Today, with Saint Josephine Bakhita, we also celebrate Saint 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 wars then raging, taken prisoner in a dungeon, which, gave him the opportunity either to despair, or to pray. 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 was ordained in 1518, one year after Luther pinned his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg’s cathedral, and began his own departure from the Faith.
Father Emiliani focused his apostolic ministry on 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 same years the Jesuits were founded, and the same pontiff, to whom Copernicus also dedicated his 1543 De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium on his own deathbed, the summing up of his astronomical theory that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the centre of the cosmos, causing quite a revolution, pun intended, or not.
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 Father Emiliani did go, contracting the plague from someone to whom he was ministering, and dying on this day, February 8th, in 1537.