Saint Charles Borromeo was born in Arona, Italy on October 2, 1538. His father was Count Gilberto Il Borromeo and his mother was Margaret de’Medici, the older sister of the future Pope Pius IV.
The Medicis were a powerful family with ties to nearly every political and religious organization in Europe. Unfortunately, they often abused their power and their connections to the Catholic Church left many with a bad impression of religion.
When he was just 12 years old, Charles Borromeo was given a tonsure and made the superior of a wealthy Benedictine abbey. However, he was not overly intelligent and he suffered from a speech impediment. Consequently, he struggled to gain the education necessary for the position that had been forced on him.
When his uncle was elected Pope in 1559, Charles was appointed the Archbishop of Milan. He was barely able to spend any time in his diocese, however, because the Holy Father almost constantly kept him in Rome as an adviser.
Charles was always what one would consider a “good Christian”. However, it was not until the death of his brother in 1562 that he began walking on the path to sainthood. When Pope Pius IV died in 1565, Charles was, at last, able to give attention to the archdiocese of Milan. He used nearly all of his personal money to open schools and hospitals. More importantly, he set about reforming a city that had not seen a solid spiritual leader in more than 80 years.
His reforms, however, were not overly popular. In fact, one religious order known as the “Humiliati” bribed a priest to assassinate the Archbishop. On October 26, 1569, Jerome Donati Farina fired a gun at Charles Borromeo while the latter was praying vespers in his private chapel. He miraculously survived.
In 1576, Charles endeared himself to the people of Milan after he refused to leave when the city was struck by the bubonic plague. He personally tended the sick and dying even though many other priests and the political leaders of Milan had run away.
The last part of Charles’ life was not very happy. He suffered from extremely bad health and his desire to remove corruption from the Church made him the enemy of many people. In October of 1584, he predicted that he would not live much longer. Saint Charles Borromeo died in his sleep on November 3, 1584.
During March of 1605, two bishops were sent from Rome to identify the body of Charles Borromeo as part of his beatification process. On the 6th of this month, his body was discovered to be incorrupt. More than 400 years later, his body is still intact and can be seen at his shrine in Milan.
Saint Charles Borromeo is considered the patron saint of spiritual directors and is often invoked to prevent stomach ulcers. His feast day is November 4.
Sources: Butler’s Lives of the Saints
Carroll, Joan Cruz “The Incorruptibles”