Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Camillus de Lellis, Soldier and Priest, 1550-1614
Born into an aristocratic family at Bocchianico in the Abruzzi province of what is now Italy, he grew swiftly to be a big man--six feet six inches tall and similarly proportioned. When Camillus was seventeen, he went off with his father to fight with the Venetians against the Turks.
During this sojourn, Camillus became infected with a disease in his leg which was both painful to him and repulsive to others. This disease was to hound him for the remainder of his life. Admitted to the San Giacomo Hospital for the Incurables in Rome, Camillus developed a gambling habit. More than once, he lost everything he owned, including the shirt off his back, to gambling.
Discharged from the hospital, Camillus became a mercenary in order to earn his way. But often, gambling reduced him to want and a peace treaty between the Venetians and Turks took this livelihood away as well. Meanwhile the disease in his leg brought him back to San Giacomo. When his health improved, the hospital administrators gave Camillus menial jobs to do for a small pay, but gambling took most of his money from him. Finally having enough of his bad habits, the administrators fired Camillus and threw him out on the street.
In a fit of remorse, Camillus vowed to join the Franciscans, hoping that he might kick his gambling habit. Perhaps with this vow in mind, he accepted work as a laborer in the construction of new buildings at a Capuchin monastery. During this period, Camillus, almost twenty-five and recognizing where his gambling was taking him, fell on his knees and cried to God to have mercy on him. This, he later noted, was the mark of his conversion.
To fulfill his vow, Camillus entered the novitiate of the Capuchins, but the problem with his leg returned and he could not continue. Returning to San Giacomo, Camillus devoted himself to the care of the sick. This time, the administrators noted his sincerity and Camillus was eventually made superintendent of the hospital.
One of the problems of the time in a hospital for incurables was that no one really wanted to be working there. Consequently, prisoners, the very poor, and those who somehow felt that they could take advantage of the sick were about the only people who were employed in the care of these unfortunates. Theft was common, and those near death were sometimes thrown into the burial pits with the dead bodies so that their belongings could be stolen.
Camillus tried hard to change this disreputable situation. His wanted to form a community who would care for the sick from a motive of charity rather than avarice, but his efforts were met with jealousy and suspicion. With the support of his confessor, St. Philip Neri, Camillus realized that he could only be successful in this ministry if he were a priest. Upon ordination, Camillus left San Giacomo and began to lay the foundation for his congregation.
During his lifetime, the congregation of Camillus de Lellis, known as the Ministers of the Sick (today called the Order of Hospitallers), opened several houses and hospitals for the care of the sick and wounded. His congregation also went along with troops who were fighting in Hungary and Croatia, thus establishing the first "field hospitals."
God granted Camillus the power of prophecy and the gift of miracles. He also was known to have received personal revelation from God on many occasions. St. Camillus de Lellis was canonized in 1746 and declared the patron of hospitals, nurses, and of the sick. The health care professions honor this saint and celebrate his gifts to their field on this date.
Camillus’ message today: This saint recognized the slippery slope down which he was descending and, with the grace of God, turned himself around. God’s grace is available to everyone whether they need abundant help, as Camillus did, or just enough to keep them on the right path in their journey of faith.