21 years old, he had followed his life dream in the Order of St. Camillus, and received papal dispensation to take his vows before cancer took his life.
Nicola D’Onofrio was born in Villamagna, Italy, on March 24,1943. His father, Giovanni, and his mom, Virginia, had their son baptized three days later in the parish church of St. Mary’s. Nicola’s dad was a successful farmer, but more importantly, he was a man of integrity, honesty, and wisdom, virtues fueled by a deep and abiding Catholic faith. His mom was known for her piety and kindness. Their faith and character traits would be passed on to their son.
As Nicola began to grow, the distinct qualities of kindness and peacefulness seemed to be part of who he was. He made his First Holy Communion on the feast of Corpus Christi in June of 1950. Three years later, in October of 1953, he received his Confirmation. His teachers and even his classmates invariably spoke or wrote of Nicola’s hard work ethic, his kindness, and his availability to anyone who needed help. No matter the season, he never missed serving at Mass in the morning even though it was a two-mile walk to the church.
When Nicola was about 10 years old, a priest who belonged to the Order of St. Camillusinvited him to consider entering the Camillian students in Rome. Nicola immediately accepted the offer, but his parents felt he was not ready. As well, his father wanted him to stay at home and take over the family farm when he grew up. His two unmarried aunts tried to convince him that he was their only heir. However, Nicola, even at his young age, wanted desperately to become a priest.
During the following year, Nicola prayed and studied hard, and by the end of the year, his family gave him permission to enter the Camillian school. The school was for pre-teens to see if they truly displayed signs of having a priestly vocation. The date he entered the school was October 3, 1955. He was 12 years old, and it was the feast day of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. The Little Flower would later become his spiritual guide.
During the next six years, Nicola’s character continually manifested a person who was humble, friendly, helpful, and above all, always smiling. He was constantly ready to help others, offer words of comfort or understanding, and simply be there when and if needed.
Interestingly, Nicola learned after several years at school that his father had wanted to bring him back home. Nicola wrote him saying he was determined to become a priest in the Camillian Order no matter the cost. His dad humbly relented.
Nicola worked hard and applied himself to his studies, gaining the respect and admiration of his teachers. He wanted to be a worthy priest, and his work ethic evidenced that. On October 7, 1961, after a period of intense training, Nicola took the vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience, and Charity toward the sick, especially those with contagious diseases. These vows were binding for three years. At the end of that period, he would take his final vows as a professed Camillian religious.
It was toward the end of 1962 that the first symptoms of the cancer that would kill him reared their ugly head. He did not understand the pain he was having, nor why he felt weak. Testing ensued, and following the advice of his superiors and the doctors, he was operated on at the urology department at St. Camillo Hospital in Rome. The diagnosis came back as positive for tera-tosarcoma, better known as genital cancer, and it had already begun to metastasize. The date was July 30, 1963.
The pain and suffering increased dramatically over the next year. Weakened and in constant pain, young Nicola never stopped praying and smiling. His rosary was his constant companion. He had one desire: he wanted desperately to be able to take his final vows.
A request was sent to Pope Paul VI, who granted Nicola a special dispensation allowing him to make his vows.
A request was sent to Pope Paul VI, who granted Nicola a special dispensation allowing him to make his vows. On May 28, 1964, Nicola D’Onofrio consecrated himself to God for life. It was his final act of love. On June 5, the feast of the Sacred Heart, Nicola, fully conscious and completely aware that he was dying, smilingly received the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
Nicola passed away on June 12, 1964. He was 21 years old, and he was surrounded by his family and Camillian brothers. A close family friend who had assisted Nicola throughout his illness remembered his last moments and said, “He seemed to me like Jesus Christ on the Cross, so calm and confident, with prayers on his lips, calling Our Lady ‘Mom.'”
Pope Francis declared Nicola D’Onofrio a man of ‘heroic virtue’ and worthy of the title Venerable on July 5, 2013.
Venerable Nicola D’Onofrio, please pray for us.