Saint Jerome Emiliani
Founder of the Somascans
Saint Jerome Emiliani, born in 1481, was a member of one of the Christian patrician families of Venice, and in early life a soldier. Showing in his youth much inclination to virtue, he studied the humanities with success until the age of fifteen, when the clash of arms interrupted his peaceful pursuits and his practice of virtue. And then, only his ambition for honors placed limits to his disorders; it was necessary to live honorably in order to receive promotions. He was appointed governor of a fortress in the mountains of Treviso, and while defending his post with outstanding bravery, was made prisoner by the enemy. In the misery of his dungeon he invoked amid tears the great Mother of God, recognizing that his chastisement was just. He promised, nonetheless, if She would set him free, to lead a new and better life, more worthy of his Christian heritage, and to make known Her benefits in every possible way. Our Lady appeared to him at once, gave him the keys he needed, and commanded him to fulfill faithfully what he had promised. She led him out through the ranks of his enemies to the gate of the city. He went to Her church at Treviso and dedicated himself to the service of the One who had delivered him, proclaiming Her mercies to all listeners. He consigned to writing, and had notarized, an account of his deliverance.
On reaching his home in Venice he undertook a life of active charity, causing admiration in all who had known him as a worldling. His special love was for the deserted orphan children whom he found wandering in the streets during a famine and an epidemic in 1528. Already he had converted his house into a hospital, selling even its furnishings to clothe and feed the poor folk who came in great numbers to him, when they heard he had procured wheat from other regions. He acquired a house for the children, and after recovering miraculously from the illness which he had contracted during the epidemic, he himself taught them the Christian truths. Soon the accounts of his pious orphanage brought visitors, and financial aid sufficient to sustain the enterprise. He was then entrusted with the Venitian Hospital for the Incurables. When he needed some particular grace, he had four orphans under eight years of age pray with him, and the grace never failed to arrive. In Venice he was aided in his Hospital by his friends, Saint Cajetan of Thienna and Saint Peter Caraffa of Naples.
He founded a hospital in Verona and an orphanage in Padua. At Bergamo, which had been struck by a pestilence and famine, he went out with the reapers he could assemble, and cut wheat in the hottest season of the Italian summer. At their head, he sang Christian hymns in his rich voice, engaging the others to follow his example. There he founded two orphanages and succeeded in closing a number of houses of ill repute; he gave their inhabitants whom he converted a rule of life and procured a residence for them. The bishop was aiding him constantly; and he sent him out to other villages and hamlets to teach the children Christian doctrine. Multiple conversions resulted in all directions. Two holy priests joined him in Bergamo, soon followed by other noble gentlemen. This was the origin of the Congregation of Regular Clerics, called the Somascans because of their residence at Somasca, situated between Milan and Bergamo. The Congregation was approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III, and the Order spread in Italy. Saint Jerome died in 1537 at the age of 56, from the illness he contracted while caring for the sick during an epidemic in the region of Bergamo.
Reflection: Let us learn from Saint Jerome to exert ourselves in behalf of the many hundreds of children whose souls are perishing around us, for want of someone to show them the way to heaven.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 8