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His Path to Sainthood Ran Through Battlefields and Gambling Addiction

Public Domain

How Camillus de Lellis went from washed-up soldier, who gambled away everything he owned, to sainthood.

One of the challenges facing Camillus and his companions was the spread of the bubonic plague. They cared for plague-stricken victims in Rome and on board the vessels that docked in the city’s harbor. During that time, several miraculous healings were attributed to Camillus. Many thought that he and his companions skillfully turned away the plague and the ensuing famine. And so, for a time, he was called the “Saint of Rome.”

Camillus also came up with a solution to another problem of his era: lacking modern medical technology, there was often a risk of burying alive a person who only appeared to be dead. After learning of several such cases, Camillus instituted a policy requiring the Brothers of his Order to wait at least fifteen minutes after a person seemed to have drawn his last breath before removing the body for burial.

In 1586, Pope Sixtus V granted Camillus and his followers the canonical status of a Congregation and assigned to their care the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Rome. Two years later they expanded to Naples. In 1591, Pope Gregory XV raised the Camillians to the status of an Order, establishing a fourth vow unique to the Camillian Order: “to serve the sick, even with danger to one’s own life.” In 1594, Camillus led the Order to Milan, where they served at the city’s largest hospital.

The Camillian Order continued to spread to hospitals throughout Italy and into Hungary and Croatia. Camillus resigned his post as Superior General of his Order in 1607, but continued to serve as the Camillians’ Vicar General. In 1613, he accompanied the new Superior General on a tour of all the hospitals throughout Italy where the Order served. While on that tour, Camillus fell ill and died in Rome on July 14, 1614.

Camillus was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1742. Four years later, he was canonized. July 18 was chosen as his memorial because, at that time, July 14 was the feast of St. Bonaventure. (In the United States, July 14 is now the memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.)   

St. Camillus is the patron saint of the sick, of hospitals, of nurses and nursing groups, of physicians, and of gambling addicts. The order he founded now numbers over 1,200 priests and brothers and operates in 35 countries

Kathy Schiffer is a freelance writer and speaker, and her blog Seasons of Grace can be found on the Catholic Portal at Patheos.  

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