Saint Fabiola Biography (?-399)

hospital founder

A member of a wealthy Roman family, Fabiola became a Christian ascetic, selling all her belongings and founding the first hospital in the Western world. Despite her aristocratic background, she was known for treating patients herself, even those whose wounds and injuries were so repulsive that they would have been rejected by others.

Before she turned to asceticism (the practice of self-denial and spiritual discipline), Fabiola caused considerable scandal in Rome by divorcing her firsthusband and marrying another while he was still alive. Later writing the primary information about Fabiola, St. Jerome suggested that Fabiola's first marriage was marked by spousal abuse: "So terrible were the faults imputed to her former husband that not even a prostitute or a common slave could have putup with them." Her remarriage, however, violated the ordinances of the Churchand she was forced to remove herself from communion. After her second husband died, Fabiola put on sackcloth during the Easter season, publically confessed her error in the basilica of Lateranus, and was received back into communion by the pope.

Under the influence of St. Jerome, she then sold all her property and devotedherself to practising asceticism and serving the poor and sick.

"She was the first person to found a hospital, into which she might gather sufferers out of the streets, and where she might nurse the unfortunate victimsof sickness and want," wrote St. Jerome. "Often did she carry on her own shoulders persons infected with jaundice or with filth," Jerome explained. "Often too did she wash away the matter discharged from wounds which others, eventhough men, could not bear to look at....I know of many wealthy and devout persons who, unable to overcome their natural repugnance to such sights, perform this work of mercy by the agency of others, giving money instead of personal aid."

In 395, Fabiola travelled to Bethlehem. She returned to Rome after an invasion of the Huns made remaining in Bethlehem dangerous. "Fabiola, used as she was to moving from city to city and having no property other but what her baggage contained, returned to her native land; to live in poverty where she had once been rich, to lodge in the house of another...." Jerome wrote. Back in Rome, Fabiola worked with Pammachius, a former senator, to establish a hospicefor pilgrims visiting the city. She also continued her medical work until herdeath on December 27, 399. All of Rome is said to have attended her funeral.A feast for Fabiola is celebrated on December 27.

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