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St. Camillus de Lellis

Feast day: 18 July

Camillus was born on 25 May 1550 in the region of Abruzzo in the Kingdom of Naples.

His father was a mercenary soldier and seldom at home. His mother, Camilla, though good was also timid and had trouble controlling her morose, hot-tempered son.

At seventeen, being tall for his age, Camillus joined his father in soldiering. Leading the rambling, ambulant life of a mercenary, he acquired the wayward habits of the profession, especially the vice of gambling.

Still, Camillus’ mother had instilled in him a respect for religion. After his father died repentant, and his regiment disbanded in 1574, he found himself, at twenty-four, destitute because of his gambling. He was offered an opportunity at reform when a wealthy, pious man, noticing the tall, lanky young man in town, offered him employment at a monastery that he was building for the Capuchins of Manfredonia.

Despite his aggressive nature and gambling habits, the guardian of the monastery saw another side to Camillus, and continually tried to bring out in him his better nature. Finally moved by the good friar’s exhortations, Camillus underwent a deep spiritual conversion.

Refused admission by the Capuchins because of an unhealed leg wound, he travelled to Rome where he began to serve the sick at the Hospital of St. Giacomo while attempting to lead a penitential and ascetic life.

Hearing of St. Philip Neri and his great gift with souls in need, Camillus sought his spiritual direction and was taken in by the saint.

He soon discovered that helping the sick was the cure for his wayward habits, and the only thing that gave him true joy. He began to gather a group of men around him who had a desire to help the sick for love alone and not for pay.

Feeling the need to be ordained, he studied under the Jesuit Fathers and was ordained in 1584 at the age of thirty-four.

Thus Camillus de Lellis, former wandering soldier and professional gambler, established the Clerks Regular, Ministers of the Sick. His group was approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1586, and officially raised to the status of a mendicant order by Gregory XV in 1591.

On their black habit they wore a large red cross which became the first inspiration for today’s Red Cross.

By the time of Camillus’ death in 1614, his order had spread throughout Italy and into Hungary. He was canonized in 1746.