Gambling can take a man’s shirt off his back, but Christ can clothe him with hope. Camillus de Lellis learned both lessons. He was an Italian, born in 1550 to a mother nearly 60. By 17 he stood six-and-a-half feet, big-boned, well-muscled, quick-tempered, and unchaste. He enlisted in the army, was sent to war, but on the battlefield contracted a leg disease that afflicted him the rest of his life.

The hospital for incurables in Rome, San Giacomo, admitted him, but he was soon ejected for quarreling. That wasn’t his worst fault. Camillus relished betting, and by 1574 his addiction had taken his last penny. That autumn in the streets of Naples he gambled with his last possession, the shirt on his back. Losing the wager, he stripped it off and limped away both broke and broken.

Camillus secured a construction job, and one day a friar came along preaching. The message hit home, and Camillus fell to his knees, crying to God for mercy. He was 25 when he became a Christian. He returned to San Giacomo and offered himself as a volunteer. He ministered intently to the suffering, and in time he was promoted, then promoted again. He eventually became hospital superintendent.

With a friend’s endowment, he organized a small army of male nurses to serve the sick in Christ’s name. He also mobilized volunteers to travel with troops in Hungary and Croatia, thus forming the first “military field ambulance.” He sent nurses aboard galley ships to attend slaves suffering from pestilence. In all, Camillus organized eight hospitals, pioneered medical hygiene and diet, and successfully opposed the prevailing practice of burying patients alive.

All the while, Camillus’ leg was worsening, and he began suffering ruptures elsewhere on his body. Sometimes on his rounds, he crawled from sickbed to sickbed. On July 14, 1614, after a final tour of his works, Camillus de Lellis died at age 64. He was canonized in 1746 and declared patron saint of the sick by Pope Leo XIII, and of nurses and nursing by Pope Pius XI. In Catholic tradition he is remembered every year on this day.

If you don’t confess your sins, you will be a failure. But God will be merciful If you confess your sins and give them up. The Lord blesses everyone who is afraid to do evil, But if you are cruel, you will end up in trouble. (Proverbs 28:13,14)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). July 14.

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