ST. CAMILLUS DE LELLIS (1550 – 1614)
St. Camillus was born in Bucchianico (Italy) in 1550. By a miracle of God’s grace, he went from being a rebellious, wayward youth and inveterate gambler to converting at the age of 25, consecrating his life to the care of the sick and the reform of health care. He founded the religious order of the Ministers of the Sick (Camillians) in the year 1582 and instilled into his followers the practice of religious perfection and heroic charity. The sick, so utterly neglected in those days, became his Supreme Master to be served and venerated as the suffering members of Christ’s body. He died on 14 July 1614 in Rome and he is the Patron of the sick and those who nurse the sick.
THE BIRTH OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ST. CAMILLUS AND ITS FOUNDERS
It was the unfinished dream of St. Camillus to begin a female congregation because, in those days, the nuns were not allowed to go out for their apostolic activities. And so, the members of the Camillian Order, who were brought up in the same spirit of St. Camillus, desired not to hold the Camillian Charism only for the male section, but to expand it to the female section too.
The heroic charity of St. Camillus could not have gone unnoticed by many pious women who, of their nature, are more disposed to feel pity, to a life of dedication and sacrifice, and could not have failed to arouse in them a deep appreciation of this Saint’s outstanding virtue and a desire to imitate it. From the very first beginnings of the Order of the Sick, its history shows that many good souls cooperated with the religious, especially the so-called Camillian Tertiaries who continued their help until they were suppressed during the troublesome times of last century.
This desire was fully revealed through Fr. Luigi Tezza after his election as the first Consulter General, which entitled him to the office of Procurator General of the Order at the XXXVI General Chapter of the Order held in Rome on September 1889.
BLESSED FR. LUIGI TEZZA – FOUNDER OF D. S. C (1841 – 1923)
Fr. Luigi Tezza was born in Conegliano, Italy, on November 1, 1841. His family was morally healthy and practised their religion. His mother Catherine was a woman of rare quality who encouraged Luigi in spiritual life. Little Luigi learnt the skill of healing and giving comfort to the sick through his father Augustus, a doctor, who died when Luigi was nine years old. After having completed his secondary school studies in Padua, he entered the novitiate of the Camillian Fathers in Verona on 8th December 1856. On December 8th 1858, at the age of 17, he made his religious profession in the Camillian community of Verona and was ordained a priest on May 21, 1864. He was entrusted with many offices like the master of the Novices, Provincial Superior and Vicar General.
After his appointments as Consulter General and Procurator General of the Order, with the permission of the Superior General Fr. Mattis, Fr. Tezza returns to France to complete certain undertakings.
In the years spent in France, he had the desire to give life to a group of women to help the sick according to the spirit of St. Camillus. He had already obtained the permission of the general council and was following a group of women-oriented to religious life. However, needing to live in Rome because of his new job, he was not able to attend to them.
He prayed and waited for the moment in which God would help him to find the right persons to realize his plan in Rome. Meanwhile, he continued to look for a suitable young woman both enthusiastic for the charism of charity and disposed to give to the sick “a heart of a mother.”
The Divine Providence came forward to raise a a courageous and generous young woman, who was ready to pursue the ideals of heroic charity of St. Camillus, submit herself to his rule, wear a similar habit and eventually become an instrument to found a Congregation of religious women. Her name was Judith Vannini.
ST JOSEPHINE VANNINI, CO–FOUNDRESS OF D.S.C (1859 – 1911)
Judith Vannini was born in Rome Italy, on 7th July 1859. She was orphaned at the age of seven and was given shelter in the Conservatorio Torlonia, run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent at Siena. As Judith was educated virtuously by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent, the charity of Christ soon impelled her to offer herself entirely to God. Judith was simple, righteous and a large-hearted soul, and the light of faith soon enabled her to give direction to her life. She wanted God to be her all and religious life to be her chosen path. But many obstacles were to stand in the way of her good intentions. She was desirous of joining the Sisters of St. Vincent, but God had different plans for her, just as he had for St. Camillus when he wanted to join the Capuchins.
All her hopes seem dashed until God extended his merciful hand to help this faithful creature, who had never ceased putting her trust in him. To do this, he made use of a worthy son of St. Camillus, Fr. Luigi Tezza, Procurator General of the Order, a godly soul imbued with simplicity and determination.
This good priest happened to meet young Judith when she was making a Retreat organized by the sisters of Our Lady of Cenacle for young women from a French colony residing in Rome. When he came to know of her pious intentions, he was inspired to reveal to her his plans, so far unsuccessful, to found a Congregation of Camillian Sisters.
Judith Vannini asked for time to think over his proposal. She prayed and sought advice and very soon, in all simplicity and with candid open-heartedness, returned to Fr. Luigi and generously submitted herself to his guidance, and offered to take on this arduous task.
With the authorization of Cardinal Vicario, after a period of preparation under the direction of Fr. Tezza, on February 2nd 1892, in the Chapel of the General Curia of the Camillians in Rome, in the room where St. Camillus died, Fr. John Mattis, Superior General, conferred on Judith and her two companions, the scapular with the red cross of St. Camillus and the document for affiliation to the Order.
The plan of Fr. Tezza is to found a female Congregation with the same charism of his order which “expresses itself and is realized in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy towards the sick”, practised with a vow “even with the risk of one’s own life.” On March 19th of the same year, Judith was clothed with the religious habit, receiving the name Sr. Mary Josephine.
God caused this tender young plant to thrive and blessed it in its pursuit of good works, but not without subjecting it to many trials, which even threatened to rend it apart. It found the strength to overcome such obstacles, which only served to reinvigorate and strengthen this young plant, now well established in the sacred territory of God’s Church on earth.
Under the enlightened guidance of the holy priest who was inspired to bring this work into action, Mother Josephine made rapid strides along the way of progress, becoming a mother, teacher and guide to all the young girls the Divine Providence sent to her.
With God’s help, the little community flourished and Mother Vannini was able to extend her field of action, during her lifetime, by opening new houses in Cremona (August 1893), Mesagne (November 1894), Grottaferrata (July 1896), Caprarola (July 1899), Rieti (January 1901), Monticelli (January 1901) Bonsecours – Belgium (October 1901), Brescia (March 1904) and San Bassano –Cremona (October 1904). A centre was established in Lille in France until it was disbanded because of the persecution it suffered. Mother Vannini sought even broader horizons and in the year 1906, she was soon able to send a small group of her religious to Argentina in South America.
In the year 1895, Fr. Tezza was re-elected as the General Councilor and in 1898, he returned to his province in France. Though far away, he still tried his best to look after the society he had started. In 1900, Fr. Tezza and Fr. Angelo Ferrini were sent to the house in Lima (Peru) as the Delegates of the Order of the Ministers of the sick, to reunite that community to the Order. He had to bid goodbye to his native land and to the Congregation he had started and to remain there until his death. He was able to keep in touch with the Daughters of St. Camillus only through letters and correspondence. He encouraged them by giving them the necessary instructions. All the sufferings and sacrifices he endured, he offered it for the growth of the society of the Daughters of St. Camillus.
With the departure of Fr. Tezza for Perù, Mother Vannini remained alone to guide the young Institute. But, God did not allow our Mother Foundress to remain a long time here on earth. Fatigue had sapped her strength and the illness caused her to stop all the good works she had in mind. It was on the morning of 23rd February 1911 that her blessed soul took the flight to her eternal abode. She was beatified on 16th October 1994.
After the death of Mother Josephine Vannini, under the leadership of Mother Alfonsina Ferrari, the second Mother General, the small institute continues to spread the mission of charity in different parts of the world. Although Fr. Luigi Tezza was getting older, he never stopped his guidance through correspondence. The distance, which separated them, was great but, the love which unites them in the Lord was much greater. The Institute had to undergo another trial period when the Father Founder left this world on 26th September 1923, in the house of “Santa Maria De La Buena Muerte” in Lima, surrounded by his community in prayer. He was beatified on 4th November 2001.
THE EXPANSION OF THE CONGREGATION AFTER THE DEATH OF OUR FOUNDERS
The Spirit of the Lord continued to animate the Institute with many vocations, rendering it possible to open more houses and to spread the fragrance of the charity of Camillus to many parts of the world.
Until 1939, 17 communities were established in different parts of Italy, Holland and South America. From 1939 onwards, the Congregation expanded to Germany, Brazil, Peru, Spain, Colombia, Burkina Faso – Africa, India, Benin – Africa, Poland, Portugal, Philippines, Georgia, Hungary, Chile, Sri Lanka and Mexico.
THE CHARISM AND SPIRITUALITY OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ST. CAMILLUS
The speciality of the Camillian charism is to serve the sick even at the risk of our life. It constitutes the essential aspect of our mission. The healing activity of Jesus for the sick occupies a very large and essential part in the Gospel and it becomes a great sign of salvific mission of Jesus, our Messiah. Our mission is inseparably united with the Redemptive mission of Christ. Practising the works of mercy towards sick and the needy, the Daughters of St. Camillus are continuing the Ministry of Jesus as a healer.
The Camillian Spirituality is a radical style of life and it requires us to identify ourselves with the merciful Christ and become good Samaritans to our neighbour in his or her greatest moment of vulnerability. (Lk 10,30–37) Christ is a doctor and Savior of humanity, portrayed himself as the “Good Samaritan.” From this parable derives one of the two main aspects of our spirituality and it presents us with the mission itself: that we are Jesus (the Good Samaritan) who looks after the wounded, the sick etc. We are called by Christ to continue His Mission to be actually in the world the human presence of the Merciful Christ.
The second aspect of our spirituality is based on the words of Christ in the Gospel, “What you have done to one of these the least on my brethren, you have done to me … …I was sick and you visited me.” (Mt 25, 31– 36) Christ is present in every human person, even when that person does not realize it. The theology of Incarnation is the presence of Christ in human nature. In response to our special charism, we recognize the Crucified Christ in the sick and in the persons who suffer. “In this presence of Christ among the sick and in us, who serve in His name we find the basis of our spirituality.” (Const. No.16)