1550-1614 A.D. 

As the world-wide pandemic of the COVID-19 continues to spread and to sicken, it is useful to consider the life and work of Saint Camillus de Lellis whose feast-day is on July 18th. He was born when his mother was nearly 60 and he grew to be a giant of a man: 6 feet, 6 inches. 

The early part of his manhood was spent in soldiering, and he ended up developing a great many vices, particularly gambling. He also had a violent and quarrelsome temper. Reduced to destitution and humbled by the consequences of his own evil-living, he experienced a conversion in his mid-twenties and sought to be admitted to the Capuchins. An incurable ulcer on his leg, prevented him from remaining in the Community, however, and this turned out to be the providential trial which led him to the greater work God had prepared for him. 

He offered himself as a lay minister to the sick at the San Giacomo Hospital for Incurables in Rome. Here is how Fr. Herbert Thurston, S.J. describes the conditions prevailing at that time: 

In those days the spiritual and physical conditions in hospitals were such as it is difficult to credit, conditions largely due to the necessity of employing any staff that could be got, even criminals. Camillus, grieving to see the unscrupulousness and slackness of hired servants in attending the sick, formed a project of associating for that office some of the attendants who desired to devote themselves to it out of a motive of charity. (Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Thurston edition) 

This was the beginning of the religious order in the Church known as the “Ministers of the Sick”. Under the guidance of his Father Confessor St. Philip Neri, Camillus became ordained a priest and obtained the approval of the Holy See for his Congregation. The members, priests and lay-brothers took, a Fourth Vow (in addition to the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience) to minister to victims of pestilence, even if that meant at the cost of their own lives. 

Plagues were much feared (as the corona virus is now) and since the outbreak of the Black Death in Europe in the mid-14th Century the preferred method of dealing with them involved a combination of severe lockdown/quarantine and social isolation. It is worth noting that much of contemporary commentary on the 14th Century methodology of plague control treats it as if it were tried and true when, in fact, quarantines and the like were very blunt instruments, applied desperately and brutally, in the face of terrifying disease which defied all human efforts to contain it.  

In 1588 the first two “martyrs of charity” among the Camillans occurred when the brothers went out to the galley ships being quarantined outside of Naples’ harbor in order to treat the plague-stricken. St. Camillus himself labored among the plague victims of Rome, in the midst of a high mortality rate and a consequent famine. Well did Pope Leo XIII declare him to be the patron saint of nurses and all sick people, and to order his name to be invoked in the Litany of the Dying. 

Fr. Higgins

About Our Parish

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes is Newton and Needham Massachusetts's oldest Roman Catholic Parish. Founded as Saint Mary's Parish in 1870 it was renamed "Mary Immaculate of Lourdes" when the new Church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1910. In addition to being a regular territorial parish of the Archdiocese of Boston it is also a "Mission Parish" since 2007 with a special apostolate for the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal).

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"If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter."
- St. Therese of Lisieux (+1897)

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