Saint Charles Borromeo was born on October 2, 1538, into a noble family of Milan and was also related to the powerful Medici family. But Charles desired to devote himself to the Church. His uncle, Cardinal de Medici, was elected pope in 1559( he took the name Pius IV). Pope Pius IV placed Charles in the office of cardinal deacon and made Charles the administrator of the Archdiocese of Milan – and all while he was still a layman and a student. But it is because of his intellectual gifts that he was entrusted with several important offices connected with the Vatican. Later in life, he was appointed secretary of state, which carries the responsibility for the papal states.
In the midst of all this, Charles’ older brother passed away. The death was untimely, but it is what brought Charles to his definite decision to become an ordained priest. His relative objected – they wished to see Charles marry and have children. But Charles was adamant about his calling, and, at the age of 25, he was ordained to the priesthood. Very soon after his ordination, he was consecrated as the Bishop of Milan.
St. Charles Borromeo lived during the tumultuous times of the Protestant Reformation and was also involved in the final years of the Council of Trent. Charles had encouraged the pope to renew the Council in 1562 after it had been suspended for 10 years. Using his mind and persuasion, much credit is due to St. Charles for keeping the Council of Trent going, when at many times it was on the verge of breaking up. For the Council, St Charles himself, took up the task of correspondence during the final phase – NOT AN EASY JOB!!
After the Council of Trent drew to a close, Saint Charles was allowed to devote his time to the Archdiocese of Milan, where religious and moral reform was needed from within. Saint Charles initiated a provincial council, made up of all the bishops under his leadership. This Council focused on every phase of Catholic life from among the laity to the clergy and the specific changes and reforms needed therein. Saint Charles new that the changes had to start with the clergy, if the laity were to change then they must first be given a good example of the desired reforms by the bishops and other clergy. The people needed a reformed Catholic example, and Saint Charles knew this.
Saint Charles took the initiative in being a Christ-like example. Most of his income went to various charities. He gave up all luxuries and imposed harsh penances on himself. He denounced honors, esteem and influence to become poor. During the plague and famine of 1576, he tried to feed 60,000 to 70,000 people DAILY!! This he accomplished by getting loans of large sums that required years to repay. Charles saw Christ in his neighbor and knew that charity done for the least of his flock was charity done for Christ. Whilst the civil authorities and powers fled during the height of the plague, Saint Charles Borromeo stayed in the city and he ministered to the sick and the dying and continued to help those in need.
By the age of 46, the overwhelming work and burdens of his office began to affect his health and Saint Charles gave up his ghost. The Church that he had worked so hard to make more human, recognized him as a saint in 1610. His feast day is celebrated on November 4th.