TO LIVE AND DIE FOR LOVE
36 years after his death, the message of Nicola is still alive, or rather
is more alive than ever, and lives in the hearts of so many people who know
him from the writings and testimony of the witnesses.
In these few pages, the reader will find a concise account of the human and
spiritual vicissitudes of a boy resolved to offer his young life with joy
to the Lord, in the religious family of St. Camilles de Lellis, at the service
of the sick people. With this biography we intend to reach other people,
especially the youth, hoping that this will arouse in them the desire to
give to their life that special quality, which comes from surrendering completely
to the Highest Love.
Special thanks go to the author, Father Felice Ruffini, not only for this
book and others written about Nicola D'Onofrio, but also for the accurate
and passionate research he has done in these years, which is the basis of
this book that we hope will have a wide circulation.
Father Renato Salvatore
THE FIRST YEARS
Nicola D'Onofrio was born on March 24, 1943, in Villamagna in the diocese
of Chieti - Abruzzo. He was baptized in the parish church of St. Mary Major
(Santa Maria Maggiore) on March 27, and was given the name Nicola. His father
was called Giovanni, an honest and religious man, a good farmer endowed with
the simple and popular wisdom of the old country families of Abruzzo. His
mother, Virginia Ferrara was a strong but considerate woman, known for her
piety and Christian spirit. She was able to transmit to her son a genuine
religious sense of life, sensitiveness, an outstanding kindness and peace
On the Feast of Corpus Domini, June 8, 1950, he received his first
Holy Communion and three years later on October 17, 1953, he was confirmed.
He went to the primary school in Villamagna, close to Madonna del Carmine,
where according to the teachers and his contemporaries, he distinguished
himself for his diligence, kindness and availability for others. He never
missed serving Holy Mass at the parish church, where he was constant even
in winter, though his home was several kilometers away, at the border with
neighboring Bucchianico, the birthplace of St. Camilles de Lellis.
A priest of the religious order of St. Camilles, a native of his village,
invited him to join the Camillian seminary in Rome. Nicola accepted the proposal
with joy and he immediately revealed his decision to his parents. But they
objected. Because, his mother wanted him to go to the diocesan seminary in
the neighboring town of Chieti, and his father did not want to lose the promising
strong hands for the fields. Even his two unmarried paternal aunts, who lived
with the family, were blandishing him with the promise of making him the
sole heir if he could only stay. All the life of little Nicola was simple
The opposition from his family lasted for a year. Nicola lived this period
in prayer and study, until he finally obtained the permission to join the
Seminary of St. Camilles in Rome.
It was on October 3, 1955 that he entered, the feast of St. Theresa of Lisieux,
of the Child Jesus, who would later become his spiritual guide.
Though the Seminary was brimming with students, just like all other
centers for vocation to the priesthood at that time, the young Nicola did
not escape the notice of those who were supposed to observe the distinguishing
signs of a true vocation. They immediately
noticed in him the determination to model his total personality, entrusting
himself completely to the superiors to guide him spiritually. Two years later,
he came to know that his father wanted to withdraw him and take him back
home. He then wrote a strong letter about his resolute decision to continue
with the formation to the Priesthood in the Order of St. Camilles, whatever
that would cost. He gave many motivations in support of his decision, among
which was the saying of St. John Bosco: "The most beautiful blessing for a
family is to have a son Priest." (1)
On October 6, 1960, he was dressed for the first time in the Habit of the
religious order of St. Camilles, which marked the beginning of the novitiate
year. At the end of the spiritual exercises, for this important stage in
his life, he wrote: "...Jesus, if one day I have to throw the sacred Habit,
like many do, please let me die before I receive it for the first time; I
am not afraid of dying at this moment, now that I have your grace. What a
gracious thing to be able to come and see You together with Your and my mother:
Throughout the year of the novitiate he wrote in his "Diary" his objectives
and small victories, moments of struggle and spiritual dryness. From his
writings, one notices a strong will to continue in pursuit of the divine
call, entrusting himself to God's help, which is synthesized in this statement:
"We can win the evil only by staying close to Jesus and Mary with the
Sacraments and prayer." (3) Already at this moment, he intensively lived
the spirituality of the Order of St. Camilles. This was observed especially
when he had to assist an older brother who was seriously ill from cancer
in the throat. It is particularly important to remember what he said to this
priest on the feast of Good Friday that year: "Father, unite your pains
to those of Christ in agony, today is Good Friday, a blessed day for you
who suffers together with Jesus." (4)
On the morning of October 7, 1961, the feast of the Blessed Virgin of the
Rosary, after a year of intense training, which his superiors judged excellent,
he took the vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and Charity towards the
sick even in cases of contagious diseases. These vows were binding for three
years. So on that day he started a period of formation as a professed Camillian
religious. He was serene and content, available to everyone, observed well
the dispositions of community life with humility and simplicity, was assiduous
at prayer and diligent in his studies.
His immediate Superiors, -the Provincial and the mentor of the clerics, -
were his guide and the witnesses to his slow but continuous advancement on
the way to the top of the Holy Mountain of God. He had a deep love for the
Eucharistic Jesus, whom he received every day and visited often during the
day in the church of the Seminary or in the chapel of the Gregorian University.
He even enrolled himself to the "Guard of Honor of the Sacred Heart of
Jesus," choosing the time from 8.00 am to 9.00 am as his hour of reparation.
(5) He had both a filial and tender devotion to the Virgin Mary and a strong
devotion to St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, making his own her spirituality
of the little way.
He had a profound love for his Father and Founder, St. Camilles, and
deeply studied his spirituality while dreaming about future intense days
of work and service to the sick, when he would finally become a priest one
day. He was not afraid to show to anybody, his enthusiasm for the
vocation in the Order of St.Camilles. Being diligent in his studies, he took
his scholastic duties seriously and both loved and respected his teachers.
He was docile and careful, anxious to receive the knowledge that
was being imparted, because he considered it necessary for the good exercise
of his Priesthood at the service of the suffering brothers.
During the short period of life as a student of the religious Order of the
Camillians, he showed great love and attachment to his new family. He limited
his outings, and preferred to stay in the House to dedicate his heart, mind
and time to the several necessities and the most urgent needs of the religious
Towards the end of 1962 he started to feel the first symptoms of the illness
that would later lead to his death at the age of 21. He obediently accepted
the decisions of his Superiors and doctors from the very beginning.
On June 31, 1963, he was operated upon in the Urological Ward of St.Camilles
Hospital in Rome. (6) The result of the histological analysis made
on the removed part gave the indisputable answer of a certain end: cancer.
During his recovery at the Hospital chapliancy after the operation, he revealed
himself as a person who is always patient and smiling, careful not to disturb
his brothers who were concern for him. Afterwards, on August 19, he was admitted
to the Polyclinic Umberto 1st of Rome for the cobalt-therapy,
because his doctor had the secret hope of circumscribing the illness.
From the 24th of the same month he continued this therapy
at the outpatient clinic of the same hospital.
His behavior during this period is a great example to all, both for his patience
in tolerating the pain and the willingness to do the will of God. No matter
what it was. As to whether he already by this summer knew or at least suspected
to be suffering from a serious illness, could be deduced from a note found
in his papers, where he wrote: "End of June: in 2-3 days it assumes enormous
proportions. Treatment of Penicillin and Strepto dissolved with vitamins
B and C," and ahead -besides the dates of admission at the two hospitals
Rome and of the surgical operations - he wrote: "12/8- Beginning of the
treatments with gamma-rays and not gamma (200 in a day)...20/8, VIIth application,
two X-rays of the lungs, blood tests...23/8, Xth application, 22 X-rays to
the digestive apparatus..."
When the Academic Year resumed in autumn, his superiors enrolled him in the
first year of philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University, even though
he was already seriously affected by the cancer. (8) Even here, his diligence,
serenity and kindness were noted by the teachers and the other students.
At the beginning of January 1964 another X-ray was perfomed on the thorax.
The right lung appeared largely infected by the illness. (9) Even
though nobody up to now had talked to him about the gravity of his state,
and on the contrary all were trying to hide from him the reality of his now
hopeless situation, Nicola definitively realized his actual state of health.
This can be deduced from a conversation he had with his brother, Tommaso,
in which he alluded to the certainty of his approaching death, but that his
only worry was the great suffering his death would cause to their mother.
Towards the end of March that year, he asked for a meeting with the provincial
superior, in order to know from him the exact truth about his state of health.
With his back against the wall, the superior was unable to hide the truth,
which he accompanied with words of great hope especially trust in the goodness
and power of God, to whom nothing is impossible, even a great miracle like
the one Nicola needed. After knowing the truth about his health,
he did not react with desperation, on the contrary, after a moment of intense
reflection spent before the Eucharistic Jesus in the church of the Seminary,
he recovered his usual smile and intensified his prayers, giving more time
to meditation. When he had the occasion to talk with some friends
about his approaching death, he neither avoided the topic nor dramatized
about it, he spoke with serenity and detachment.
People who lived with him remember that he gave them the impression of a
person who was already living the reality of the life to come, as something
already present in his existence, which was very prematurely drawing to its
They still strongly remember that his conversation about life after death
was calm and peaceful, with no strain or fanaticism, and a great spirit of
faith enlightened his life, which he continued to conduct normally, sharing
in the common life of the Seminary. With a hidden hope of obtaining
a great miracle, his Superiors decided to send him on a pilgrimage to Lourdes
and Lisieux. Nicola accepted to go, out of obedience, but he went above all
with the intention of beseeching the help of the Immaculate Virgin and his
little, great Saint Theresa, to do God's will up to the last hour, peacefully
united with the Cross of Christ. It was May 10, only 33 days before his meeting
with God for the eternity.
With the dispensation "super triennium" Pope Paul VI allowed him to take
the Perpetual Vows. On May 28, the feast of Corpus Domini, in the
church of the Camillian Seminary, he consecrated himself to God forever;
it was the last act of love of a short life, lived fervently through
"praying and loving". The morning of June 5, feast of the Sacred Heart
of Jesus, in full consciousness, he accepted to receive the Anointing of
the Sick as his Provincial Superior had proposed. It was a moment
of intense commotion for all his brothers, at the end of the Holy Mass celebrated
in the small room on the ground floor where had been placed for some months
now, in order to facilitate his movements that were by now only possible
in a wheel-chair, and where he received his numerous friends and his mother.
An awful, dramatic and continuous pain marked the last days of his life on
earth. The cancer, which advanced and completely invaded his lungs, did not
only cause terrific pain, but also moments of suffocation. Nicolino
lived this pain heroically, united to the Cross of Christ, invoking help
from the Virgin Mary and the Saints Camilles and Theresa of Lisieux, always
calm and never abandoning himself to desperation, careful not to inconvenience
those assisting him and trying to do his very best to hide the inevitable
mask of suffering in order to avoid bringing sorrow to his mother, who stayed
close by him. This extraordinary confidence in God's will is a cause for
admiration and devotion even for those who knew him from childhood.
The last day for Nicolino came on June 12, 1964. It was a long agony, which
started at 16.00 to close his last evening at 21.15, after a day spent in
prayer and manifestation of his deep faith and burning Love for Jesus and
Mary, with the help of his two beloved Saints and the comfort of the touching
prayers of the brothers and friends. Up till now, his superior remembers
his last moments thus: "I would lead the prayers and all the young brothers
reunited around him in his small room would answer with hearts full of faith.
Sometimes he would ask us to continue, saying: again, again, ....stronger
, now and then he would add his own personal invocations to ours, which revealed
his deep faith in an ultrasensitive reality that he felt really near."(
This contact with the ultrasensitive world was also noticed by other people
who assisted at his death. Heaven opened its doors to him while he, lucid
up to the end, continuously repeated the act of offering his life and all
his pains, refusing the analgesics and inviting those present to pray with
him and for him. A conclusion, very much coherent with the ideals
he had chosen to live up to in his life.
The strong impression that with his death a Passion was accomplished,
can be noticed in the simple words of a country lady, an old family friend:
"Having verified his death, the doctor opened the door and said to his mother:
Lady, here is your son! Just as if it were the Virgin Mary receiving her
A confrère who was a great friend of Nicola wrote during the days immediately
after his death: "Now down here with us remains only a cut stem, his stem.
The flower is up there, engrossed in the Heart of God. For this reason every
time that I think or speak of beloved Nicola I feel I have to look up there
as in a dream, bowing. My Hero! I had seen vaguely, I had only dreamed the
ideal of holiness, without reaching it, because to touch something you've
got to be close to it, and to have an admiration with no obscurity, you've
got to be similar to the hero who inspires it. I've touched my hero and then...he
seems to vanish. But, like the little Theresa with Celina, I believe that
he will always walk at the side of every person who is able to discover him.
I loved him, he died in my arms, and he looked at me with his last gaze,
waving his hand to me to say "goodbye."
I love him, by now he's my great, little Saint together with his,
and my little Theresa." (13)
At the sacred funeral rites there was a great multitude of confères, friends
and acquaintances. His mother's sad and tormented prayers persuaded the superiors
to allow the burial of the remains of Nicola D'Onofrio in Villamagna, his
birthplace, in the family grave. His last journey back home was on June 15,
accompanied by his confrères and superiors. After a solemn Eucharistic celebration
he was buried in the Ferrara Chapel, his mother's family. Since October 8,
1979, Nicola D'Onofrio rests near the Crypt of the Sanctuary of St. Camilles
in Bucchianico, reunited to his religious family, waiting for the Resurrection
of the last day, when Christ who triumphed over death will come again.
The way he touched people who were close to him or those who managed to know
him during the well-known period of his rapid end, which he faced with serenity
and with a smile on his lips, proves his exceptional behavior.
But this was not improvised or even superficial. His ascent to the
Holy Mountain of God comes from afar. The pages of his original writings
reveal to us that this way started from the first days of his life at the
Camillian Seminary. The last period of his existence and his death are only
the revealing moment of his spiritual dimension.
The extraordinary wave of affective and religious emotions that accompanied
his death, which was rendered more tragic by the terrible suffering caused
by the sickness, is to be attributed to the fact that: "In suffering one
becomes a completely new person... When this body is seriously sick, completely
disabled and the person is almost incapable of living and acting, then ones
inner maturity and spiritual greatness become more manifest, thus
offering a touching lesson for all the normal and healthy people. (
14) Except for
arbitrary cases of incomprehension, all people felt that God had stimulated
extraordinary answers in his soul, and that his journey to the Holy Mountain
was really fast. A religious woman, his contemporary and friend since childhood,
wrote that on learning of his death she felt the words of Wisdom ringing
in her heart: "Having come to perfection so soon, he has lived long; his
soul being pleasing to the Lord, he has hurried away from the wickedness
around him." (Wis. 4:13-14a)
Such a conclusion to life cannot be improvised. It comes from afar and the
moment of death is only the occasion that reveals the interior work done.
And he founded it essentially upon the Passion and Cross of the Lord Jesus,
with his eyes always fixed on the Glory of the Resurrection. This is
clear from his "Writings" and from the testimony of the people who knew him.
The key to understanding his spiritual journey appears almost immediately
at the beginning of his new life in the minor seminary, when listening to
a meditation on the love of God the Father for Man, during the annual Spiritual
Retreat, he wrote: "We could say that he was not concerned for his only Son,
if only he could save us. Jesus died for us and his blood, up to the last
drop, washed our soul. How much Jesus
And some few months later, at the end of the monthly retreat, he notes down
a dictated meditation in this way: "Jesus has come into the world to glorify
the Father who sent him, and to come down here "exinanivit se" he annihilated,
humbled himself. The Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Eucharist, are acts
of self-destruction for the love he has for us, and for the glory of the
Father. Now it is upon us to follow him, in order to give to the Sacred Heart
that due glory as a response to his love."(
The crucified Christ entered his life and became his daily reference. The
religious life that he started with the Novitiate during the Vespers on October
6, 1960, is a good school for the spirit which convinced him of the necessity
to control the human faculty necessary for the practice of mysticism: the
will. For a whole year, the messages received from his spiritual guides found
him well disposed at the eve of the first religious vows consecrating him
to God. He writes thus at the end of the first day of spiritual exercises:
"The will has to be strong, complete, and heroic in the mystical ascent.
One that does not change direction according to the winds, but remains faithful
to the principles of the Crucified Christ. A will, which is not caught
up in the many fatuities of this world, but stays vibrant and strong in sustaining
and facilitating the progress of our journey towards God. Moreover, our ascent
requires a heroic will because the goal is difficult. We aim at imitating
a crucified Christ, who does not present to us anything else but the Cross,
to embrace everyday. Heroic too, because our ascent is not in phases, but
continuous and demanding, an ascent which ought to consume us completely.
But to reach this point Confession and Spiritual Direction are indispensable.
"I am glad to have had the opportunity to assist beloved Father Del Greco,
during the night between Wednesday and Holy Thursday. During this night there
was the adoration of Jesus from eleven to midnight here in the house. I instead,
have done it close to the suffering Jesus in the person of Fr. Del Greco.
(I have really done it with this intention). Now he seems to feel better,
let's hope for the best!" (
The assisted camillian priest, who had been operated for a cancer in his
throat, completed later what D'Onofrio did not write in his Spiritual
Notes: "I was almost dying, and the cleric D'Onofrio assisted me and
comforted me saying: 'Father, unite your pains to the suffering of Jesus
in agony. Today is Good Friday, a beautiful day for you, who are suffering
together with Jesus!" I have never forgotten those words suggested to me
by our cleric, with so much lovableness and faith."(
Along with his devotion to Crucified Jesus, Nicolino had a tender and really
filial relationship with his Mother, the Immaculate Virgin Mary. In his Writings,
and on the death bed, he had sweet and tender expressions for Her, that we
must contemplated within the realm of a inner and secret relationship of
the soul, deserving of respect and great consideration. Exactly as we do,
when contemplating similar relationships of the Saints proposed by the Church
as life models. This is an extract
from his writings: "I'm tired, I would say almost discouraged...I find life
in the novitiate hard...Why?... It is the deadly enemy of my soul who overworks
me, it is the Lord who purifies me...When will this place of exile come to
end?... Ah, difficult world!... I would like to die soon, if it is pleasing to
God, to fly in my Mothers' arms. I want to go to rest in Heaven...yes...sweet
Mum...But here, serenity comes back slowly into my soul, so I can aim further...This
is God's will... "Tota vita Christi crux fuit et martyrium"...and so, what do
I pretend?... To live like a lord?
No, no, no. But everything
for you, Jesus, Mary!"(
One of the intermediate life models that guided his way to the Lord was St.
Theresa of the Holy Child and of the Holy Face. Her "little way" became the
code of behavior for his life. In a letter to his mother, who might have
been worried about eventual penances imposed by the religious life, Nicolino,
wrote reassuring her about the normality and simplicity of the daily acts:
"...All is done for the Lord, for his love. There are no
extraordinary things to do, like exceptional penances, or sleeping on the
ground...Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, a Carmelite French nun, did nothing
special during her life, she did nothing unique, she only did her duty; at
the age of 24 she died of tuberculosis and became a saint...." (
22) We have a
Prayer written by Nicolino, which comes from a mystic soul. We are
not sure whether it belongs to St. Theresa. We present here a little extract
which can largely explain our thesis: "Give me the suffering, give me the
martyrdom of love, only and always what is more pleasing to you, to possess
you forever completely ...I am in love with Christ Crucified.
Far from me every other joy, every other liking that is not for
my beloved Crucified Bridegroom. I desperately want to own your torn Heart
completely, to be inside it, incarnated into one reality: I want to renounce
myself completely, to completely be You, my Love. I want to renounce myself
always, even in the most hard way, not me anymore, but You, You, Crucified
At the foot
of the page Nicolino annotated: "I will recite this prayer at least three
times every day: if it is possible, in the morning, at midday and in the
evening, before going to bed." He collected every published work of St.Theresa,
asking directly from the Convent of Lisieux the last editions. He knew very
well the French language and started to translate her poems. To complete
these few considerations, we would like to quote stanzas from "To Live for
Love," which reveal to us his inner tension to conform himself completely
to His beloved Crucified Jesus: "...Living for love on this Earth does
not mean/ to pitch a tent on the top of Tabor. / It means climbing Calvary
together with Jesus. / It means considering the cross as a treasure! / In
Heaven, I will live of joy. / Then, the affliction will have disappeared
forever, / but here, in suffering, / I want to live for love!--...To die for
love is too sweet a martyrdom, / and that's what I'd like to suffer. / Oh
Cherubim! light the lyres, / because I feel it, my exile is close to end.../
Arrow of fire consume me restlessly, / tear my heart in this sad sojourn.
/ Divine Jesus, please realize my dream: to die for love!"(
This is the secret of the great emotion, esteem and enthusiasm caused by
his tragic last year of life and by his passage to Heaven. Everyone
could basically feel the spiritual dimension in which he was absorbed, and
which is faithfully synthesized in the following passage of the last letter
he wrote to his parents: "I'm really glad to have the possibility
of suffering a little bit now that I'm young, because these are the most
beautiful years to offer (something) to the Lord. St. Theresa of Lisieux
is the saint that I like most, because she is very similar to me. She too
fell sick when she was only about twenty years old, she suffered a lot and
died at the age of 24...Dearest parents, you too pray that the Lord may help
me to recover the strength, so that I may become a priest and work a lot
more for the souls. But if the good Lord wants something different from you
and me, may God be blessed, because He knows what he does and what is really
good for us. There is no way, we can't know those things...Only God knows..."(
Everyone who was able to read the signs of his behavior during the time of
the extreme test of his life understood his Message. The demonstrations of
esteem expressed at the moment of his death, which as we said were concretized
in an extraordinary wave of affective and religious feelings, went beyond
the realm of the Camillian Community and time.
We are not going to expound the proof of what Nicolino left to us
in writing with our own words, rather we shall use a short selection from
what the Testimonies have written for the General Postulation of the Order
of St. Camilles.
With these words the review of the Militia of the Immaculate presented him
to the readers: "He has reached the third grade of the M.I.: the one of the
total donation: to give himself completely to Mary, accepting every suffering
with spirit of faith and generosity in order to conform himself to the Mystery
of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, to the point of martyrdom. Nicolino,
consumed by pain, offered himself as a victim for so many brothers and sisters
in need of hope and spiritual salvation. Even though the circumstances
and the mode were different, we can compare his offering to that of Father
Kolbe, who found in the Immaculate Mother the strength and love to give himself
completely, not only for the father of a family, but for all the human kind.
The death of the young camillian and the martyrdom of Father Kolbe find their
explanation and message in the eternal Word of the Gospel... Nicolino, so
young but yet so wise, understood very well what Father Kolbe says in one
of his writing: "There's only one life to live, not two. We have to become
saints completely, not half-way, for the greater glory of the Immaculate,
and trough her, for the greater glory of God."(
"He saw God's plan in everything, directed to Him all his action and accepted
with joy the pains and suffering. He used to say to me: "Suffering is the
best currency with which we can buy Heaven." His death was peaceful and I
had the grace to be present at this moment.
The following months his illness started to become more and more serious
and he was evidently suffering, but with great dignity. He intensively prayed
for the sinners and considered the Passion of Jesus and the suffering of
St Theresa of Lisieux as models to be imitated, almost literally... During
his illness he, like Christ, was able to face the stages of the long Calvary,
walking with joy towards the Father, in the Kingdom promised to the good
and faithful servants.
"During that night I was assisting Nicola D'Onofrio and I was woken up at
dawn by his troubled screams. I run into his small room; leaning on his elbows,
as the strength permitted him, he asked God in a loud voice to be healed:
"I'll become a priest... I will save many souls...I pray You my Lord, heal me...Mother
Mary, please intercede...St.Camilles...! Please father; help me...let us pray together,
I have to obtain this miracle... I have to get well...!" I raised him and helped
him until, shortly after, he became calm, exhausted. Then, speaking softly
and full of submissive abandonment, he said: "Well...but if it's not
possible...let it be as you will my God!" This is the gist of his words, even
though I may not remember them literally. I was very impressed by that submission
to God, that extreme acceptance, so much that it was impossible for me not
to compare it with that of Christ on the Cross, who asks imploring and ends
with a wonderful submission to His Father's Will.The Doctors in charge
almost immediately decided for a surgical operation. Always docile and obedient
as usual, he accepted in a spirit of deep union with the Suffering Christ,
following the example of St.Theresa of Lisieux in the last period of her illness,
and accepted to subject himself to such a delicate operation...But he
accepted everything without reacting, and submissively let himself be gradually
laid and nailed on his Cross...He spent the Easter period in a special,
deep recollection and meditation on the Passion of the Lord, endeavoring
to conform himself as much as possible to Him. In fact, he had no
doubt anymore about the nature of his illness, he felt it stronger everyday,
expanding in his body. Even the easiest things were becoming difficult
for him, because he increasingly breathed with difficulty. Though every possible
means and cure were attempted in order to sustain him and stimulate his appetite,
he kept on loosing weight day by day."
"But it was pleasing to Jesus, the Eternal Priest, to shorten his time of
waiting, and he took him soon to the top of Calvary, where Nicolino, became
an holocaust for everyone, offered himself to God with heroism as a victim
of Love, after the example of St.Theresa of Lisieux, who wanted him as her
guest in her city, in France, just before his passage from earth to the realm
of the blessed, passing through the narrow door indicated by Jesus for the
"I saw him again on his death-bed. His face impressed me. A gaunt, serious
and pallid face. His passage must have been a real martyrdom. His last hour
absorbed in darkness. Nicolino had tasted the bitterness of Jesus' Cup. And
he still had on his face the sign of disgust for the bitterness. I remember
now, the physiognomy of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah: "He has no appearance
or beauty / to attract our eyes / no splendor to delight us" (Is. 54, 2).
So, like Jesus, Nicolino was "eliminated from the land of the living."(Is
54,8). We conclude with the expression used by his mother's friend, who lived
for many years in Rome and assisted the young camillian student throughout
all his suffering. Simple soul, who after so many years remembers those moments
in this way: "He seemed to me like Jesus Christ on the Cross, so calm and
confident, with prayers on his lips, calling Our Lady 'Mum'. Then,
he reclined the head on the left, his tongue moved a little, and he died
so peacefully. The Doctor verified the fact, then opened the door and called
the mother: "Lady, here is your son!" As if she was Our Lady receiving Her
Crucified Son. The mother fell on her son, then knelt down crying loudly,
The title of the small and successful biography written some months after
his death, "When Love Prays", (27) was the incipit of
one of the reflections that Nicola D'Onofrio used to jot down on paper in
order to be able to follow them for along time. It was lost. But his teacher
in the major Seminary, who had seen it, attests that: "the concept, expressed
in four short verses, was connected to the words of St Augustine: "Love and
do what you like." Actually it affirmed that, when love resembles the Love
of God, trough prayer and service to Him, then it is possible to walk confidently
towards the goal."
When the Lord called him to live like St. Paul: "I complete in my flesh what
is missing in the suffering of Christ, for his body, which is the Church."(Col.
1, 24), Nicola D'Onofrio did not draw back.
Strongly united to the Mother of God, he lived with coherence the phrase
he wrote on a quiet evening in the Novitiate, "Tota vita Christi crux
fuit et martyrium," adhering to it strongly with "All for you, Jesus,
The "new maternity" that the Virgin Mary received from Her Son dying on the
Cross, "spiritual and universal to all the human kind, so that everyone,
in the pilgrimage of faith, could remain strongly united to Her up to the
Cross, and, for the strength of this Cross, every suffering, regenerated,
could from weakness of man become power of God" (
28), found its
complete realization in Nicola D'Onofrio, and remains a wonderful example
The young camillian student, having gone with joy and serenity through
the mystery of human suffering, elevated by Christ to the level of redemption
), was and remains a credible testimony of the fact that the
choice to live the Gospel Values reveals "the heavenly treasures already
present in this world, shows better the new and eternal life acquired from
the Redemption of Christ, and preannounce as well the future Resurrection
and the Glory of the Heavenly Kingdom." (
Young people who get to know his short experience on earth are fascinated
by it. Of these, we remember Marie-Louise, a girl who, wanting to follow
the invitation of John Paul II, at Compostela: "N'ayez pas peur de devenir
saints! - Don't be afraid to become saints!" wrote to us saying that
she has decided to take " Nicolas D'Onofrio as a life model...I was looking
for a contemporary model of life, and I found in the life of this young boy
the plans that I've decided to follow, a few moments ago." (
31) For years now, Marie-Louise
has dedicated her life to one of the new institutes of consecrated life in
the world, serving God through the service to the sick and poor brothers
Un amore giovane (A young love)
- writings of Nicola D'Onofrio, camillian student, edit. by Father
Ruffini, General Postulation of the Camillians, Rome 1990, Autograph Letters
n. 3, July 30, 1957, p. 117.Idem, Concluding meditation of the spiritual
exercises, morning of October 6, p. 63
Idem, It is the 2
nd meditation of the three days of Retreat, October 6,1959, p. 24:
he is 17 years old, student of the 5th class of the Grammar School,
and he is still an aspirant.
Cardone A. Quando l'Amore prega (When Love prays), Camillian Seminary,
second edition, Rome, 1968, p. 56. The Author was the Provincial Superior
at that time and had the possibility to follow and closely direct our young
student. His testimony, written in this biography, and confirmed to us shortly
before his death, remains fundamental.
The General Postulation has the inscription card, which is dated 5. XII.1958
The certificate given to us on October 8, 1982, attests that in the registers
of the Urological Ward "Malpighi" of the St. Camilles Hospital in Rome, it
is indicated that on "July 30, 1963, on the item surgery of the Camillians
Fathers, Serial number 277..."a surgical operation is done by Doctor G.
Tinarelli, and the removed part is send for the histological exam."
On August 6, 1982, the Administration of the same Hospital delivered to us,
with reference number PART 6920 DS, a certified copy of the tests done in
the Histology and Anatomy Section on August 9, 1963, by Doctor Tommaso Di
Giulio, on removed part of "Nicola D'Onofrio", with diagnosis "teratosarcoma".
The university card is dated 30.X.1963, matriculation number 17533.
There is a medical certificate for this test too.
Ruffini F., NICOLA D'ONOFRIO - Chierico camilliano - TESTIMONIANZE
(Nicola D'Onofrio, Camillian Cleric, Testimonies), General Postulation
of the Camillians, Rome, 1983, pro manuscripto, page 97, n. 1: "...it was
January-February 1964... Dear Tommasino, I am dying, but I don't care at all...I'm
only sorry for mum, because she will suffer very much..."
Idem, page 121, number
Idem, page 122, number
P.M., "IL CH. D'ONOFRIO E S.TERESINA" (The cleric d'Onofrio and St. Theresa
of Lisieux), an article in the review "Fermento di vita" of the movement
"L'Apostolato di Maria", July 12, 1964, pp. 25-31.
John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, February 11, 1984,
The Spiritual Directors and the Teachers of the Novices had the good habit
of requesting the seminary students to keep a diary. The keen attention paid
to our young student was providential.
giovane...(A young love), page 21.
It is October
5, 1959, and D'Onofrio is a student of the Vth class of the Grammar School.
Idem, p. 27.
Idem, p. 86.
Quando l'Amore prega, p. 56.
giovane..., p. 71.
Idem, p. 133.
Idem, p. 107.
Idem, pp. 155, 158.
Idem, pp. 144ff -
From Lisieux, May 16, 1964, less than a month before his death.
Giancroce P. Silvio, in "Knight of the Immaculate", September 1981,
page 4. Nicola D'Onofrio has joined the movement founded by the Martyr of
Auschwitz and present in Villamagna, and promoted it between kith and kin.
See note 4.
Salvifici Doloris, n. 26.
See Idem n. 19.
Caritatis, n. 44.
giovane..., p. IX.
St. Camilles received from God the charism to witness to the world that
ever-present love of Christ for the sick and the suffering people. To
the three vows of "Poverty, Chastity and obedience," common to all
the Religious Congregations, he decided to add a fourth vow, to be always
present, "etiam pestis incesserit" (even when the plague comes), now
translated in: "to be always present even with the risk of life". The Camillian
martyrs of charity in the first four centuries of the life of the Congregation
are about 300, of these only 252 Names are on record. There are many who
sacrificed their lives but remained anonymous because it all happened in
very tragic moments, which made it impossible to make a journalistic report.
In 1589, just a few years after the Foundation of the Congregation, there
was the first sacrifice in Pozzuoli, as they were helping a fleet of "
Many Galleys full of Spanish infantry", suffering from petechial fever
also called "typhus castrense". St. Camilles immediately sent three brothers:
"He offered their souls to the Lord immediately as the firstlings among
others, ready to sacrifice their lives in the future, in this new kind of
death, to save their neighbors".
In 1606 in Naples during an epidemic of a contagious fever, a young camillian
from Bucchianico sacrificed his life assisting the sick at the Hospital of
S.S. Annunziata: he was the nephew of Saint Onofrio de Lellis, who was still
a Novice, and was taken as a model for all the Congregation. It was
the Saint himself (his uncle) who assisted him until the end, and cried so
much at his death. Many others lost their lives in those dramatic circumstances,
but they remain anonymous, as we said. The Chroniclers of that time write
that: "So many of our religious die, that we've decided not to ring the
bells anymore during the burials, to avoid scaring the neighbors." The
terrible scourge of the plague, which struck Italy in 1656, marked the sacrifice
of 96 Camillians in Naples, and many others in different cities.
Among these were: the General Superior, Father Marco Antonio Albiti, and
the Provincial Superiors of Rome, Father Luigi Franco, and Naples, Father
Prospero Voltabio. We find in the Acts of Consultation of that time: "
Our Houses are almost desolated for the death of so many religious inhabitants...our
Poor Religion is really afflicted, deprived of her Head and of a great part
of her members...but unshakable remains the faith in the Crucified Lord who
told our Blessed Father Camilles de Lellis, with great promises, that He
intended to perpetuate our Holy Institute..."
The storms on the "little plant" of St.Camilles have passed and his
Religious Order has become stronger and branched out in the 5 Continents.
The last sacrifice of blood, in remaining always close to the sick even in
face of serious risk for life, was in Spain, during the well know Civil war
at the end of this millennium: 12 Camillians martyrs "in odium fidei"
did bear witness to the ever present love of Christ for the suffering
people. And even if they are not included in the officially recognized
List of the Saints, we are waiting for their insertion in the Martyrology
of the Jubilee.
Oh Good and Merciful God, You called Your Servant
to follow Jesus in order to offer the richness of his young mind and his ardent heart in service to your son in the the person of the sick people, glorify your faithful Servant and may the young people of today recognize in him a model of life on the way of love and sacrifice, so that all souls may be brought to You, who lives and reigns with the Son and the Holy Spirit in the hearts of your children.
anybody who desires more information or receives a grace is kindly requested
to contact us at the following addresses:
General Curia of the Camillians,
Piazza della Maddalena, 53 - 00186, Rome, Italy
Phone: +39 06.6797796.
PROVINCIAL SUPERIOR OF THE CAMILLIANS
Via Sallustiana, 24, 00187, Rome, Italy
CAMILLIAN SEMINARY: Via Pecori Giraldi, 51, 00135, Rome, Italy