While there are a variety of saints who could be invoked by nurses, the Church offers to us St. Camillus de Lellis as the patron saint of all nurses and healthcare personnel.
St. Camillus de Lellis lived in the 16th century and initially joined his father in the army and fought several battles in Italy. After his regiment was disbanded, he worked in a Capuchin friary, but was struck by a war injury to his leg. Through a series of events, God led him to a hospital in Rome where his wounds were eventually healed. He decided to work there as a nurse and soon became the hospital’s director.
In 1582 St. Camillus founded the Order of Clerks Regular, Ministers of the Infirm (M.I.), later known as the Camillians. His religious order would continue his work of ministering to the sick and wounded and remains active in the world today.
In 1930, Pope Pius XI named St. Camillus de Lellis a principal patron of nurses and of nurses’ associations.
St. John Paul II reflected on his life in a message to the Camillians in the year 2000 and explained why his example makes him a perfect patron for all those who work with the sick.
[I]t is especially by his example that St. Camillus teaches us how to make the service of the sick an intense experience of God, leading us to seek the Lord constantly in prayer and the sacraments. His life seems to repeat the action of the woman described in St John’s Gospel (cf. 12:3). He too anoints the feet of Jesus, present in the suffering, with the precious ointment of merciful charity, filling the whole Church and society with the fragrance of his apostolic zeal and spirituality. Today his witness remains a forceful call to love Christ present in our brethren who are burdened by illness.
It is sometimes said that his religious order inspired the Red Cross, but the history of both organizations differs substantially.
If you know any nurses, be sure to share with them the inspiring story of St. Camillus and how he is their special patron.