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Saint Joseph Cottolengo (1786-1842) was a parish priest of Turin, Italy, when he was called to the bedside of a poor, pregnant woman. The woman had been refused by hospitals because of her poverty and because she was contagious with tuberculosis and a fever. After Father Cottolengo anointed her and baptized her newborn, both mother and child died. The sight of the squalid conditions, the despair of her surviving children, and the lack of access to medical care for the poor changed his life.
Father Joseph sold everything he had to open a few rooms in a house, and with the assistance of volunteers and a doctor, he turned it into a hospital. From this beginning in 1827 and for the rest of his life, he spent himself on this vocation. With occasional setbacks—such as being closed by the government during a cholera epidemic—the number of hospitals and homes under his direction constantly grew. All the donations he was given were poured back into his homes, though he was also continually close to bankruptcy. He established multiple organizations: religious brothers and sisters to serve the sick; societies to pray for the poor souls in Purgatory; and hermits, priests, and Carmelite nuns to pray for the Church. Worn out by his work, he contracted typhoid fever and died peacefully after saying goodbye to his spiritual children.
Saint Joseph, help me to have an open heart for the sufferings of others and a willing body to serve them.