Saint Jerome Emiliani’s Pilgrimage to Heaven

Today, with Saint Josephine Bakhita, we also celebrate Saint Gerolamo – or Jerome – Emiliani (+1537), who ran away from his home in Venice at the age of 15 after his father’s death, becoming a soldier in the religious and political wars then raging in Europe, taken prisoner in a dungeon, which provided him the opportunity either to despair, or to turn his life around. Responding to the grace of God, he chose the latter, and attributed his miraculous escape to the intercession of Our Lady.

He underwent a deep conversion from his youthful indifference to religion, and devoted his time to meditation, the study of theology, and to works of charity. He began by helping to teach his nephews, but soon broadened his ministry to the care of the sick and orphans, of whom he is the patron. During the plague and famine of 1528, he seemed to be everywhere, as is the wont of saints. Others joined him, and an Order was established in 1540 under Pope Paul III, the Congregation of Regular Clerics, whose mission was the care of all those abandoned and bereft, especially orphans, of whom there were untold numbers in that age of disease, war and societal chaos.

This was the same year the Jesuits were founded, who soon had their own mission across the globe, as well the year that the astronomer-priest Copernicus dedicated his 1543 De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium on his own deathbed, dedicated to the same Paul III, positing the astronomical theory that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the centre of the cosmos, causing quite a revolution, pun intended. But as the contemporary Oratorian, Cardinal Baronius, was to quip, Scripture tells us not how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven.

And to heaven Jerome Emiliani did go, full of good works for the poor and bereft. Whether out of humility, or that he simply did not feel called, Jerome remained a layman throughout his life. Pope Saint John Paul II described him as a a lay person who inspires lay people. He lived not in fear, but in love, mercy and service to others. It was so that he contracted the plague from someone to whom he was ministering, and died on this day, February 8th, in 1537. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1747, and canonized by Clement XIII twenty years later, in 1767.

Saint Jerome Emiliani, ora pro nobis! +