St. Camillus de Lellis was addicted to gambling in his younger years, but by keeping himself occupied with hard work, he was able to cooperate with the grace of God, replacing a bad habit with good.
After repenting, Camillus went to the hospital of S. Giacomo in Rome, where he asked to be admitted as a patient and a servant. He worked hard in the hospital and was able to stay away from gambling.
In Rome, Camillus had St. Philip Neri as spiritual director, and he made progress in his spiritual life.
After working at the hospital for four years, his wounded leg appeared to have been cured. Camillus once again tried to join the Franciscan Capuchins. St. Philip tried to dissuade him, but he would not listen. Scarcely had he entered than the wound broke out afresh and he was told to leave.
The next year, he tried to join the Franciscan Observantines of Ara Coeli, but was again refused. When Camillus returned to the world, Philip Neri welcomed him and said, “God bless you, Camillus, did I not tell you?”
Camillus continued to serve at the hospital of S. Giacomo as superintendent. One evening in a hospital ward, the thought occurred to Camillus that good nursing depended on love, and the more it was independent of mere wages the better it would be. If he could gather men about him who would nurse for love then he might hope to raise nursing to the standard he desired.
Camillus carefully invited five men from among his fellow-servants in the hospital to live according to his ideal. He felt that this group should include not only nurses, but priests as well. He decided to study to become a priest so he could have more to offer the sick.
First, he asked a chaplain of the hospital to teach him Latin during his leisure hours; later, he entered the Roman College as a student. He was 32 years old and six-and-a-half feet tall. The boys in the school nicknamed Camillus the “Late Arrival” and would offer him their services to help him in his lessons. Finally, in 1584, at the age of 34, Camillus was ordained a priest.
Archbishop Alban Goodier, author of the book Saints for Sinners, described the life and trial of the new priest: “He took a house by the Tiber, in the lowest and most pestilential part of the city, and there set about the service of the sick wherever he might find them.”
One incident here is worthy of mention; it is said to be the only occasion when St. Philip Neri made a mistake in the diagnosis of anyone entrusted to his spiritual care.
So long as Camillus was safe at his work in the hospital of S. Giacomo, St. Philip was pleased with him; when he heard that Camillus had left the hospital and taken up his abode in the lowest quarters of the town, he was not a little distressed.
Knowing Camillus’s past and his propensity for gambling, Philip was very concerned that the new surroundings would only revive old temptations. Moreover, he was convinced this new departure was only another mark of that restless and obstinate nature which had already made his penitent seek in vain for admission among the Franciscans.
He spoke sharply to Camillus, advising him for his own security not to give up the work he was doing at S. Giacomo; if he disobeyed, Philip would be forced to give up on him.
Although Camillus respected Philip as a father, he held firm, insisting he was following the vocation he was called to by God. From that moment, for a period at least, Philip Neri and Camillus de Lellis took separate paths.
As we see, there are times when even saints disagree.
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