IN 976, Sergius, a nobleman of Ravenna, quarrelled with a relative about an estate, and slew him in a duel. His son Romuald, horrified at his father’s crime, entered the Benedictine monastery at Classe, to do a forty days’ penance for him. This penance ended in his own vocation to religion. After three years at Classe, Romuald went to live as a hermit near Venice, where he was joined by Peter Urseolus, Duke of Venice, and together they led a most austere life in the midst of assaults from the evil spirits. St. Romuald founded many monasteries, the chief of which was that at Camaldoli, a wild desert place, where he built a church, which he surrounded with a number of separate cells for the solitaries who lived under his rule. His disciples were hence called Camaldolese. He is said to have seen here a vision of a mystic ladder, and his white-clothed monks ascending by it to heaven. Among his first disciples were Sts. Adalbert and Boniface, apostles of Russia, and Sts. John and Benedict of Poland, martyrs for the faith. He was an intimate friend of the Emperor St. Henry, and was reverenced and consulted by many great men of his time. He once passed seven years in solitude and complete silence.
In his youth St. Romuald was much troubled by temptations of the flesh. To escape them he had recourse to hunting, and in the woods first conceived his love for solitude. His father’s sin, as we have seen, first prompted him to undertake a forty days’ penance in the monastery, which he forthwith made his home. Some bad example of his fellow monks induced him to leave them and adopt the solitary mode of life. The penance of Urseolus, who had obtained his power wrongfully, brought him his first disciple; the temptations of the devil compelled him to his severe life; and finally the persecutions of others were the occasion of his settlement at Camaldoli, and the foundation of his Order. He died, as he had foretold twenty years before, alone, in his monastery of Val Castro, on the 19th of June, 1027.
Reflection. —St. Romuald’s life teaches us that, if we only follow the impulse of the Holy Spirit, we shall easily find good everywhere, even on the most unlikely occasions. Our own sins, the sins of others, their ill will against us, or our own mistakes and misfortunes, are equally capable of leading us, with softened hearts, to the feet of God’s mercy and love.
Lives Of The Saints By Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. Edition www.globalgrey.co.uk
Saint Romuald, founded the Camaldolese monastic order during the early eleventh century.
Working within the Western Church’s Benedictine tradition, he revived the primitive
monastic practice of hermit life, allowing for greater solitude in a communal setting.
Born into an aristocratic family during the middle of the tenth century, Romuald grew up in
a luxurious and worldly environment, where he learned little in the way of self-restraint or
religious devotion. Yet he also felt an unusual attraction toward the simplicity of monastic
life, prompted by the beauty of nature and the experience of solitude .
It was not beauty or tranquility, but a shocking tragedy that spurred him to act on this
desire. When Romuald was 20 years old, he saw his father Sergius kill one of his relatives in
a dispute over some property. Disgusted by the crime he had witnessed, the young man
went to the Monastery of St. Apollinaris to do 40 days of penance for his father.
These 40 days confirmed Romuald’s monastic calling, as they became the foundation for an
entire life of penance. But this would not be lived out at St. Apollinaris, where Romuald’s
strict asceticism brought him into conflict with some of the other monks. He left the area
near Ravenna and went to Venice, where he became the disciple of the hermit Marinus.
Both men went on to encourage the monastic vocation of Peter Urseolus, a Venetian
political leader who would later be canonized as a saint. When Peter joined a French
Benedictine monastery, Romuald followed him and lived for five years in a nearby
In the meantime, Romuald’s father Sergius had followed his son’s course, repenting of his
sins and becoming a monk himself. Romuald returned to Italy to help his father, after
learning that Sergius was struggling in his vocation. Through his son’s guidance, Sergius
found the strength to persist in religious life.
After guiding his penitent father in the way of salvation, Romuald traveled throughout Italy
serving the Church. By 1012 he had helped to establish or reform almost 100 hermitages
and monasteries, though these were not connected to one another in the manner of a
distinct religious order.
The foundations of the Camaldolese order were not laid until 1012 – when a piece of land
called the ”Camaldoli,” located in the Diocese of Arezzo, was granted to Romuald. It became
the site of five hermits’ quarters, and a full monastery soon after. This combination of
hermits’ cells and community life, together with other distinctive features, gave this
monastery and its later affiliates a distinct identity and charism.
Romuald’s approach to the contemplative life, reminiscent of the early Desert Fathers, can
be seen in the short piece of writing known as his “Brief Rule.” It reads as follows:
“Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your
thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms
– never leave it.”
“If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot
accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart
and to understand them with your mind. And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give
up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.”
“Realize above all that you are in God’s presence, and stand there with the attitude of one
who stands before the emperor. Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the
grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings
Credit to Catholic News Agency
Connection for our time: We see in the life of this great saint, not only his own conversion,
but the conversion of his own father. So many of us struggle with family members who have
fallen away from the faith and who live lives steeped in grave sin. Let us call to mind the
example of this saint and not despair at what is possible if we do penance and show our
loved ones a truly holy example.