Saint of the Day – 16 October – St Gerard Majella C.Ss.R. (1726-1755) Religious Lay Brother of the Congregation of the Redeemer, better known as the Redemptorists, Apostle of the Holy Eucharist, Apostle of Charity, known as a Thaumaturge, a Saint who works miracles not just occasionally but as a matter of course. Born on 23 April 1725 at Muro, Italy as Gerardo Maiella and died on 16 October 1755 at Caposele, Provincia di Avellino, Campania, Italy of tuberculosis, aged just 29. Patronages – children (and unborn children in particular); childbirth; mothers (and expectant mothers in particular); motherhood; falsely accused people; good confessions; lay brothers; tennis ball football, head boys and Muro Lucano, Italy.
St Gerard was born in Muro Lucano, Basilicata, the youngest of five children. He wanted very much to receive Holy Communion at the age of seven and went to the Communion railing one day with the others but the priest, seeing his age, passed him up; and he went back to his place in tears. The following night, Saint Michael the Archangel brought him the Communion he so much desired. His tailor father died when Gerard was twelve, leaving the family in poverty. His mother then sent him to her brother so that he could teach Gerard to sew and follow in his father’s footsteps. However, the foreman was abusive. The boy kept silent but his uncle soon found out and the man who taught him resigned from the job. After four years of apprenticeship, he took a job as a servant to work for the local Bishop of Lacedonia. Upon the bishop’s death, Gerard returned to his trade, working first as a journeyman and then on his own account. He divided his earnings between his mother and the poor and in offerings for the souls in Purgatory.
He tried to join the Capuchin Order but his health prevented it. He had acquired a reputation of sanctity and finally, when he was 23 years old, he obtained the aid of some missionaries to second his request and was admitted as a Coadjutor of the newly founded Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known as Redemptorists, in 1749. The order was founded in 1732 by Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787 Doctor of the Church) at Scala, near Naples. The essentially missionary order is dedicated to “preaching the word of God to the poor.” Its apostolate is principally in giving of missions and retreats.
During his life, he was very close to the peasants and other outsiders who lived in the Neapolitan countryside. In his work with the Redemptorist community, he was variously gardener, sacristan, tailor, porter, cook, carpenter and clerk of works on the new buildings at Caposele.
At 27, the good-looking Majella became the subject of a malicious rumour. An acquaintance, Neria, accused him of having had relations with a young woman. When confronted by St Alphonsus Liguori, the founder, on the accusations, the young lay brother remained silent. The girl later recanted and cleared his name.
Some of Majella’s reported miracles include restoring life to a boy who had fallen from a high cliff, blessing the scanty supply of wheat belonging to a poor family and making it last until the next harvest and several times multiplying the bread that he was distributing to the poor. One day, he walked across the water to lead a boatload of fishermen through stormy waves to the safety of the shore. He was reputed to have had the gift of bilocation and the ability to read souls.
Once he conducted a group of students on a nine-day pilgrimage to Mount Gargano, where the Archangel Michael had appeared. They had very little money for the tri, and when they arrived at the site, there was none left. Gerard went before the Tabernacle and told Our Lord that it was His responsibility to take care of the little group. He had been observed in the church by a religious, who invited the Saint and his companions to lodge in his residence. When the party was ready to start home again, Gerard prayed once more, and immediately someone appeared and gave him a roll of bills.
His last will was a small note on the door of his cell: “Here the will of God is done, as God wills and as long as God wills.” He died at 29 of tuberculosis.
One miracle in particular explains how Majella became known as the special patron of mothers. A few months before his death, he visited the Pirofalo family and accidentally dropped his handkerchief. One of the Pirofalo girls spotted the handkerchief moments after he had left the house and she ran after Gerard to return it. “Keep it,” he said to her. “You may need it some day.” Years later when the girl, now a married woman, was on the verge of losing her life in childbirth, she remembered the words of the saintly lay brother. She asked for the handkerchief to be brought to her. Almost immediately, the pain disappeared and she gave birth to a healthy child. That was no small feat in an era when only one out of three pregnancies resulted in a live birth and word of the miracle spread quickly.
Because of the miracles that God worked through Gerard’s prayers with mothers, 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 childbirths.” It is a well-known patronage and many miracles still occur. The St Gerard Majella Annual Novena takes place every year in St Josephs Church, Dundalk, Ireland. This annual nine-day novena is the biggest festival of faith in Ireland. St Joseph’s sponsors the St Gerard’s Family League, an International Association of Christians united in prayer for their own and other families, to preserve Christian values in their home and family life. Since his death in 1775, countless favours and miracles have been granted and worked through his intercession. As well as the patron of a good confession, he has been invoked as a constant source of help and inspiration to parents.
St Gerard was Beatified in Rome on 29 January 1893, by Pope Leo XIII. He was Canonised less than twelve years later on 11 December 1904, by St Pope Pius X.
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