Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who is the Patron Saint of Nurses?

As with any type of system where you have thousands of people handling all manner of human interests, there is bound to be some overlap. This is certainly true in the case of the patron saint of nurses. Nursing is a field that can exhilarate you as well as break your heart. It is wonderful to help people in need but also sad to watch so many people suffer because of illness. Perhaps this is why nurses have three patron saints: Saint Agatha, Saint John of God, and Saint Camillus de Lellis. Each saint’s story is as unique as they are.

The first patron saint of nurses, Saint Agatha, was persecuted for her faith and turned into a martyr. Born to a wealthy household, she decided at a young age to dedicate her life to God and eschewed relationships with men. A local judge by the name of Quintian wanted her and tried to use his rank to force her to marry him. When she refused, he had her arrested for being a Christian and thrown in a brothel. Although she was brutalized while she was there, she still refused to give into his demands. Subsequently, he had her thrown in prison where she perished because he refused to provide her with medical care.

Saint Camillus de Lellis, the second patron saint of nurses, was born in Bocchianico, Italy. Addicted to gambling, it wasn’t long before he was penniless. He fought in the war Turkish war and was struck with a diseased leg as a result which prevented him from becoming a Capuchin novice. Instead, he cared for the sick at the St. Giacomo Hospital, eventually becoming a director there. He later founded his own congregation who were dedicated to caring for the sick which included wounded troops in Hungary and Croatia. He died from illness in 1607.

The goal of Saint John of God, the third patron saint of nurses, was to follow the impulses of his heart. Starting at the age of 8, he followed what he considered to be the promptings of the Holy Spirit. However, he sometimes had a difficult time separating spiritual inspiration from human impulses which landed him into trouble several times. He left home at 8 to travel with a priest and joined the Spanish war a few years later. Eventually, he became a bookseller and then, after hearing John of Avila speak, closed down his shop and became a nurse. He died of pneumonia after trying to save a boy who had fallen into the river.