On July 18 we celebrate the Memorial of St. Camillus de Lellis, patron of the sick, of nurses, of military medics, and a hopeful story of someone who battled an addiction to gambling.
Born in 1550 in Italy, he grew up to be six-and-a-half feet tall, a giant by local standards. At seventeen, he left his hometown to join the military. Almost right away, he contracted a painful disease in one leg that would plague him the rest of his life. It was also while soldiering that he picked up the habit of gambling. In 1574, while stationed in Naples, and after many ups and downs, he lost everything he owned: his money, his military gear, his very shirt. He had hit rock bottom.
After hearing an exhortation about living a holy life from a Franciscan friar, Camillus experienced a deep conversion of heart. He vowed to give his life over to the Lord and to do penance for his many years of sin. He started working at the hospital of San Giacomo in Rome. His care and concern for the sick and dying was so impressive that eventually the hospital board made him the director.
Camillus discovered that his biggest problem was finding reliable people to work in the hospital. Consequently, he started to train people in the care of the sick. His spiritual advisor, St. Philip Neri, helped him in this cause and convinced him to seek Holy Orders. He was ordained and started to gain a small following.
Thanks to a generous donor, Camillus ended up leaving San Giacomo and founded his own hospital. By 1585, he would found a larger one in Rome, and in 1588 a hospital in Naples. In 1591 Pope Gregory XIV would make his growing congregation a religious order, the Ministers of the Sick. In 1595 and 1601 he started to train and send his members to be military field medics, the very first of their kind. He died on July 14, 1614. He was canonized in 1746.