St. Jerome Emiliani
Freed From the Chains
Jerome Emiliani was born in 1486 in Venice, Italy. He belonged to a wealthy and noble family. He became an outstanding soldier and was put in command of a fortress high in the mountains. While he was defending the post given to his authority, some troops of Maximilian I invaded Jerome’s jurisdiction. Eventually, he was taken prisoner and was thrown into a dungeon.
Jerome was kept chained in a miserable prison. In that dark prison, Jerome had a lot of time to think. While he was in a pitiful seclusion, Jerome began to regret the careless and irreligious life he had been living. He was remorseful for wasting several years living an immoral life. He was sorry that he had thought almost nothing about God. From his misery, Jerome gradually learned how to pray.
Jerome prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He made a vow that he would change his life if she would help him. Not long after, his prayers were answered. Jerome was able to escape to safety. It is said that, with a heart filled with gratitude, Jerome went straight to a church. There, he hung his prison chains in front of the Blessed Mother’s altar.
A New Life
Jerome returned to Venice where he took charge of the education of his nephews. At the same time, he began studying for the priesthood. After his ordination to the priesthood, he devoted himself to works of charity. His special concern was for the many homeless and poor orphans, mostly children, he found living in the streets. Moved by their pitiful situation, Fr. Emiliani rented a house for them. He fed them and gave them clothes. He also devoted his time to instruct and teach them about the truths of the Catholic faith.
In the years after his ordination to the priesthood, circumstances called Fr. Emiliani to a decision and a new mission. Famine and plague broke out in the northern regions of Italy. He began caring for the sick and feeding the hungry at his own expense. While he was serving the poor and the sick, Fr. Emiliani resolved to devote himself and even his property solely to others, most especially to abandoned children. Driven by such a noble desire to serve, he founded three orphanages, a shelter for penitent prostitutes and a hospital.
Apostle of the Poor
Later on, around the year 1532, Fr. Emiliani and two other priests started a religious congregation of men that he called the Company of the Servants of the Poor. Their charism was to care for the poor, especially the orphans, and to teach the young. He also did all he could for the poor peasants. He even worked with them in the fields. While working by their side, Fr. Emiliani would talk to them about God’s goodness and share with them the Gospel of Christ.
Fr. Emiliani was a gift to the people of his time and an inspiration to all. While caring for the victims of the plague, Fr. Emiliani himself fell ill. He died in 1537. He was canonized as a saint by Pope Benedict XIV in 1767. His feast day is February 8.
Five Interesting Facts About St. Jerome Emiliani
- In 1928, Pope Pius XI named St. Jerome Emiliani the patron saint of orphans and homeless children.
- St. Jerome Emiliani became the mayor of Treviso while studying for the priesthood.
- St. Jerome Emiliani is believed to have developed the question-and-answer catechism technique for teaching children religion.
- The Company of the Servants of the Poor, founded by St. Jerome Emiliani, is now known as the Clerks Regular of Somasca, named after the town of Somasca where they started, and where they founded a seminary.
- St. Jerome Emiliani shares the celebration of his liturgical feast with St. Josephine Bakhita on February 8.
Prayer to St. Jerome Emiliani
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,God, for ever and ever. Amen.