Saint of the Day – 30 June – Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli C.Ss.R. (1702–1743) aged 42 – Redemptorist Priest, Lawyer, Writer, Preacher, Apostle of the Charity, Social Reformer, he also initiated a fervent movement against the spread of prostitution – born on 12 September 1702 in the castle of Duke Zapata, Naples, Italy of a noble family and died on 30 June 1744 in Naples, Italy of natural causes. Patronages – Writers, Italian missionaries.
Sarnelli was one of Saint Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori’s (1696-1787 Most Zealous Doctor of the Church) earliest companions and was also a prolific writer. He published more than 30 books on a wide range of subjects, including socio-juridical studies, moral issues, mysticism, pedagogy, pastoral practice, Mariology and ascetical theology. His apostolic zeal knew no limits – he preached missions and aided his friend St Alphonsus in his work, he tended to the sick and helped to get girls out of prostitution despite the threats levelled against him.
From his childhood he was noted for being modest as well as for his self-denial and his great diligence in his studies. He was obedient to his parents though when he perceived he was disobedient he begged their pardon and would either kiss their hand or throw himself at their feet. He often visited the church of Saint Francis Xavier as a child. In 1716 he desired to become a Jesuit but his father objected due to his age and directed him to learn law instea, the beatification of Saint John Francis Regis was also an influence in his decision. He did this (learning jurisprudence and earning his doctorate in civil and canon law in 1722) and became quite successful in this field as a professional Lawyer and was enrolled in the Congregation of the Knights of the Legal and Medical Professions that the Pious Workers of Saint Nicholas of Toledo directed. One of the rules of this association – which he observed – was visiting the sick in the Hospital of the Incurables. It was while tending to the ill in the hospital that his call to become a priest blossomed to the point he could not ignore such a call.
In September 1728 he abandoned the bar and decided to become a priest after commencing his ecclesial studies. Cardinal Francesco Pignatelli incardinated him as a cleric to the parish of Santa Anna di Palazzo. His zeal showed itself at once in his labours for children whom he catechised with wonderful success. On 4 June 1729 he became a boarder at the Collegio della Santa Famiglia to continue his studies under more peaceful conditions though left on 8 April 1730 to enter the novitiate of the Congregation of the Apostolic Missions. He concluded this probation on 28 May 1731] He was ordained to the priesthood on 8 June 1732 and became a member of the Propaganda of Naples which was a congregation of secular priests devoted to apostolic work. He also gave all his wealth to the poor for he had no use for it himself. Cardinal Pignatelli assigned him to serve as the Director of Religious Instruction in the parish of Saints Francis and Matthew in the Spanish quarter. He also visited the old people in the Hospice of Saint Gennaro and those condemned to death who were ill in the hospital at the docks. It was at this time that he developed a friendship with Saint Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori after the two first met in Chiaiano.
In June 1733 he travelled to Scala to aid a friend at a mission at Ravello and he met up with and became one of the earliest companions to Liguori in founding the Redemptorists which he joined in 1733. The pair worked together and gave missions along the coast of Amalfi from 1735 to April 1736 when Sarnelli’s health started to decline. He had to return to Naples where he spent the next decade in a poor apartment with one religious as a companion. In 1841 he prepared for the canonical visitation of Cardinal Giuseppe Spinelli so planned and participated in missions at Casali. Having become aware of the rampant corruption of girls he decided to direct all his work against prostitution. But doing this work earned him threats from the criminal element that made profit from this. In April 1744 he stopped preaching altogether because his health became so dire.
On the day of his death, the doctor came at around 8:00 am to see him while he later said to the religious next to him: “I feel the chill of death”. The religious rushed to summon the priest who gave him absolution. Sarnelli kissed his clasped Crucifix from time to time. He died at 10:00am on 30 June 1744. His old friend Liguori was present at his bedside as Sarnelli died and noted a sweet odour that remained in the room even long after Sarnelli was buried, the religious Francesco Tartaglione and the novice Francisco Romito were also present. His brother Domenico was so overcome with emotion he did not want to leave the room where his brother’s remains were. His remains were buried on 2 July 1744 in the parish church of Santa Maria dell’Aiuto in Naples (in the San Nicola chapel) though were later reinterred in the Redemptorist church of Santi Alfonso e Antonio at Tarsia in Naples. His remains were moved again on 25 October 1994 to the Redemptorist church of La Santissima Trinità in Ciorani.
His old friend Liguori was his first biographer and noted the circumstances of Sarnelli’s death in which he was present; Liguori noted that his remains “… exhaled a sweet odour – which remained in the room long after the interment.
Sarnelli’s fame for holiness was a well-known fact during his life but his Beatification cause did not open until 1861 in Naples, formal introduction came in 1874 and he was named as Venerable on 2 December 1906. St Pope John Paul II Beatified him on 12 May 1996.
Prayer in Honour of Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli
we place ourselves in Your presence
confident that You are a loving and merciful God.
You walk with us by day and night,
as we strive to proclaim Your gospel with compassion,
to people who are poor and abandoned.
As we reach out to those most in need,
we look to Blessed Gennaro Sarnelli
as a model and help.
His ardent desire was to bring people
on the fringes of society and Church
to a deeper knowledge and love of You.
We pray that his zeal will inspire
and motivate us to share Your redemption
with those who are marginalised.
We especially remember people
who make decisions that lead to destructive
and addictive behaviours.
May our choices be those of Blessed Sarnelli,
who continually lived the gospel
in spite of adversity and opposition.
We ask his help,
that our commitment may not shrink
for lack of support or favour,
for as we become one with those who are outcast,
we become one with You.