top of page

The Catholic Defender: Saint Jerome Emiliani

Jerome Emiliani was born in Venice, Italy. He joined the army and was taken as a prisoner of war. He was miraculously released, and gave his life to Our Lady in charity. He returned to Venice, and with the plague and famine leaving a growing number of orphans, he dedicated his life to helping these children.

Jerome was born into an upper-class ruling family in Venice. When Jerome was around the age of ten, his father died. Jerome continued to grow in virtue and pursue his studies. He was not known for excelling, but for being sociable, friendly, cheerful, strong-minded, and enthusiastic.

When he was a teenager, Jerome joined the military, as was common in his family. While in the military, Jerome became more ambitious about obtaining honors than growing in virtue. His ambitions were realized as he was honored with promotions in rank. At the age of twenty-five, he participated in the War of the League of Cambrai and was given command of the fortress of Castelnuovo, just west of Venice. In 1511, after many of his soldiers abandoned him, he and three others were captured and imprisoned.

Born in Venice, he spent some time in the military, and later served as a magistrate. Emiliani provided for the sick, the hungry, and orphans; and persuaded others to do likewise. Through his good offices a number of hospitals and orphanages were established in several northern Italian towns. He was canonized in 1767 and is the patron saint of orphans

At first, Jerome perceived his capture as a defeat, but it would be the beginning of his lasting victory in Christ. While chained from head to foot and imprisoned, Jerome had time to reflect upon his life. Though his imprisonment lasted only a month, it was a powerful and transforming month. He returned to the faith of his youth, opened his heart to Christ, and especially turned to the intercession of the Mother of God. He vowed to her that if she were to set him free, he would change his life and devote himself to the will of God. And that’s what happened, to an extraordinary degree.

On September 27, 1511, Jerome encountered the Mother of God in his cell as a woman clothed in white. She accepted his promise, gave him the keys to his chains, and then led him through the compound and out of the city without being noticed by the guards. By her inspiration, he walked to the town of Treviso where he entered the church, presented himself before a statue of Our Lady, and his life began to change. Jerome remained in military service for the next few years but then abandoned his worldly ambitions and began to study theology. In 1518 he was ordained a priest.

In 1508, he participated in the defense of Castelnuovo against the League of Cambray (this was two years before Pope Julius II joined the Venetians). He was appointed governor of a fortress in the mountains of Treviso, and while defending his post he was taken prisoner. He had not cared about God but he attributed his escape to the intercession of the Mother of God; and he made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Treviso, in fulfillment of a vow, and left his chains as an offering.

In 1518 he was ordained a priest. By the year 1526, Fr. Jerome's mother and two of his brothers had died, leaving him to care for one of his brother's orphaned children.

By the year 1526, Father Jerome’s mother and two of his brothers had died, leaving him to care for one of his brother’s orphaned sons. By then, Father Jerome had a heart for charity; just like his imprisonment, this tragedy became the beginning of his future calling to care for abandoned and orphaned children. Of this period in his life, a close friend would later write, “By often listening to the word of God, he started to recall his ingratitude. He remembered his sins against the Lord. He wept often and, at the foot of the Crucified Lord, prayed to him not to be his judge, but his savior.”

In 1528, a severe famine and plague struck Venice, and many children were left orphaned. In addition to caring for his nephews, Father Jerome began to care for other orphans, providing for them out of his own means.

He was a man energized by love and tireless in his care of the poor, abandoned, sick, and orphaned. He even took care of those who had died by ensuring their proper burial. In the years to follow, his warm and energetic personality, coupled with his faith and devotion to the suffering Christ, enabled him to build hospitals, orphanages, and places of refuge for reformed prostitutes.

San Jerome Emiliani (1481 - 1537) Born in Venice, Italy, 1481; died Somascha, Italy, February 8, 1537; canonized in 1767, and in 1928 declared patron saint of orphans and abandoned children by Pope Pius XI; feast day formerly July 20.

In 1532, Father Jerome moved to Somasca, a city between Venice and Milan, and with two other priests, founded the “Company of the Servants of the Poor” (later called the Order of the Somascan Fathers). These priests committed themselves to a life of poverty and service of the poor, sick, and especially orphaned children. Father Jerome devoted himself to the wholehearted proclamation of the Gospel in both his words and deeds. He organized his brothers and their homes with great skill. Many converted and grew fervent in their faith. His devotion to those suffering from the plague was so great that he himself contracted the disease and died a martyr of the plague in early February, 1537.

He founded three orphanages, a shelter for penitent prostitutes and a hospital. Around 1532, Jerome and two other priests established a congregation, the Clerks Regular of Somasca, dedicated to the care of orphans and the education of youth. Jerome died in 1537 from a disease he caught while tending the sick.

A careless and irreligious soldier for the city-state of Venice, Jerome was captured in a skirmish at an outpost town and chained in a dungeon. In prison Jerome had a lot of time to think, and he gradually learned how to pray. When he escaped, he returned to Venice where he took charge of the education of his nephews—and began his own studies for the priesthood.

One morning, we were twenty-eight at St. Magdalene Hospital and we were praying. Since we had nothing to eat, father Jerome told us, “Do not doubt, my sons, the Lord will take care!” And while he was still praying, we heard the doorbell ring. They went to open the door. A person wanted to see father Jerome. He went to the door and came back with four loaves of bread…he fed all twenty-eight of us with only those four loaves and fresh water because he did not have anything else. And everybody had enough. And the father kept saying we had to eat cheerfully because the Lord would never abandon us. ~Eyewitness testimony

In the years after his ordination, events again called Jerome to a decision and a new lifestyle. Plague and famine swept northern Italy. Jerome began caring for the sick and feeding the hungry at his own expense.

While serving the sick and the poor, he soon resolved to devote himself and his property solely to others, particularly to abandoned children. He founded three orphanages, a shelter for penitent prostitutes and a hospital.

Around 1532, Jerome and two other priests established a congregation, the Clerks Regular of Somasca, dedicated to the care of orphans and the education of youth. Jerome died in 1537 from a disease he caught while tending the sick. He was canonized in 1767. In 1928, Pius Xl named him the patron of orphans and abandoned children. St. Jerome Emiliani shares the celebration of his liturgical feast with St. Josephine Bakhita on February 8.

He was beatified by Benedict XIV in 1747, and canonized by Clement XIII in 1767. The Office and Mass in his honour were approved eight years later.


Patron Saint of orphans and abandoned children

Canonized on July 16, 1767 by Pope Clement XIII

Liturgical Color: White (Purple if Lenten Weekday)

“For God, does not work in those who refuse to place all their confidence and hope in Him alone.

But He does impart the fullness of His love upon those who possess a deep faith and hope; for them He does great things.”

“With your patience you will save your soul.”

“Therefore, having done what you could, the Lord will be satisfied with you because for Him, who is the most benign, goodwill compensates for the lack of success.”

Saint Jerome, you had a desire for greatness within your heart. Though you first sought to fulfill that desire by worldly and passing honors, God opened your eyes and helped you to discover that the greatest honor is found in the wholehearted service of His holy will. Please pray for me, that I may imitate your generosity and devote myself to the service of the Gospel and the care of those in need. Saint Jerome, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.


bottom of page