Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was the Black Death or Bubonic plague, said to be the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history. Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and transmitted to humans from rats infected by the Oriental rat flea, the plague ran for seven years, from 1346 to 1353. Up to 200 million died from the plague that spread through parts of Eurasia, North Africa, and Europe.
Consider these five saints the first responders of their time. Instead of protecting themselves, they put the needs of others first, often relying on personal resources to care for the sick and dying. (Read: 4 Female Saints Who Are Warriors in Spirit)
May we find inspiration in their courage, compassion, and selflessness.
St. Bernardine of Siena: Ran an Entire Hospital
When the Black Death swept through Europe, the then 20-year-old Bernardine ministered to the sick, and with the help of 10 assistants, took charge of an entire hospital for four months. Though he was spared from the plague, he contracted a fever that required months of confinement. The would-be saint would go on to enter the Franciscan Order and be known as one of the greatest preachers of his time.
St. Roch: Aided the Sick by Signing the Cross on Their Forehead
Born into nobility, the Frenchman Roch followed in the footsteps of St. Francis— he gave away all his material possessions, donned a pilgrim’s habit, and walked all the way to Rome. The plan was to visit the tomb of the Holy Apostles, but with the plague taking countless lives by the day, Roch shelved his original agenda to help the sick.
People were miraculously cured with each sign of the cross Roch traced on their forehead. At one point, the would-be-saint contracted the plague himself. Not wanting to be a burden to others, he sought shelter in an abandoned hut deep in the forest. Aiding him in his recovery was a dog, who brought him loaves of bread and licked his wounds. (Read: A Prayer for Blessing the Sick)
St. Henry Morse: Arrested Five Times Yet Continued to Help the Sick
Despite being arrested numerous times for his religious beliefs, the Protestant-turned-Jesuit priest remained loyal to his faith. In true Jesuit style, he even served as a man for others. When the plague hit England, Henry procured medicine for the sick, administered the viaticum to dying patients, and prepared to bury the dead.
St. Virginia Bracelli: Built Centers to House the Poor and Sick
Widowed at 20, this mother of two daughters would devote her life to looking after the poor and needy. She set up the Hundred Ladies of Mercy, Protectors of the Poor of Jesus Christ, a charitable institution that welcomed the poor and sick, particularly when the plague ravaged her native Genoa, Italy.
To accommodate the scores of sick and destitute, she built a new center in a nearby vacant convent and cared for as many as 300 patients. (Read: 3 Royal Women Who Became Saints)
St. Charles Borromeo: Used His Resources to Feed the Hungry
While communities up and left with the arrival of the plague in Milan, the then archbishop stayed and drew on his personal resources to feed the sick and hungry. Scholars reckoned that he fed up to 70,000 people a day. He even convinced the governor to return to the city and help care for the poor.