Saint of the Day – 8 February – St Jerome Emiliani (1486–1537) Confessor, Layman, Founder of the Somascan Fathers, Apostle of the poor, orphans, the sick, Catechist, Apostle of prayer – born Gerolamo Emiliani (also known as Jerome Aemilian, Hiëronymus Emiliani) in 1486 at Venice, Italy and died on 8 February 1537 of the plague caught whilst tending the sick. Patronages – the Somaschians, orphans, abandoned children.
Jerome was born of one of the patrician families of Venice, the son of Angelo Emiliani (popularly called Miani) and Eleonore Mauroceni. His father died when he was a teenager and Jerome ran away at the age of 15 to join the army. In 1508, he participated in the defence of Castelnuovo against the League of Cambray. He was appointed governor of a fortress in the mountains of Treviso and while defending his post was taken prisoner.
In the misery of his dungeon he invoked the great Mother of God and promised, if she would set him free, to lead a new and a better life. Our Lady appeared, broke his fetters and led him forth through the midst of his enemies. At Treviso he hung up his chains at her altar, dedicated himself to her service and on reaching his home at Venice devoted himself to a life of active charity.
He was then appointed podestà (Venetian magistrate) of Castelnuovo but after a short time returned to Venice to supervise the education of his nephews. All his spare time was devoted to the study of theology and to works of charity. In the year of plague and famine (1528), he seemed to be everywhere and showed his zeal, especially for the orphans, whose number had so greatly increased. Jerome began caring for the sick and feeding the hungry at his own expense.
He rented a house for them near the church of St Rose and, with the assistance of some pious laymen, ministered to their needs. To his charge was also committed the hospital for incurables, founded by St Cajetan (1480 –1547). In 1531 he went to Verona and induced the citizens to build a hospital, in Brescia, Bergamo, Milan and other places in northern Italy, he erected orphanages, for boys and for girls. At Bergamo, he also founded a hostel for repentant prostitutes.
Two priests, Alessandro Besuzio and Agostino Bariso, then joined him in his labours of charity and in 1532 Gerolamo founded a religious society, the Congregation of Regular Clerics. The motherhouse was at Somasca, a secluded North Italian hamlet in the Comune of Vercurago between Milan and Bergamo, after which the members became known as Somascans.
In the Rule of this Society, Jerome stated the principal work of the community was the care of orphans, poor and sick and demanded that dwellings, food and clothing would bear the mark of religious poverty. Devoted to the Guardian Angels, Jerome entrusted the Company to the protection of the Virgin, the Holy Spirit and the Archangel Raphael.
The Congregation was approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III and the Order, which has as its official name “Clerici Regulares S. Majoli Papiae Congregationis Somaschae,” spread throughout Italy and the world.
Through calamities and difficulties of any kind that have developed during the four centuries of history the Somascan Order has never ceased its apostolate for the needy youth. St Jerome has now on earth these numerous hands and arms of which he has dreamed. His disciples have founded seminaries, houses of education, colleges, professional schools, workshops in Italy, in Switzerland, in Spain, in Central America, in Mexico, in Colombia, in Brazil and in the United States of America. In Belgium there exists a branch of the Somascan Order, known as the “Hieronymieten” who dedicate themselves to teaching and to the care of the sick under the patronage of St Jerome Emiliani. They are established in the Oriental Flanders, at St Nicholas-Waas, Gand, Beveren-Waas, Lokeren, Maldegem, Sleidinge, Stekene. These religious members address to the Founder of the Congregation of the Servants of the Poor this beautiful prayer: “Your hands were instruments of prayer and charity. Teach us to pray and love in spirit and truth.”
During an epidemic, Jerome was assisting the sick when he contracted the plague. He died in Somasca, 8 February 1537.
He was Beatified in 1747 by Pope Benedict XIV and Canonised in 1767 by Pope Clement XIII. Below is the Founder Statue of St Jerome at St Peter’s Basilica.
The Santa Maria della Salute (Saint Mary of Health), commonly known simply as the “Salute”, is a minor basilica located at Punta della Dogana in the Dorsoduro sestiere of the city of Venice, Italy.
It stands on the narrow finger of Punta della Dogana, between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, at the Bacino di San Marco, making the church visible when entering the Piazza San Marco from the water. The Salute is part of the parish of the Gesuati and is the most recent of the so-called plague churches.
In 1630, Venice experienced an unusually devastating outbreak of the plague. As a votive offering for the city’s deliverance from the pestilence, the Republic of Venice vowed to build and dedicate a church to Our Lady of Health (or of Deliverance, Italian: Salute). The church was designed in the then fashionable baroque style by Baldassare Longhena, who studied under the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi. Construction began in 1631. Most of the objects of art housed in the church bear references to the Black Death and includes the statue below of St Jerome Emiliani, who before himself, dying of the Plague, assisted so many the victims and is a patron of the “Salute”.