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The Patron Saint Of Gamblers

July 24, 2019 Featured Today No Comments

By RAY CAVANAUGH

Whether one views it as fun or as a reckless waste of money, gambling has long been a popular activity the world over. In fact, gamblers even have their own patron saint, Cajetan (also known as Gaetano). August 7 is his feast day.
He was born in 1480 in Vicenza in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. Raised in an aristocratic family, as a young man he studied theology and law at the University of Padua, from where he obtained degrees in both civil and canon law. He proceeded to work as a diplomat on behalf of Pope Julius II.
In 1513, Cajetan resigned from his position and devoted the next three years to preparing for the priesthood. Ordained in 1516, he returned to his hometown of Vicenza in 1518. There he joined the Oratory of St. Jerome, which — according to Butler’s Lives of the Saints — included only men from underprivileged backgrounds.
People who knew Cajetan regarded his joining such an order as an insult to his patrician family’s honor. Cajetan remained unfazed by this idea and instead devoted his attention to caring for the most disfigured patients in the local hospital. He also founded a hospital for those suffering from incurable conditions in his hometown of Vicenza.
Along with these pursuits, Cajetan served as a parish priest. Thomas J. Craughwell’s book This Saint’s for You! related how Cajetan would make non-monetary bets with parishioners who sought his guidance on various issues. If his advice helped, then they would have to “pay up” by lighting the holy candles. If his advice did not help, then he would agree to light the candles. In this rather harmless way, he became associated with “gambling.”
Cajetan was a priest when the Protestant Reformation was gaining momentum. He strove to combat this phenomenon by establishing an order, the Theatines, who emphasized pastoral care, dedicated preaching, and correctly conducted worship, as stated by Butler’s Lives of the Saints.
Cajetan had been dismayed by the state of many Catholic clergy in that era, and — through the Theatine Order, which were established in 1524 — he sought to set an example of how Catholic clergy should operate. Among the Order’s four original members was Giovanni Pietro Caraffa, who later became Pope Paul IV.
Due to political turbulence, Cajetan and his colleagues had to relocate to Venice in 1527. He tirelessly attended to people in need during a plague and subsequent famine around the year 1530. The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that in 1533 he founded a Theatine house in Naples, where, among other duties, he kept a watchful eye on any advances made by Protestantism.
Over the ensuing years, Cajetan exhausted himself in his efforts to improve the spiritual atmosphere in Naples and mitigate the city’s civil unrest. He fell ill in the summer of 1547. Even on his deathbed, he refused a mattress and insisted on a hard board instead. In this austere manner, he died on August 7, 1547, at age 66. He was beatified in 1629 by Pope Urban VIII and canonized in 1671 by Pope Clement X.
The Theatine Order thrived in Italy and by the 1700s, other Theatine houses saw establishment in Munich, Prague, Salzburg, and other venues. The Order lasted for about four centuries, until it dissolved in the early 1900s.
The twenty-first century has seen word circulate that Cajetan also serves as a patron saint of gamers (people who play video/computer games, often excessively). But before you tell your video-game addict nephew that he has a patron saint, it turns out that this information is apocryphal. There is no official patron saint of gamers, not yet anyway.
As for Cajetan’s well-established gambling patronage, it extends to both the occasional wagerer who could use a bit of luck as well as to full-blown gambling addicts who seek to change their predicament.
Aside from Cajetan, gambling and the Church have also intersected in the tradition of betting on papal elections. On this activity records exist dating back to the fifteenth century, according to Liam O’Brien’s Don’t Bet the Farm, which adds that such gambling likely existed long before this era as well.
A complex papal betting market had emerged by the mid-sixteenth century, with banks in Rome offering odds on cardinals viewed as having a chance at the papacy. Such betting fell out of popularity after 1591, when Pope Gregory XIV threatened excommunication against participants.
Despite the lofty penalty, gambling on the conclave was popular in Italy once again by the late-nineteenth century. The late-twentieth century saw a British archbishop warn Catholics against engaging in such bets. And the 2005 conclave saw security guards remove a prominent Irish bookmaker from St. Peter’s Square, as reported by the BBC.
Though bookmakers are clearly unwelcome on Vatican grounds, the Internet age has expanded the opportunities to wager on papal elections. That said, bettors who seek to make money on Popes might be asking too much of St. Cajetan’s patronage.

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