Today is the feast day of Saint Gerard Majella. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Gerard Majella was born in Italy at Muro Lucano, south of Naples, in 1726. His parents Domenico and Benedetta had him christened on the day of his birth, because of his obvious frailty. They had already lost a baby boy, also called Gerard, who only lived a week. As a child of five, when he would go to pray before a statue of the Virgin with her Child, the Infant Jesus regularly descended to give him a little white bun.
Twelve years later, Benedetta would be left a widow, with four young children to support. Gerard’s education was cut short; he was apprenticed to a local tailor, and later became valet to the temperamental bishop of Lacedonia.
The circumstances of Gerard’s entry into religious life are legendary in Redemptorist circles, and are the stuff of romance. In 1749, the Redemptorists came to Muro to give a mission. Gerard was then 23 years old. He met with the superior of the mission, Fr Cafaro, and begged to be admitted to the Redemptorist Congregation. Though impressed by Gerard’s obvious sincerity and holiness, Gerard’s bad health – he looked “more a ghost than a man,” said a witness – and lack of formal education put Fr Cafaro off. He refused to accept Gerard, and told him to forget about the idea.
Meanwhile, Benedetta had found out about the plan. On the day the missioners were leaving town, she locked Gerard in his bedroom so he could not follow them. But Gerard made a rope from the sheets, lowered himself down, and pursued the missioners out of town. A note left behind declared that he had gone off to become a saint.
Twelve miles later he caught up with the mission team. On a country road that May afternoon, Gerard knelt before Fr Cafaro and again begged to be allowed to join the Redemptorists. Eventually, Fr Cafaro gave in, sending Gerard to the Iliceto community with some of the most famous words in the Redemptorist annals: “I am sending you a useless brother.”
1751 he made his profession, and to the usual vows he added one by which he bound himself to do always that which seemed to him more perfect. St. Alphonsus considered him a miracle of obedience. He not only obeyed the orders of superiors when present, but also when absent knew and obeyed their desires. Although weak in body, he did the work of three, and his great charity earned for him the title of Father of the Poor. He was a model of every virtue, and so drawn to Our Lord in the tabernacle that he had to do violence to himself to keep away.
The most famous of Saint Gerard’s miracles occurred when a mason fell from a scaffolding during the construction of a building. Gerard had been forbidden by his Superior to work any more miracles without permission. He stopped the man in mid-air, telling him to wait until he had obtained permission to save him. He received it, and the man descended gently to the ground. When a plague broke out, he had the gift of bilocation; he was seen in more than one house at the same time, assisting the sick.
Not a page of his life, it is said, was without prodigies, all tending to the glory of God and motivated by prodigious charity towards his neighbor. He was condemned falsely at one time, as a result of a connivance between two individuals; the Superior General, Saint Alphonsus Liguori himself, who did not know Gerard personally, was induced to believe the black calumny. Later the guilty ones wrote him a letter confessing their fault, and Gerard, who had said nothing at all when relegated into solitude, was asked why he had not said he was innocent. He replied that the Rule required that the religious not defend themselves.
Saint Gerard Majella’s last will consisted of a small note on the door of his cell saying, “Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills.” He died on October 16, 1755 in Caposele, Campania, of tuberculosis, aged 29.
He was beatified in 1893 by Pope Leo XIII and canonized in 1904 by Saint Pius X.
Image: San Gerardo Maiella, chiesa di Santa Brigida, Napoli, opera anteriore al 1905. Photo: Vito Calise (5)
Research by REGINA Staff