St Gerard Majella
Why is St. Gerard Majella invoked by thousands as "The Mother's Saint"? It might seem appropriate
that a married woman, who had been blessed with the privilege of motherhood, would be chosen
by Divine providence for this office. Thus, it appears strange that a man, and a religious lay
brother at that, should be so acclaimed. However, the fact remains that countless favors and
prodigies for mothers and their children have been obtained through the intercession of
St. Gerard Majella. While living, he helped mothers in need.
Since his death in 1755, there has been a continuous flow of extraordinary favors granted to
mothers who prayed to him. Today, there are millions who look to him for help in obtaining
the blessings of and in enduring the difficulties of motherhood.
Gerard, the youngest of the five children of Dominic and Benedetta Galella Majella, was born
on April 6, 1726, in the small town of Muro, Italy, a few miles from Naples. He was very sickly at
birth and was immediately taken to the Cathedral church for Baptism.
Even his childhood was marked by special graces from God. When he was only five, he was accustomed
to go to a small chapel near his home to pray. Often, he would return home from these visits with a loaf of bread. When asked about this, he would say that "a most beautiful boy" had given it to him. One day his sister, Elizabeth, followed him to the chapel and watched him while he knelt in prayer before a statue of the Blessed Mother holding the Child Jesus. Then she saw a strange thing happen. The Child Jesus left His Mother's arms and came down to play with the little boy. After some time, the Child gave Gerard a loaf of bread and returned to His Mother's arms. This was something of a prelude to the miraculous event in which the Archangel Michael gave him his first Holy Communion. When Gerard was twelve, the sudden death of his father made it necessary for him to leave school and begin work. His mother apprenticed him to a tailor so that he could follow the trade of his father. However, his employer took a strange dislike to him and often showered him with blows and curses. Gerard accepted the persecution as being permitted by God for his spiritual good. Once, he was seen to smile even while he was being beaten, and when asked about this, he said: "I was smiling because I saw the hand of God striking me."
After his apprenticeship as a tailor, Gerard served for some time as a houseboy for the Bishop of Lacedonia, who was recuperating in Muro. Again, he manifested the virtue of patience by silently bearing the irascible temper of this otherwise worthy man. It is during this time that one of his earliest miracles took place. One day, he accidentally dropped the key of the house in the well. With saintly simplicity, he lowered a small statue of the Infant Jesus into the well. To the amazement of the onlookers, when Gerard raised the statue the lost key was held in its hand.
Such a youth would naturally turn toward the religious life. Three times, however, he was refused admittance into one religious order because of his frail health. Still determined to become a lay brother, a mission conducted by the Redemptorist Fathers in Muro gave him new hope. He asked to be admitted as a candidate in their order, but again was refused because they felt that his health would not be equal to the rigours of monastery life. So persistent was the young man, however, that Father Paul Cafaro, the superior of the missionaries, advised his mother to lock him in his room on the night they were leaving Muro, lest he try to follow them. Gerard's mother did so, but the next morning when she unlocked the door, she found an empty bed, an open window from which hung a sheet, and a note on the table that read: "I have gone to become a saint." Gerard caught up with the missionaries just as they were leaving town. After many entreaties and refusals, Father Cafaro finally gave in and sent him to the rector of the Redemptorist house at Iliceto with this note of recommendation: "I am sending you a useless lay brother."
According to the testimony of those who worked with him, this "useless" lay brother did the work of four men. In his six short years as a Redemptorist, Gerard advanced rapidly in sanctity. His prayer life was continuous and his spirit of obedience was so perfect that several times he even appeared at distant places in response to the unspoken requests of his absent superior. Even his confreres came to honor him as a Saint.
Much of his life as a brother was spent in traveling with and assisting the missionaries. They deemed him an invaluable companion because he had such remarkable success in bringing sinners to the Sacraments and in inducing many to repair their past bad Confessions. People followed him everywhere, and already called him "il santo" - the Saint.
True sanctity must always be tested by the cross; and so it was. In 1754, Gerard had to undergo a great trial, one that may well have merited for him the special power to assist mothers and their children. One of his works of zeal was that of encouraging and assisting girls who wanted to enter the convent. Often, he would even secure the necessary dowry for some poor girl who could not otherwise be admitted into a religious order.
Neria Caggiano was one of the girls thus assisted by Gerard. However, she found convent life distasteful and within three weeks had returned home. To explain her action, Neria began to circulate falsehoods about the lives of the nuns, and when the good people of Muro refused to believe such stories about a convent recommended by Gerard, she determined to save her reputation by destroying the good name of her benefactor. Accordingly, in a letter to St. Alphonsus, the superior of Gerard, she accused the latter of sins of impurity with the young daughter of a family at whose house Gerard often stayed on his missionary journeys. Gerard was called by St. Alphonsus to answer the accusation. Instead of defending himself, however, he remained silent, following the example of his Divine Master. In the face of his silence, St. Alphonsus could do nothing but impose a severe penance on the young religious. Gerard was denied the privilege of receiving Holy Communion and forbidden all contact with outsiders. It was not easy for Gerard to give up his labors on behalf of souls, but this was a small penance compared with being deprived of Holy Communion. He felt this so keenly that he even asked to be freed from the privilege of serving Mass for fear that the vehemence of his desire to receive would make him seize the consecrated Host from the very hands of the priest at the altar. Later, Neria fell dangerously ill and wrote a letter to St. Alphonsus confessing that her charges against Gerard had been sheer fabrication and calumny. Alphonsus was filled with joy by the news of the innocence of his son. But Gerard, who had not been depressed during this ordeal, was not overly elated in the hour of his vindication. In both cases, he felt that the will of God had been fulfilled, and that was sufficient for him.
Of few Saints have there been so many wonderful events recorded as of St. Gerard. The process of his beatification and canonization reveals that his miracles were of the widest variety and profusion. He frequently fell into ecstasy while meditating on God or His holy will, and at such times, his body was seen raised several feet above the ground. There are authentic records to prove that on more than one occasion he was granted the unusual miracle of being seen and spoken to in two places at the same time.
When one reads about the life of St. Gerard Majella, extraordinary happenings seem as
commonplace. Such as: he restored life to a boy who had fallen from a high cliff, he blessed
the scanty supply of wheat belonging to a poor family and it lasted until the next harvest,
several times he multiplied the bread that he was distributing to the poor.
One day he walked across water to lead to the safety of the shore a boatload of fishermen
threatened by the stormy waves. Many times, Gerard told people of secret sins on
their souls which they had been too ashamed to confess. Gerard brought them to
penance and forgiveness.
His miraculous apostolate for mothers also began during his lifetime. Once, as he was leaving
the home of his friends, the Pirofalo family, one of the daughters called after him that he
had forgotten his handkerchief. In a moment of prophetic insight Gerard said:
"Keep it. It will be useful to you some day." The handkerchief was treasured as a precious
souvenir of Gerard. Years later, the girl, to whom he had given it, was in danger of death
in childbirth. She remembered the words of Gerard and called for the handkerchief.
Almost immediately, the danger subsided and she delivered a healthy child. On another occasion, the prayers of Gerard were asked by a mother when both she and her unborn child were in danger. Both she and the child came through the ordeal safely.
Always frail in health, it was evident that Gerard was not to live long. In 1755, he was seized by violent hemorrhages and dysentery and his death was expected at any moment. However, he had yet to teach a great lesson on the power of obedience. His director commanded him to get well, if it were God's will, and immediately his illness seemed to disappear. He left his bed to rejoin the community. He knew, however, that this cure was only temporary and that he had less than a month to live. Soon, he returned to his bed and began to prepare himself for death. He was absolutely abandoned to the will of God and had this sign placed on his door: "The will of God is done here, as God wills it and as long as He wills it." He was often heard to say this prayer: "My God, I wish to die in order to do Thy most holy will." Between midnight and the early morning of October 15, his innocent soul went back to God.
At the death of Gerard, the Brother sacristan, in his excitement, rang the bell as if for a feast, instead of tolling it for a death. Thousands came to view the body of "their Saint" and to try to find a last souvenir of the one who had helped them so often. After his mother's death, miracles attributed to the intercession of Gerard began to be reported from almost all parts of Italy. In 1893, Pope Leo XIII beatified him, and on December 11, 1904, Pope Pius X canonized him as a Saint.
Devotion to St. Gerard spread rapidly beyond Italy and throughout the world, and he came to be called "the wonder worker of our day." Because he had so often helped sinners to make a good Confession, he was adopted by many as the patron of a good Confession. Others revere the young apprentice tailor and Redemptorist lay brother as the patron of workingmen. Because he had so much difficulty getting into a religious order and because he sent so many girls to the convent he is often called upon as the patron of vocations.
Above all, the mothers of Italy took Gerard to their hearts and made him their patron. At the process of his beatification, one witness testified that he was known as "il santo dei felice parti" - the Saint of happy childbirth. His fame in this regard spread so much that, in many countries of the world, mothers would not think of entering into their duty without having a medal of St. Gerard. This devotion has become very popular in America, both in the United States and in Canada. Thousands of mothers have experienced his power. Many hospitals dedicate their maternity wards to him and give medals and prayer leaflets of St. Gerard to their patients. Thousands of children have been named after St. Gerard by parents who are convinced that it was his intercession that helped them to have healthy children. Even girls are named after him, and it is interesting how variously "Gerard" is given a feminine form. Some of the more popular names are: Gerarda, Geralyn, Gerardine, Gerianne and Gerardette.
St. Gerard obtains great favors for mothers and their children, but that is not his only office. He also teaches parents and especially mothers the duties of their state in life. The terrible and all too common evils in marriage today are the crimes of contraception and abortion. Under pretext of poor health, or lack of material means, or fear of the future or of what others may say, so many women accept pagan practices and limit the size of their families by sinful means. The only adequate defense against this evil is an unlimited trust in God.
One of Gerard's greatest virtues was trust, and his favorite slogan was "God will provide." Once while he was on a pilgrimage with some clerical students, he used the last few coins to buy some flowers for the altar. When he placed the flowers before the altar he said, "Lord, I have taken care of You. Now You take care of my students and me." And the Lord did provide sufficient money for the rest of the trip. When false accusations were made against him, to all the entreaties of friends to defend himself he replied, "It is for God to see to that." In poor health and in danger of death his trust in God did not waver. Thus, Gerard showed himself as a model that mothers can imitate. If they are to avoid the forces of “anti-life,” the marriage must be based on confidence in God.
Here, at St. Vincent de Paul, St. Gerard Majella holds a special place in our hearts. We like to say that St. Gerard Majella is "the Pro-Life Saint.” Several of our own parishioners have experienced miracles that they attribute to the intercession of St. Gerard. The statue of St. Gerard that is to the right of our altar depicts the Saint holding a crucifix of our Lord. In his outstretched hand is a reliquary containing pieces of bone of St. Gerard. This first-class relic is certified and authentic.