St Camillus de Lellis is a name that rolls off the tongue, the well-known Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes and the Sick. Less well known is his over 400-year-old order, known as the Camillian Order, the Clerics Minor, Ministers of the Infirm, who are devoted to caring for people suffering from health conditions.
After several false starts renouncing his life of vice, St Camillus found himself once more in the St James Hospital for Incurables, Rome. After recovering he began to care for the patients and eventually became director of the hospital.
“He was a soldier and a gambler. When he was 25-years-old experienced a great conversion and said ‘no more of the world’. He was a novice in the Francsisan Capuchins. He was sent out because he had an incurable wound,” Fr Marcelo Pamintuan MI, a Chaplain at Westmead Hospital, said.
The Camillian community in Wentworthville consists of Fr Dado Haber, Fr Giulio Ghezzi and Fr Regie Jamorabon and Fr Marcelo. They minister to the sick in the Westmead Hospital precinct, including Westmead Hospital, the Children’s Hospital – Westmead, Westmead Rehabilitation Hospital and also at Mt Druitt Hospital.
The Camillians recounted how St Camillus received a mystical vision of starting a group of men who would look after the sick with much tenderness and love.
St Camillus’ order was started to care for people dying from the plague – which claimed the lives of many of the Camillians. They are privately venerated in the Order as the Martyrs of Charity.
As the centuries progressed, the Camillians often saved the lives of wounded soldiers on battlefields, such as at Solferino, where Henry Dunant was inspired to found the International Red Cross. Some historians argue Dunan drew inspiration from the Camillians, who ran field hospitals and wear a red cross on their habits.
For Camillians, the red cross symbolises the blood of Christ and the sacrifice made by the Camillians in service to his beloved sick.
Fr Marcelo’s vocation was fostered in a devout family in the Philippines. His family prayed the rosary at 6 o’clock every evening, after the Angelus. A friend introduced him to the Camillians and he joined them after senior high school.
The Camillian community in Wentworthville sees the need to bring God to people suffering with their health and reaches approximately 250 people each month.
The Camillians have a unique approach and spirituality towards caring for the sick.
St Camillus enriches their ministry with his teachings about caring for the sick, including – ‘put more heart into those hands,’ and a Camillian ‘must be like a mother taking care of her only sick child’.
They have their own Camillian community prayer, a special book of prayers and sayings about caring for the sick.
The Order began on the Feast of the Assumption in 1582 and their charism venerates Our Lady under the title, Salus Infirmorum, Health of the Sick.
“He started with five men. He never thought about becoming a priest,” Fr Marcelo said.
St Philip Neri was St Camillus’ spiritual director and advised him to pursue a priestly vocation – offering the Sacrifice of Christ to the Father, with intentions for His beloved sick.
There are only six Camillians in Australia, and there is currently a candidate discerning a vocation with them, who is a medical doctor.
The vocation is open to men of any age who have completed any studies.