St Benedict Menni was born in Milan, Italy on 11th March 1841. He joined the Brothers of St John of God when he was 19. At the age of 26, Pope Pius IX sent him to restore the order of St John of God in Spain –which had been founded in 1572 but banned in 1836 on account of a religious revolution.
Without money and without knowing the language, he went to Barcelona (Spain) and by the end the first year, Benito Menni had opened the first hospital for physically and mentally ill children. He was a pioneer in mental health, insisting on a holistic approach. He founded 17 psychiatric hospitals in Spain. There he met two young ladies and with them he founded the Congregation of the Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to care for women with mental illness.
Despite his work, his life was marked by suffering, false accusations and rejection. St Benedict Menni died in exile in Dynan, France, on 24th April 1914. He was canonised by Pope John Paul II on 21st November 1999.
Thanks to St Benedict Menni’s deep and dynamic relationship with the compassionate and healing Christ, he was a pioneer in the Mental Health Care of the sick at the end of XIX century. He had a special gift to identify the needs of the people around him and respond to them promptly. He had an integral vision of the human being.
He was an efficient administrator, centred on the well-being of the people, working in partnership with the National Health Policy and creating special care model in which both science and charity were combined. With a creative and innovative generosity he fully collaborated for a greater social justice, and he was a Prophet of hospitality in the reality of mental health of his time. His person and his criteria of action are a reference for us in our mission today and in the future.
Today, more than ever, we need to identify ourselves with St Benedict Menni with his ‘Heart without Frontiers’ that made him dream and bring about to reality a new model of care for the sick. The life and work of St Benedict Menni can be understood in the light of Jesus of Nazareth as a Good Samaritan.