Gerolamo Emiliani or Jerome Emiliani was born in Venice, the son of Angelo Emiliani (popularly called Miani) and Eleonore Mauroceni. His father died when he was a teenager and Jerome ran away at the age of 15 to join the army. In 1508, he participated in the defense of Castelnuovo against the League of Cambray.
He didn’t care much about God because he didn’t need him — he had his own strength and the strength of his soldiers and weapons. When Venice’s enemies, the League of Cambrai, captured the fortress, he was dragged off and imprisoned. There in the dungeon, Jerome decided to get rid of the chains that bound him. He let go of his worldly attachments and embraced God and gradually learned how to pray. When he finally was able to escape, he returned to Venice where he took charge of the education of his nephews—and began his own studies for the priesthood.
In the years after his ordination, events again called Jerome to a decision and a new lifestyle. In the year of plague and famine (1528) swept northern Italy, he seemed to be everywhere and showed his zeal, especially for the orphans, whose number had so greatly increased. Jerome began caring for the sick and feeding the hungry at his own expense. While serving the sick and the poor, he soon resolved to devote himself and his property solely to others, particularly to abandoned children.
After a short time as mayor of Treviso he returned his home in Venice where he studied for the priesthood. The war may have been over but it was followed by the famine and plague war’s devastation often brought. Thousands suffered in his beloved city. Jerome devoted himself to service again — this time, not to the military but the poor and suffering around him. He felt a special call to help the orphans who had no one to care for them.
Using his own money, he rented a house near the church of St. Rose for the orphans, fed them, clothed them, and educated them. Part of his education was to give them the first known catechetical teaching by question and answer. But his constant devotion to the suffering put him in danger too and he fell ill from the plague himself. When he recovered, he had the ideal excuse to back away, but instead his illness seemed to take the last links of the chain from his soul.
Jerome committed his whole life and all he owned to helping others. In 1531 he went to Verona and induced the citizens to build a hospital; in Brescia, Bergamo, Milan and other places in northern Italy, he erected orphanages, for boys and for girls. At Bergamo,he also founded a hostel for repentant prostitutes.
Two priests, Alessandro Besuzio and Agostino Bariso, then joined him in his labors of charity, and in 1532 Gerolamo founded a religious society, the Congregation of Regular Clerics. The motherhouse was at Somasca, a secluded North Italian hamlet, after which the members became known as Somaschi. In the Rule of this Society, Jerome stated the principal work of the community was the care of orphans, poor and sick, and demanded that dwellings, food and clothing would bear the mark of religious poverty. Devoted to the guardian angels, Jerome entrusted the Company to the protection of the Virgin, the Holy Spirit and the Archangel Raphael.
During an epidemic, Jerome was assisting the sick when he contracted the plague. He died in Somasca, February 8, 1537, at the age of 56.