St. Benedict Menni

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Bust of St. Benedict Menni Outside Madrid Hospital from Wikimedia Commons

St. Benedict Menni  

Founder (1841–1914)  

Benedict Menni was born in Milan. During a war between Italy and France, he volunteered to transport wounded soldiers to a hospital run by the Hospitallers of St. John of God. So impressed was he by their work that he entered the order. He was ordained in 1866.  

Almost immediately, he was given the assignment of restoring the order to Spain—its country of origin, though it had been banned in 1836 by an anticlerical government. Against the backdrop of war and social upheaval, Benedict successfully fulfilled his assignment. But increasingly he emphasized a new mission—humane care of the mentally ill, who were, as he noted, “held in prisons with no attention paid to their cure.” In 1877 he founded the first of eleven psychiatric hospitals—the only such institutions in Spain at that time. He also founded the first female branch of the order, the Hospitaller Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His hospitals stressed holistic treatment—care for the whole person, not just management of symptoms—and the absolute rejection of physical punishment.  

Benedict endured many personal trials, along the way finding enemies both in society and in his own order. In 1912 he resigned as superior general. Soon after, he succumbed to senile dementia and died on April 24, 1914. He was canonized in 1999.  

“I was sick and you visited me.” —Matthew 25:36 

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Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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