Saint of the Day – 14 March – Blessed Giacomo Cusmano (1834-1888) – Priest, Founder, Physician, Surgeon, Apostle of the Poor. Bl Giacomo was an Italian Roman Catholic priest and the founder of the “Congregation of Missionary Servants of the Poor” which is also known as the Morsel of the Poor. Cusmano also established the Sisters Servants of the Poor. He was beatified by St Pope John Paul II on 30 October 1983. His older sister was Vincenzina Cusmano (1826-1894), who joined his female religious order was declared Venerable in May 2017, putting her on the path to beatification.
This Italian Blessed was born on 15 March 1834, in Palermo on the island of Sicily. He received his first schooling in his parents’ house from a priest-tutor. This perhaps laid the foundation for his piety, which was then deepened at the Collegio Massimo of the Jesuits in Palermo. Hence, the young medical student was armed against the threats to religion and morals during his studies at the University in Palermo.
After Giacomo Cusmano had brilliantly completed a doctorate in medicine and surgery, he practised the medical profession from 1855 to 1859 with intelligence, skill and zeal, caring particularly for those poor sick people who could not afford a doctor. Soon he noted that many of his patients from the poorer sections of the city of Palermo were in much greater need of a priestly physician of souls. He began to study theology as well, and on 22 December 1860, he was ordained a priest.
Now both doctor and priest, he felt compelled to start an institution for his poor patients that he called Boccone del Povero (Food of the Poor). He began by gathering medicines, foodstuffs and other material relief for the poor and by distributing these donations to them in their lodgings. Out of this developed a society, which was authorised in 1867 by Archbishop Naselli of Palermo and was finally approved and blessed by Pope Pius IX.
The physician-priest Father Cusmano wanted to provide his institution with a band of auxilliaries, women and men who would help serve the poor. After twelve years of labour pains, such an association of lay brothers and sisters came into being. On 13 May 1880, the Blessed was able to present the habit to the first Sisters, on 14 October 1884, after a long preparation, he conferred the habit upon the first lay Brothers of the Servants of the Poor. On 21 November 1887, Blessed Giacomo erected also the Congregation of Missionary Fathers, who were commissioned to proclaim the Good News to the poor and furthermore to direct and minister to the Servants of the Poor. Then Dr Cusmano founded additional hostels, hospitals and orphanages for the poor people in Palermo and in other Sicilian localities. His work soon extended to other regions of Italy, as well as to Africa and to both North and South America.
The ideal that personally motivated this Blessed and that he wanted the members of his societies to put into action was “unlimited charity”. One of his first collaborators, later the Archbishop of Palermo, Cardinal Giuseppe Guarino, wrote about Giacomo Cusmano: “God has placed deep within the bosom of this physician and priest the heart of Saint Vincent de Paul. The fervour of his love for the poor was unsurpassed, the integrity of his blameless conduct was truly angelic, the kindness beaming from his face recalled Saint Francis de Sales. I have followed him very attentively through all the stages of his virtuous life and I must acknowledge, I have never met a priest who was so zealous for the salvation of souls, so amiable and so holy as he.”
On 9 February 1888, Giacomo Cusmano said at the inaugural meeting of the committee of the Ladies of Charity – presumably with a view to his approaching death – “My mission is now finished.” In fact, he died a few weeks later, on 14 March 1888, at 04:30am in Palermo, Italy of natural causes following a severe bout of pleurisy, in his fifty-fourth year just a day before his birthday and in the odour of sanctity, lamented and mourned by countless people. The orations that were given at his funeral were very moving, they spoke quite clearly of a saint who had gone home, of an Italian Vincent de Paul.