Camillus de Lellis, St.

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Copatron with St. John of God of hospitals, nurses, and the sick, founder of the Order of camillians; b. Bucchianico (Abruzzo), Italy, May 25, 1550; d. Rome, July 14, 1614. His mother, Camilla de Compellis, was nearly 60 years old at his birth and died when he was a child. His father, Giovanni, who served as a captain in both the French and Neapolitan armies, neglected the child's education. As a youth, his own inclinations were already strongly turned to the military life and to gambling. His enrollment in the army was delayed by the outbreak of an ulcer on his right foot; in 1571 it obliged him to seek medical care at the hospital of San Giacomo in Rome. When he was sufficiently healed, he stayed on as a servant in the hospital, but was dismissed for card playing. From 1571 to 1574 he fought in various campaigns of the Venetian army against the Turks. After gambling away his possessions in the winter of 1574 and 1575, he accepted employment at the Capuchin monastery of Manfredonia (Puglio).

A friar stirred him to repentance on Feb. 2, 1575. He was accepted by the Capuchins as a lay brother but was dismissed from the novitiate when the old wounds irritated by the coarse garb would not heal. Camillus then returned to San Giacomo for treatment and again stayed on as a servant. He reentered the Capuchins in 1579, but the wound again opened and led to his final rejection from the order. This ailment persisted during the next 35 years of his life. Welcomed back to the hospital, Camillus was made Maestro di Casa (superintendent). He now determined to devote his life to the sick, and on the advice of his friends and his spiritual guide, Philip Neri, he began his studies for the priesthood at the Jesuit College in Rome. He was ordained in 1584 and gathered followers to share his work. He founded an order, known then as Ministers of the Sick, or Fathers of a Good Death; as first superior general he spent much of his time in the direct spiritual and bodily care of the infirm. He resigned the generalship in 1607 and devoted the final years of his life exclusively to such personal service. He died after establishing several houses throughout Italy. His body lies in the church of St. Mary Magdalen in Rome.

St. Camillus is known more for his charity toward the sick than for contributions to the technique of their care. Yet, his insistence on hospital cleanliness and the technical competence of his religious deserves mention. Notable also was his method of instructing his patients, rather than constraining them, to receive the Sacraments.

Benedict XIV beatified Camillus in 1742 and canonized him four years later. In 1886 Leo XIII declared St. Camillus and St. John of God patrons of the sick and of hospitals and inserted their names in the litany of the dying. In 1930 Pius XI extended their patronage to all nurses and to all Catholic nursing associations.

Feast: July 14, formerly July 18.

Bibliography: m. vanti, S. Camillo de Lellis ed i suoi ministri degli infermi (2d ed. Rome 1958). g. de bellaing, De la fureur du jeuaux folies de l'amour! (Paris 1982). s. cicatelli, Vita del P. C. de Lellis (Rome 1624); this early life is tr. by w. faber, St. Camillus de Lellis (Milwaukee 1926). e. f. curley, St. Camillus (Milwaukee 1962). m. fischer, Der hl. Kamillus von Lellis (Freiburg 1940). c. c. martindale, Life of Saint Camillus (New York 1946). a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, ed. h. thurston and d. attwater (New York 1956) 3:134136. Bullarii Romani Continuatio 1:175176.

[p. tutwiler]