St. Camillus de Lellis was born in Bocchianico, Italy. He was a huge man, some six feet six inches tall, and was energetic and active. At seventeen, he left home, became a soldier, and fought for the Venetians against the Turks. He became ill; while recovering he became addicted to gambling, and was homeless in Naples by 1754. He survived by becoming a casual laborer. One day he was working in a Capuchin Order and had a conversation with one of the monks. Inspired by the monk’s words, he decided to dedicate himself to God.
Camillus became a Capuchin novice, but was unable to be professed because of a diseased leg he contracted while fighting the Turks. He devoted himself to caring for the sick, and became director of St. Giacomo Hospital in Rome. Camillus tended to the sick even though he had his own serious health problems. Camillus would often crawl or drag himself to the bedside of a sick person. He also led a life of prayer and penance.
While in Rome, he came under the influence of St. Peter Neri, and was finally ordained. Camillus founded his own congregation, the Ministers of the Sick, more popularly known as the Camellians, that was dedicated to the care of the sick and the dying. The members of the congregation had a large red cross on their cassocks. Soon, Camillus and his followers became well known for their kindness and generosity. The new congregation soon expanded. Camillus and his congregation won great respect for their treatment of plague victims in Rome, in 1588.
Camillus sent members of his order to minister to wounded troops during the Turkish Wars in Hungary. The Camellians established the first medical field unit in history. The saint also ordered that those who had apparently died in the order’s hospitals should not be buried immediately, as he was aware that many people, especially during epidemics, were often buried alive.
In 1591, the Pope officially made the congregation an order dedicated to serving the sick and the poor.
Camillus resigned as superior of his order in 1607, and died in 1614. He was canonized in 1746.
During the plague in Rome in 1588, Camillus cured many people of the illness despite it being incurable. He was also credited by the people of Rome with averting a famine in the same year. During his life, he was popularly known as the Saint of Rome.
St. Camillus believed that those in pain and suffering were closer to God:
"I was sick and you visited me."
St. Camillus is an example of how charity and kindness can deepen our relationship with God.