St Camillus

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Patron of nurses and the sick. Born in Naples in 1550, Saint Camillus was very tall, (six foot six) and, as a young man, hot-tempered and a wild gambler. He spent some time in the Venetian army fighting the Turks, before contracting a disease which left him lame in one leg. He then lost everything through gambling. For a few months he worked as labourer for the Franciscans. During this time, he experienced a change of heart and tried to join the order, but his health prevented this. Instead he offered himself to the hospital of San Giacomo in Rome. In time he became bursar there.

Later, on the advice of St Philip Neri, Camillus offered himself for the priesthood. 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 some companions moved to the Hospital of the Holy Ghost, where they assumed responsibility for the care of the patients there.

His nursing order later became known as the Camillians.

Members of the Order devoted themselves to victims of Bubonic plague, in their homes, in hospitals and prisons. Some rowed out to look after galley slaves on war ships, others went to the battlefields of Hungary and Croatia, setting up the first recorded 'military ambulance unit'. The large, red cross on their cassock remains a symbol of the Congregation today. This was the original Red Cross, hundreds of years before the International Red Cross Organization was formed.

St Camillus was a pioneer in insisting on fresh air, suitable diets and the isolation of patients with contagious diseases. He set up 15 houses and eight hospitals working in them personally himself. He suffered a number of serious illnesses himself, but continued working almost until the day he died, in Genoa in 1614. He was canonised in 1746.