February 8 is the feast day of Saint Jerome Emiliani, patron saint of orphans and homeless children. I sought his intercession while writing and publishing the story of adopting my daughter from Guatemala. My publishing company is named in his honor.
Life of Saint Emiliani
Jerome was born in 1481 to Angelo Emiliani and Eleonore Mauroceni, a noble family of Venice, Italy. Angelo died when Jerome was in his early teens. As the youngest of five, Jerome loss direction without his father and spent his youth on the pleasures of the world.
In 1506, his mother arranged for him to become an officer in the Venetian army. He was appointed commander of defense for the fortress of Castelnuovo in the mountains near Treviso against the League of Cambrai forces.
On August 27, 1511, Treviso fell and Jerome was captured and sent to a dungeon. Feeling unworthy to pray directly to Jesus, he asked for Mary, his Mother, to intercede for him. He wrote that an apparition of Mary opened his chains and led him past the guards. Much like Saint Paul’s story in the Scripture.
In Treviso parish, he left his prison chains at a side altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother dedicated his life to service of her Son.
When the Venetian army drove League of Cambrai forces out of Treviso, Jerome was appointed mayor. While fulfilling his civic duties, he was also studied to become a priest. With his mayoral duties complete, he returned to Venice taking charge of the education of his nephews while completing at the seminary.
He was ordained a priest in 1518 and focused his ministry to works of charity, particularly towards orphans.
A famine and plague swept northern Italy in 1528 during which Jerome made helping orphans a priority. He bought homes with donations and turned them into orphanages. They sound similar to today’s inner-city missions where the children could be fed, clothed, and medical and spiritual needs met.
Other men looking for direction in their lives followed Jerome. They marveled that he gave so much to the lowest of the low. By 1529, he had several men helping him in his efforts. Wealthy Venetians also moved by his actions, gave him more money and homes.
In 1531, Jerome left Venice to establish hospitals, orphanages, and homes for repentant prostitutes in Verona, Brescia, and Bergamo.
With two other priests, Jerome founded a religious society (or order) in 1532 to continue the work of his calling. They called it the “Company of the Servants of the Poor”. They located the order’s home in Somasca, Italy. As their numbers grew, they fanned out across Italy caring of orphans, the poor, and the sick.
Saint Jerome gave all he could to those who were in need and this eventually broke his health. In 1547, he contracted the plague from a person he was caring for and died at the age of 56 on February 8, 1537.
Today, there are nearly 500 Somascans following the example of their founder by serving the abandoned and unprotected. They sponsor facilities worldwide, including Colegio San Jeronimo Emiliani in Guatemala. An interesting fact for me is that Guatemala’s Archbishop from 1964 until 1983 was Cardinal Mario Casariego y Acevedo, a Somasca Father.
Each February 8, the Somascans pray for the orphans of the world as they celebrate the life of their founder and patron saint.
The image to the right is a statue of Saint Emiliani located in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. On the scroll are the words “orphano tu eris adiutor” which is part of verse 14 of Psalm 10, “You will be a helper to the orphan.”