patron saint of nurses

The Patron Saint of Nurses – The Resilience of Saint Agatha

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

If you are familiar with the Catholic faith, you’ll learn that there is a patron saint for nearly every profession out there, including a patron saint of nurses! Patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over special parts of our life. Maybe you’ll find it reassuring, as you are having a rough day full of unexpectedness and difficulties, that someone is looking out for you in these difficult times!

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What is a Patron Saint?

You may have heard about the patron saint of nurses but be wondering.. what exactly is a patron saint? Well, a patron saint is a saint that can be looked to for protection by a person or place. They are regarded as a heavenly advocate of a nation, place, craft, activity, or particular profession and tend to have some sort of tie to their designation as patron saint.

To become a saint in the first place, an individual must have been a martyr for his or her faith or have proved to have lived an exemplary life.

The assignment of patron saints has kept up with modern times. In 1958, Pope Pius XII named St. Clare of Assisi , (who died in the 13th century), the patron saint of television.

Who is the Patron Saint of Nurses?

The patron saint of nurses is Saint Agatha of Sicily. She was born around 231 AD in Sicily to a wealthy family. She is one of the most highly regarded virgin martyrs of the Catholic faith.

The Life of Saint Agatha of Sicily – the Patron Saint of Nurses

From a child, Agatha was known for her beauty. She chose to become a consecrated virgin, opting for celibacy, devoting herself to Jesus and the church.

Unfortunately, being a good-looking woman had its downsides in this era when it comes to personal freedom. A high-ranking Roman Senator, Quintianus, struck a fancy with her and had devised a plan to force her into sexual relations with him.

At the time, Decius, the Roman Emperor, had announced an edict to persecute Christians. Quintianus, knowing Agatha was a very devoted Christian, offered her a deal. He would hide her during the persecution of Christians in exchange for a sexual relationship and possible marriage between them. Agatha rejected these advances and Quintianus had her arrested and brought before a judge. Clearly this was not a fair court, as Quintianus himself was the judge!

Agatha continued to reaffirm her faith even in court, exclaiming “Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil.”

Quintianus, still believing he could break her from her faith and force her into marriage, had her imprisoned in a brothel for an entire month, where she was assaulted and suffered numerous efforts made to get her to denounce her god.

When brought to Quintianus again, she reaffirmed her faith, and he sent her to a prison, which, again, did not lead her astray from her strict adherence to God. Enraged, Quintianus ordered for her to be tortured. She was whipped, burned with torches, and torn up with iron hooks, all to no avail. It was then that Quintianus ordered for her breasts to be cut off and sent back to the prison with no medical care or food.

While in prison and suffering from her torture and breast wounds, Agatha had a vision of Saint Peter, who miraculously healed her wounds. Quintianus had her sentenced to burn at the stake, but as she was scheduled to burn, there was an earthquake that sent the officials running to seek shelter. They put her back in the prison, but she died not too long after, around the year 251.

How did Saint Agatha Become the Patron Saint of Nurses?

Due to Saint Agatha’s marked resilience during such times, she became the patron saint of nurses, as they must also call on resilience to daily hardships. Saint Agatha is also the patron saint of Sicily, bellfounders, breast cancer patients, wet nurses, and rape victims. Her feast day is to be celebrated on February 5th.

Other Noteworthy Patron Saints of Nurses

In addition to Saint Agatha, there are a few other noteworthy patron saints of nurses and healthcare workers whose stories are inspiring for those of us in the field of helping others.

Saint Catherine of Siena

Saint Catherine was born in Italy in 1347. Like, Saint Agatha, she consecrated herself to Christ at a young age. Upon her parents’ push to marry, she cut off her hair in order to mar her appearance.

When she was 21 years old, she had visions with Jesus, that she referenced as her “mystical marriage to Christ.” This vision changed her attitude towards others and pushed her to help the sick and the poor.

She moved on to living a life of public and political influence within the church and Italy.

At 33 years old, she became sick and died from a stroke.

Saint Catherine’s feast day is April 29. Her devotion to care for the sick, for those with leprosy and with advanced cancer, make her among the patron saint of nurses.

She is also known to be the patron saint of fire, illness, miscarriages, and Italy.

Saint Camillus of Lellis

Camillus de Lellis was born in 1550 in Italy. He joined the military with his father fighting against the Turks. He suffered from a sore in his leg that never healed at the hospital San Giacomo.

He had become addicted to gambling and had gambled away all of his possessions by 24.

He took on work at a friary and heard a sermon that changed his life. He tried twice to join the friary and was turned away both times due to the incurable sore in his leg. He devoted himself to serve the sick, working at the hospital and later to found his own congregation.

He is the patron saint of hospitals, nurses, and the sick.

His feast day is July 18th.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary

Saint Elizabeth was born on July 7, 1207 in Hungary. She was the daughter of Hungarian King Andrew II and Gertrude of Merania.

When Elizabeth was only 6 years old, her mother was murdered in a conflict between Hungarian and German nobles. From this point on, she found solace and peace in prayer.

She went on to marry in 1221 and was in love with Ludwig IV of Thuringia. She had 3 children and continued to live a life devoted to her religion and to charity. She and her husband Ludwig used their position in power to help the poor in Thuringia.

In 1226, disease hit Thuringia after a flood and Elizabeth helped those victims by building a hospital that could serve up to a thousand patients per day.

When Ludwig died in 1227 from illness, Elizabeth vowed celibacy and to never remarry. She later joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and founded a hospital in Saint Francis’s honor.

Her feast day is celebrated on November 17.

She is the patron saint of beggars, charities, hospitals, homeless people, and widows.

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