St. Jerome Emiliani, Confessor
Sprung from the powerful aristocracy which won for Venice twelve centuries of splendour, Jerome came into the world when that city had reached the height of its glory. At fifteen years of age he became a soldier; and was one of the heroes in that formidable struggle wherein his country withstood the united powers of almost all Europe in the League of Cambrai. The golden city, crushed for a moment, but soon restored to her former condition, offered her honours to the defender of Castelnovo, who like herself had fallen bravely and risen again. But our Lady of Tarviso had delivered him from his German prison, only to make him her own captive; she brought him back to the city of St. Mark, there to fulfil a higher mission than the proud Republic could have entrusted to him. The descendant of the Emiliani, captivated, as was Lawrence Justinian a century before, by Eternal Beauty, would now live only for the humility which leads to heaven, and for the lofty deeds of charity. His title of nobility will be derived from the obscure village of Somascha, where he will gather his newly recruited army; and his conquests will be the bringing of little children to God. He will no more frequent the palaces of his patrician friends, for he now belongs to a higher rank: they serve the world, he serves heaven; his rivals are the Angels, whose ambition, like his own, is to preserve unsullied for the Father the service of those innocent souls whom the greatest in heaven must resemble.
“The soul of the child,” as the Church tells us today by the golden month of St. John Chrysostom, “is free from all passions. He bears no ill will towards them that have done him harm, but goes to them as friends just as if they had done nothing. And though he be often beaten by his mother, yet he always seeks her and loves her more than any one else. If you show him a queen in her royal crown, he prefers his mother clad in rags, and would rather see her unadorned than the queen in magnificent attire; for he does not appreciate according to riches or poverty, but by love. He seeks not for more than is necessary, and as soon as he has had sufficient milk he quits the breast. He is not oppressed with the same sorrows as we, nor troubled with care for money and the like; neither is he rejoiced by our transitory pleasures, nor affected by corporal beauty. Therefore our Lord said, ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven,’ wishing us to do of our own free will what children do by nature (Chrys. in Matt. Hom. lxii. al. lxiii).”
Their Guardian Angels, as our Lord himself said, gazing into those pure souls, are not distracted from the contemplation of their heavenly Father: for he rests in them as on the wings of Cherubim, since baptism has made them his children. Happy was our Saint to have been chosen by God to share the loving cares of the Angels here below, before partaking of their bliss in heaven. The following detailed account is given by Holy Church:
Jerome was bora at Venice, of the patrician family of the Emiliani, and from his boyhood embraced a military life. At a time when the Republic was in great difficulty, he was placed in command of Castelnovo, in the territory of Quero, in the mountains of Tarviso. The fortress was taken by the enemy, and Jerome was thrown, bound hand and foot, into a horrible dungeon. When he found himself thus destitute of all human aid, he prayed most earnestly to the Blessed Virgin, who mercifully came to his assistance. She loosed his bonds, and led him safely through the midst of his enemies, who had possession of every road, till he was within sight of Tarviso. He entered the town; and, in testimony of the favour he had received, he hung up at the altar of our Lady, to whose service he had vowed himself, the manacles, shackles, and chains which he had brought with him. On his return to Venice he gave himself with the utmost zeal to exercises of piety. His charity towards the poor was wonderful; but he was particularly moved to pity for the orphan children who wandered poor and dirty about the town; he received them into houses which he hired, where he fed them at his own expense and trained them to lead Christian lives.
At this time Blessed Cajetan and Peter Caraffa, who was afterwards Paul IV., disembarked at Venice. They commended Jerome’s spirit and his new institution for gathering orphans together. They also introduced him into the hospital for incurables, where he would be able to devote himself with equal charity to the education of orphans, and to the service of the sick. Soon, at their suggestion, he crossed over to the Continent and founded orphanages, first at Brescia, then at Bergamo and Como. At Bergamo his zeal was specially prolific, for there, besides two orphanages, one for boys and one for girls, he opened a house, an unprecedented thing in those parts, for the reception of fallen women who had been converted. Finally he took up his abode at Somascha, a small village in the territory of Bergamo, near to the Venetian border, and this he made his headquarters; here, too, he definitely established his Congregation, which for this reason received the name of Somasques. In course of time it spread and increased, and for the greater benefit of the Christian republic it undertook, besides the ruling and guiding of orphans and the taking care of sacred buildings, the education both liberal and moral of young men in colleges, academies, and seminaries.
Pius V. enrolled it among religious Orders, and other Roman Pontiffs have honoured it with privileges. Entirely devoted to his work of rescuing orphans, Jerome journeyed to Milan and Pavia, and in both cities he collected numbers of children and provided them, through the assistance given him by noble personages, with a home, food, clothing, and education. He returned to Somascha, and, making himself all to all, he refused no labour which he saw might turn to the good of his neighbour. He associated himself with the peasants scattered over the fields, and while helping them with their work of harvesting, he would explain to them the mysteries of faith. He used to take care of children with the greatest patience, even going so far as to cleanse their heads, and he dressed the corrupt wounds of the village folk with such success that it was thought he had received the gift of healing. On the mountain which overhangs Somascha he found a cave in which he hid himself, and there scourging himself, spending whole days fasting, passing the greater part of the night in prayer, and snatching only a short sleep on the bare rock, he expiated his own sins and those of others. In the interior of this grotto, water trickles from the dry rock, obtained, as constant tradition says, by the prayers of the servant of God. It still flows, even to the present day, and being taken into different countries, it often gives health to the sick.
At length, when a contagious distemper was spreading over the whole valley, and he was serving the sick and carrying the dead to the grave on his own shoulders, he caught the infection, and died at the age of fifty-six. His precious death, which he had foretold a short time before, occurred in the year 1537. He was illustrious both in life and death for manymiracles. Benedict XIV. enrolled him among the Blessed, and Clement XIII. solemnly inscribed his name on the catalogue of the Saints.
With Vincent de Paul and Camillus of Lellis, thou, O Jerome Emilian, completest the triumvirate of charity. Thus does the Holy Spirit mark His reign with traces of the Blessed Trinity; moreover, He would show that the love of God, which He kindles on earth, can never be without the love of our neighbour. At the very time when He gave thee to the world as a demonstration of this truth, the spirit of evil made it evident that true love of our neighbour cannot exist without love of God, and that this latter soon disappears in its turn when faith is extinct. Thus, between the ruins of the pretended reform and the ever-new fecundity of the Spirit of holiness, mankind was free to choose. The choice made was, alas! far from being always conformable to man’s interest, either temporal or eternal. With what good reason may we repeat the prayer thou didst teach thy little orphans: “Lord Jesus Christ, our loving Father, we beseech Thee, by Thine infinite goodness, raise up Christendom once more, and bring it back to that upright holiness which flourished in the Apostolic age.”
Thou didst labour strenuously at this great work of restoration. The Mother of Divine Grace, when she broke thy prison chains, set thy soul free from a more cruel captivity, to continue the flight begun at baptism and in thy early years. Thy youth was renewed as the eagle’s; and the valour which won thee thy spurs in earthly battles, being now strengthened tenfold in the service of the all-powerful Prince, carried the day over death and hell. Who could count thy victories in this new militia? Jesus, the King of the warfare of salvation, inspired thee with his own predilection for little children: countless numbers, saved by thee from perishing, and brought in their innocence to His Divine caresses, owe to thee their crown in heaven. From thy throne, where thou art surrounded by this lovely company, multiply thy sons; uphold those who continue thy work on earth; may thy spirit spread more and more in these days, when Satan’s jealousy strives more than ever to snatch the little ones from our Lord. Happy shall they be in their last hour who have accomplished the work of mercy pre-eminent in our days: saved the faith of children, and preserved their baptismal innocence! Should they have formerly merited God’s anger, they may with all confidence repeat the words thou didst love so well: “O sweetest Jesus, be not unto me a Judge, but a Saviour!”