Camillus de Lellis
|Saint Camillus de Lellis, M.I.|
Patron saint of the sick
|Priest and religious founder|
May 25, 1550|
Kingdom of Naples
|Died||July 14, 1614
Rome, Papal States
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Beatified||1742, Rome, Papal States, by Pope Benedict XIV|
|Canonized||1746, Rome, Papal States, by Pope Benedict XIV|
|Major shrine||Church of Santa Maria Maddalena, Rome, Italy|
18 July (General Roman Calendar, 1762-1969; still in the United States)
|Attributes||A Catholic priest holding a sick person|
|Patronage||sick; hospitals; nurses; physicians|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Camillus de Lellis.|
Camillus de Lellis was born on May 25, 1550, at Bucchianico (now in Abruzzo, then part of the Kingdom of Naples). His mother, Camilla Compelli de Laureto, was nearly fifty when she gave birth to him. His father was an officer in both the Neapolitan and French royal armies and was seldom home. De Lellis had his father's temper and, due to her age and retiring nature, his mother felt unable to control him as he grew up. She died in 1562. As a consequence he grew up neglected by the family members who took him in after her death. Tall for his age, at 16 De Lellis joined his father in the Venetian army and fought in a war against the Turks.
After a number of years of military service, his regiment was disbanded in 1575. De Lellis was then forced to work as a laborer at the Capuchin friary at Manfredonia; he was constantly plagued, however, by a leg wound he received while in the army, which would not heal. Despite his aggressive nature and excessive gambling, the guardian of the friary saw a better side to his nature, and continually tried to bring that out in him. Eventually the friar's exhortations penetrated his heart and he had a religious conversion in 1575. He then entered the novitiate of the Capuchin friars. His leg wound, however, had continued to plague him and was declared incurable by the physicians, thus he was denied admission to that Order.
He then moved to Rome where he entered the Hospital of St. James (possibly founded by the Hospitaller Knights of St. James), which cared for incurable cases. He himself became a caregiver at the hospital, and later its Director. In the meantime, he continued to follow a strict ascetic life, performing many penances, such as constant wearing of a hairshirt. He took as his spiritual director and confessor, the popular local priest, Philip Neri, who was himself to found a religious congregation and be declared a saint.
De Lellis began to observe the poor attention the sick received from the staff of the hospital. He was led to invite a group of pious men to express their faith through the care of the patients at the hospital. Eventually he felt called to establish a religious community for this purpose, and that he should seek Holy Orders for this task. Neri, his confessor, gave him approval for this endeavor, and a wealthy donor provided him with the income necessary to undertake his seminary studies.
He was ordained on Pentecost of 1584 by Lord Thomas Goldwell, Bishop of St Asaph, Wales, and the last surviving Catholic bishop of Great Britain. Camillus then retired from his service at the hospital, and he and his companions moved to the Hospital of the Holy Ghost, where they assumed responsibility for the care of the patients there.
Thus De Lellis established the Order of Clerks Regular, Ministers to the Sick (abbreviated as M.I.), better known as the Camillians. His experience in wars led him to establish a group of health care workers who would assist soldiers on the battlefield. The large, red cross on their cassock remains a symbol of the Congregation today. Camillians today continue to identify themselves with this emblem on their habits, a symbol universally recognized today as the sign of charity and service. This was the original Red Cross, hundreds of years before the International Red Cross Organization was formed.
During the Battle of Canizza in 1601, while Camillians were busily occupied with the wounded, the tent in which they were tending to the sick and in which they had all of their equipment and supplies was completely destroyed and burned to the ground. Everything in the tent was destroyed except the red cross of a religious habit belonging to one of the Camillians who was ministering to the wounded on the battlefield. This event was taken by the Camillans to manifest divine approval of the Red Cross of St. Camillus.
Members of the Order also devoted themselves to victims of Bubonic plague. It was due to the efforts of the Brothers and supernatural healings by de Lellis that the people of Rome credited De Lellis with ridding the city of a great plague and the subsequent famine. For a time, he became known as the "Saint of Rome".
De Lellis' concern for the proper treatment of the sick extended to the end of their lives. He had come to be aware of the many cases of people being buried alive, due to haste, and ordered that the Brothers of his Order wait fifteen minutes past the moment when the patient seemed to have drawn his last breath, in order to avoid this.
In 1586 Pope Sixtus V gave the group formal recognition as a Congregation, and assigned them the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Rome, which they still maintain. In 1588 they expanded to Naples and in 1594 St. Camillus led his Religious to Milan where they attended to the sick of the Ca' Granda, the main hospital of the city. A memorial tablet in the main courtyard of the Ca' Granda commemorates his presence there.
Pope Gregory XV raised the Congregation to the status of an Order, equivalent with the mendicant Orders, in 1591. At that time they established a fourth Vow unique to their Order: “to serve the sick, even with danger to one’s own life."
Throughout his life De Lellis' ailments caused him suffering, but he allowed no one to wait on him and would crawl to visit the sick when unable to stand and walk. It is said that Camillus possessed the gifts of healing and prophecy. He resigned as Superior General of the Order in 1607, but continued to serve as Vicar General of the Order. By that time, communities of the Order had spread all throughout Italy, even as far as Hungary. He assisted in a General Chapter of the Order in 1613, after which he accompanied the new Superior General on an inspection tour of all the hospitals of the Order in Italy. In the course of that tour, he fell ill. He died in Rome in 1614, and was entombed at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.
His mortal remains are located in the altar in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Rome, along with several of his relics. Also on display is the Cross which allegedly spoke to Camillus, and asked him, "Why are you afraid? Do you not realize that this is not your work but mine?" which has become the motto associated with St. Camillus, as well as healthcare workers who were inspired by him.
The Congregation of the Servants of the Sick of St Camillus, the Daughters of St Camillus, the Secular Institutes of Missionaries of the Sick Christ Our Hope, of the Kamillianische Schwestern (Camillan Sisters) and of the Lay Camillian Family, were born later of the charism and spirituality of St. Camillus.
St. Camillus' feast day was originally inserted in the General Roman Calendar in 1762 for celebration on 18 July, since 14 July, the day of his death, was at that time taken by the feast of Saint Bonaventure. It was then given the rank of Double, later it was changed in 1960 to that of "Third-Class Feast" and in the liturgical changes of 1969 to that of an optional "Memorial", when it was also moved to the anniversary of his death, 14 July. In the U.S.A. it is currently an optional Memorial celebrated on 18 July, because on 14 July there is the obligatory Memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
- Website for the IV Centenary of the death of Saint Camillus de Lellis
- St. Camillus
- From Dom Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints()
- Profile by Archbishop Alban Goodier
- Website of the Camillians in the U.S.A.
- Website of the international Camillian Order
- Servants of St. Camillus Disaster Relief Services (SOS DRS)
- Founder Statue in St Peter's Basilica
- Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Camillus de Lellis
- Message of Pope John Paul II on the 450th anniversary of the birth of St. Camillus
- Saint Camillus de Lellis at the Christian Iconography web site.