in this world and in the next. Thy history proves the power of grace to break the strongest ties and alter the most inveterate habits: may these men, like thee, turn their bent towards God, and change their rashness into love of the dangers to which holy charity may expose them! For charity, too, has its risks, even the peril of life, as the Lord of charity laid down his life for us: a heavenly game of chance, which thou didst play so well that the very Angels applauded thee. But what is the hazarding of earthly life compared with the prize reserved for the winner?

According to the commandment of the Gospel read by the Church in thy honour, may we all, like thee, love our brethren as Christ has loved us! Few, says St. Augustine, love one another to this end, that God may be all in all. Thou, O Camillus, having this love, didst exercise it by preference towards those suffering members of Christ’s mystic Body, in whom our Lord revealed Himself more clearly to thee, and in whom His kingdom was nearer at hand. Therefore, has the Church in gratitude chosen thee, together with John of God, to be guardian of those homes for the suffering which she has founded with a mother’s thoughtful care. Do honour to that Mother’s confidence. Protect the hospitals against the attempts of an odious and incapable secularization, which, in its eagerness to lose the souls, sacrifices even the corporal well-being of the unhappy mortals committed to the care of its evil philanthropy. In order to meet our increasing miseries, multiply thy sons, and make them worthy to be assisted by Angels. Wherever we may be in this valley of exile when the hour of our last struggle sounds, make use of thy precious prerogative which the holy Liturgy honours today; help us, by the spirit of holy love, to vanquish the enemy and attain unto the heavenly crown! Amen. (2)


Image: Crop of San Camilo de Lelis Fundador de la Orden de los Camilos y Precursor de la Cruz Roja, Migeul Palafox (8)


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