February 7, 2017
Saint Jerome Emiliani, Priest and Founder
February 8th, is the optional memorial of Saint Jerome Emiliani (1486 - 1537), the 16th century Italian priest who founded the Congregation of Regular Clerics for the care and education of indigent youth. He was born into a noble family, the son of Angelo Emiliani and Eleonore Mauroceni of Venice, Italy. At 15, he joined the army following the death of his father. A careless and irreligious soldier, he was placed in command of Castelnuovo, a fortress high in the Italian Alps. While defending the outpost from an invasion, he was captured and incarcerated.
In prison, Jerome reflected on the immoral choices he had made in his life. He regretted his dissolute youth and thinking so little about God. Jerome began to pray, and promised the Blessed Mother that he would devote himself to imitating Christ in all things if she would help him escape. His prayers were answered and he fled to safety. In gratitude, Jerome immediately went to the church in Trevisio where he laid his prison chains before the altar at the shrine dedicated to Mary.
True to his promise to the Blessed Mother, Jerome was eventually ordained a priest. In the years after his ordination, a series of plagues and famines swept through northern Italy. Jerome began caring for the sick and feeding the hungry at his own expense. He soon resolved to devote himself and his property solely to others. His special concern was for the many homeless orphan children that he encountered in the streets of Venice. He founded three orphanages, where needy children were given food, clothing and instructed in the faith. as well as a shelter for penitent prostitutes and a hospital (the first of its kind to operate in Italy).
In 1532, Jerome and two other priests started a religious congregation of men called the Company of the Servants of the Poor with the mission to care for the poor, especially orphans. He entrusted the Company to the protection of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit and the Archangel Raphael. The Congregation was approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III, and the Order spread throughout Italy.
St. Jerome Emiliani died in 1537, from a disease he contracted while tending the sick. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1747, and canonized in 1767 by Pope Clement XIII. In 1928, Pius XI named him the universal patron of orphans and abandoned children. O God, Father of mercies, who sent Saint Jerome Emiliani as a helper and father to orphans, grant through his intercession, that we may preserve faithfully the spirit of adoption, by which we are called, and truly are, your children. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.