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Pope Francis and the semi-forgotten Franciscan friar

Agostino Gemelli AND POPE FRANCIS


Lucien de Guise - published on 07/16/21

Agostino Gemelli was exceptional in being a Franciscan friar who was also a medical authority. The hospital where Pope Francis was treated is named after him.

The hospital that has been treating Pope Francis has had many other illustrious patients. One with a statue prominently placed near the entrance is Pope St. John Paul II – after the assassination attempt in 1981. Less publicized is the identity of the man who gave his name to Rome’s largest hospital. 

Fr. Agostino Gemelli grew up agnostic and ended up as one of the most important Franciscan friars of the 20th century. The reason the hospital bears his name is that it in 1964 it became the medical-teaching facility of the university founded exactly 100 years ago. In 1921 Fr. Agostino created what has since become among the largest Catholic educational establishments in the world. The Catholic University of the Sacred Heart is in Milan, rather than Rome, but has been central to Italian life for almost a century. The influence of its founder has been massive, especially in medicine. This seems logical for an order founded by the first saint with wounds of the stigmata. 

Agostino Gemelli was exceptional in being a Franciscan friar who was also a medical authority. As it was against Church rules to practice as a physician, he became a research specialist. 

One field that the university has not ventured into is visual art. There is, however, the consolation of St. Francis being inspired by Christ speaking to him from a crucifix. Copies of the San Damiano Cross must hang in more homes around the world than any other image of the crucifixion.

The virtual Museum of the Cross

The Museum of the Cross, the first institution dedicated to the diversity of the most powerful and far-reaching symbol in history. After 10 years of preparation, the museum was almost ready to open; then came COVID-19. In the meantime, the virtual museum has started an Instagram account to engage with Aleteia readers and the stories of their own crucifixes: @crossXmuseum

Catholic historyHealthcarePope Francis
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