OVERVIEW OF THE LIFE OF ST. GERARD
Why is St. Gerard Majella invoked by thousands
as "The Mother's Saint"? It appears strange that a man, and a religious
lay brother at that, should be so acclaimed. It might seem that a
woman, who had been blessed with the privilege of motherhood, would be
chosen by Divine providence for this office.
However, the fact is that the countless favours
and prodigies obtained for mothers and their children through the
of St. Gerard seem to suggest the role selected for him. Although the
has not officially proclaimed him the patron of mothers, it is hoped
one day she may do so. During his life he helped mothers in need; since
his death, in 1755, there has been a continuous flow of extraordinary
granted to mothers who prayed to him; today there are millions who look
to him for help in obtaining the blessing of motherhood and in the
attendant on motherhood.
Gerard, the youngest of the five children of
Dominic and Benedetta Galella Majella, was born on April 6, 1726, in
small town of Muro, which is a few miles distant from Naples in
Italy. He was very sickly at birth and was immediately taken to the
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
near his home to pray. Often he would return home from these visits
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
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
to play with the little boy. After some time the Child gave Gerard a
of bread and returned to His Mother's arms. This was something of a
to the miraculous event in which the Archangel Michael gave him his
THE WORKING MAN
When Gerard was twelve, the sudden death of his
father made it necessary for him to leave school and to begin to work.
His mother apprenticed him to a tailor so that he could follow the
of his father. His employer took a strange dislike to him and often
him with blows and curses. Gerard accepted the persecution as being
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
I saw the hand of God striking me." After his apprenticeship as a
Gerard served for some time as a houseboy for the Bishop of Lacedonia,
who was recuperating in Muro. Again he manifested the virtue of
by silently bearing the irascible temper of this otherwise worthy man.
During this time one of his early miracles took place. One day he
dropped the key of the house in the well. With saintly simplicity he
a small statue of the Infant Jesus into the well. To the amazement of
onlookers, when Gerard raised the statue the lost key was held in its
Such a youth would naturally turn toward the
religious life. Three times, however, he was refused admittance into
religious order because of his frail health. He was still determined to
become a lay brother, and the occasion of a mission conducted by the
Fathers in Muro gave him new hope. He asked to be admitted as a
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
missionaries, advised his mother to lock him in his room on the night
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
"I have gone to become a Saint."
Gerard had caught up with the missionaries
just as they were leaving town. After many entreaties and refusals,
Cafaro finally gave in and sent him on to the rector of the
house at Iliceto with this note of recommendation: "1 am sending you a
useless lay brother."
The "useless" lay brother was to do the work
of four men, according to the testimony of those who worked with him.
his six short years as a Redemptorist, Gerard advanced rapidly in
His prayer life was continual and his spirit of obedience was so
that several times he even appeared at distant places in response to
unspoken requests of his absent superior. Even his confreres came to
him as a Saint.
Much of his life as a brother was spent in
traveling with and assisting the missionaries. They deemed him an
companion, because he had such remarkable success in bringing sinners
the Sacraments and in inducing many to repair their past bad
People followed him everywhere, and already called him "il santo"
True sanctity must always be tested by the
cross, and it was in 1754 that 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
assisting girls who wanted to enter the convent. Often he would even
the necessary dowry for some poor girl who could not otherwise be
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
falsehoods about the lives of the nuns, and when the good people of
refused to believe such stories about a convent
recommended by Gerard, she determined to save her reputation by
the good name of her benefactor. Accordingly, in a letter to St.
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
Gerard was called by St. Alphonsus to answer
the accusation. Instead of defending himself, however, he remained
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 labours
in behalf of souls, but this was a small penance compared with being
of Holy Communion. He felt this so keenly that he even asked to be
from the privilege of serving Mass for fear that the vehemence of his
to receive would make him seize the consecrated Host from the very
of the priest at the altar.
Some time later Neria fell dangerously ill
and wrote a letter to St. Alphonsus confessing that her charges against
Gerard had been sheer fabrication and calumny. The Saint was filled
joy by the news of the innocence of his son. But Gerard, who had not
depressed in the time of his trial, was not unduly elated in the hour
In both cases he felt that the will of God
had been fulfilled, and that was sufficient for him.
THE MIRACLE WORKER
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
He frequently fell into ecstasy while meditating
on God or His holy will and at such times his body was seen raised
feet above the ground. There are authentic records to prove that on
than one occasion he was granted the unusual miracle of being seen and
spoken to in two places at the same time.
Most of his miracles were performed in the
service of others. Such extraordinary happenings as the following begin
to seem commonplace when one reads his life. 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;
times he multiplied the bread that he was distributing to the poor. One
day he walked across the water to lead to the safety of the shore a
of fishermen threatened by the stormy waves. Many times Gerard told
of secret sins on their souls which they had been ashamed to confess,
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
the Pirofalo family, one of the daughters called after him that he had
forgotten his handkerchief. In a moment of prophetic insight Gerard
"Keep it. It will be useful to you some day." The handkerchief was
as a precious souvenir of Gerard. Years later the girl to whom he had
it was in danger of death in childbirth. She remembered the words of
and called for the handkerchief. Almost immediately the danger passed
she delivered a healthy child. On another occasion the prayers of
were asked by a mother when both she and her unborn child were in
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
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
him to get well, if it were God's will, and immediately his illness
to disappear and he left his bed to rejoin the community. He knew,
that this cure was only temporary and that he had only a little over a
month to live.
Before long he did have to return to his bed,
and he 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
is done here, as God wills it and as long as He wills it." Often he was
heard to say this prayer: "My God, I wish to die in order to do Thy
holy will." Between midnight of October 15, early morning of the next
day 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.
his mother's death miracles began to be reported from almost all parts
Italy, attributed to the intercession of Gerard. In 1893, Pope Leo XIII
beatified him, and on December 11, 1904, Pope Pius X canonized him as a
WONDER WORKER OF OUR DAY
Devotion to St. Gerard spread rapidly beyond
Italy and throughout the world and he came to be called "the wonder
of our day." Because he had so often helped sinners to make a good
he was adopted by many as the patron of a good Confession. Others
the young apprentice tailor and Redemptorist lay brother as the patron
of workingmen. Because he had so much difficulty getting into a
order and because he sent so many girls to the convent he is often
upon as the patron of vocations.
THE MOTHER'S SAINT
Above all, the mothers of Italy took Gerard
to their hearts and made him their patron. At the process of his
one witness testified that he was known as "il santo dei felice parti"
Saint of happy childbirth. His fame in this regard spread so that
in many countries of the world mothers would not think of entering into
their confinement without having a medal of St. Gerard. This devotion
become very popular in America, both in the United States and in
Thousands of mothers have experienced his power. Many hospitals
their maternity wards to him and give medals and prayer leaflets of St.
Gerard to their patients. Thousands of children have been named after
Gerard by parents who are convinced that it was his intercession that
them to have healthy children. Even girls are named after him, and it
interesting how variously "Gerard" is given a feminine form. Some of
more popular names are: Gerarda, Geralyn, Gerardine, Gerianne and
NOT ONLY A HELPER
St. Gerard obtains great favours for mothers
and their children, but that is not his only office. He also teaches
and especially mothers the duties of their state in life. The terrible
and all too common evils in marriage today are the crimes of
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
practices and limit their families by sinful means. The only adequate
against this evil is an unlimited trust in God.
God made marriage a Sacrament and thereby promised
to provide every Christian married couple with all the graces necessary
to fulfil the laws He had made for marriage.
One of Gerard's greatest virtues was trust,
and his favourite slogan was "God will provide." Once while he was on a
pilgrimage with some clerical students, he used the last few coins to
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
and me." And the Lord did provide sufficient money for the rest of the
trip. When the false accusation was made against him, to all the
of friends to defend himself he replied: "It is for God to see to
In poor health and in danger of death his trust in God did not waver
bit. Thus Gerard showed himself as a model that mothers can imitate in
the confidence in God on which marriage must be based, if they are to
the forces of "anti-life."