Carlo Borromeo, count, a saint and cardinal of the Roman church, born at Arona on Lago Maggiore, Oct. 2, 1538, died in Milan, Nov. 4, 1584. From his earliest childhood he was remarkable for his virtues. He studied civil and canon law in the university of Pavia, and took his degree in 1559. At the close of the same year his maternal uncle, Cardinal de' Medici, became Pope Pius IV., and successively made him archbishop of Milan, a cardinal, grand penitentiary, and president of the Roman council. He lived in the midst of great splendor, but in his own habits was temperate, studious, and devoted to the duties of his station. He instituted many reforms in the administration of affairs in the states of the church, and carried them into effect with vigor and wisdom. Through his agency the council of Trent was reopened, and its deliberations concluded. On the death of his elder brother he was urged, even by the pope himself, to leave the service of the church and take his position at the head of his family. This he refused to do, and determined to go to Milan and devote himself altogether to the interests of his diocese. He was greeted with great enthusiasm by the people, but before he had fairly addressed himself to the work before him was recalled to Rome by the death of the pope.
His influence had much effect in securing the election of Pius V. He then returned to Milan, and set himself to work vigorously correcting abuses and reforming the manners of priests and people. He met with considerable opposition, and the Ilumiliati attempted to have him assassinated, in consequence of which the order was abolished, and its revenues were distributed among the poor. The cardinal instituted the order of Oblates, founded a great number of schools, and is generally regarded as the first to establish Sunday schools. He associated with himself in his labors of reform a council chosen from the diocese at large, and put down with a resolute hand the pretensions of his suffragan bishops who resisted his measures of church discipline. He succeeded also in improving the secular government of Milan. His charities were munificent, not only his ecclesiastic revenues but his personal fortune and the works of art and ornaments of his palace being devoted to the relief of the poor and suffering. During the plague of 1576 he organized and superintended measures for the care of the sick and the burial of the dead. The magistrates had fled, and he had for a time the entire control of the city. The exertion, however, was too great for his physical strength, and his health soon became broken.
His death was regarded as a national calamity, and was universally mourned throughout Italy. He was buried beneath the high altar in the cathedral of Milan, and his tomb became a shrine visited by pilgrims from all parts of the country. He was canonized by Paul V. in 1610. A collection of his works, including sermons, letters, the acts of his diocesan synods, and conferences delivered at the academy of the Vatican, under the title of Nodes Vaticance, appeared at Milan in 1599 (2 vols, fol.), and was republished with notes by Sax (5 vols, fol., Milan, 1747). The biography of St. Charles Borromeo has been written by Godeau, bishop of Venice (2 vols. 12mo, Paris, 1748), by Tou-ron (3 vols. 12mo, Paris, 1761), and by the Italian Guissano (1751). A life in English by E. IT. Thompson was published in London in 1858. His statue was erected near Arona, and his festival is celebrated Nov. 4.