As a very small child he was taught that Jesus was really present in church in the tabernacle. Gerard then loved to go to church as often as possible to be with His Friend, the Captive Prisoner of the Altar. The Blessed Sacrament, along with devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he lovingly called Mamma Maria, became the chief devotions of Gerard’s life.
These two great devotions had a marvelous origin in his early childhood visits to the ancient Marian shrine located at nearby Capotignano. There was a beautiful statue there of the Madonna and Child that became animated for little Gerard. At this point Gerard only knew Them as “the pretty lady with the baby.” The pretty lady would let her Baby climb down from her lap and play with Gerard. What’s more, He (or sometimes she) would give Gerard little white loaves of bread, exquisite in texture and taste. Benedetta was curious about the origin of these special loaves, but little four-year-old Gerard could only tell her that they were from the son of the beautiful lady. Anna, to satisfy her curiosity one day, spied on Gerard inside the church. Her astonished eyes beheld the miracle! She quickly ran home to tell her mother who, on another day, repeated her daughter’s act of spying. She witnessed the very same marvel!
These two childhood friends, Jesus and Gerard, were often seen together by many witnesses elsewhere in the town. Since Gerard was an altogether holy little boy, he had an influence over some of the neighborhood children. He would lead them in prayerful processions imitating what he witnessed in the parish. During one such procession he stopped in front of an almond tree where he hung a crucifix which he quickly made for everyone’s veneration. The tree was suddenly transformed and became dazzling with brilliant light. The Divine Playmate of Capotignano descended from it and handed Gerard a precious white loaf of bread. Many townspeople arrived at the luminous scene and witnessed the wonderful sight.
These prodigies kindled in the young Gerard a hunger for the Bread of Angels, the Blessed Sacrament. Gerard often saw the Beautiful Child in the Sacred Host breaking through the veil of the mystery when elevated at Mass. More remarkable still is how Saint Michael the Archangel gave Gerard his first Holy Communion after he had learned about the nature of the Blessed Sacrament and was so desirous to receive It. The priest at the church of Materdomini (Mother of God) passed Gerard by at the altar rail one morning, deeming him to be too young. That evening the Archangel appeared to Gerard at home with the Bread of Angels.
The love of Gerard for His Childhood Friend was already intimate and immense. The overriding theme of the saint’s life, in fact, is love of God and repaying Love with love. All the wonders and miracles that would continue to follow merely signify Jesus’ approval of such great love and faith. For the doubters of such miraculous events, let it suffice to say that if we accept the Incarnation, which was God becoming man, and the greatest miracle ever recorded, all other miracles, are little in comparison. Furthermore, it is not the saint who actually works the miracle, but God. Who uses the saint as His instrument. There is no reason, therefore, to place limits on God’s power! That would contradict the nature of God!
The Holy Apprentice
The Majella family lost its bread-winner, Domenico, when Gerard was only 12 years old. Benedetta sent Gerard off to follow in his father’s footsteps by having him learn the trade of tailoring. A good man named Martino Pannuto engaged young Gerard as an apprentice in his shop. Gerard proved himself very able in plying the needle while managing to maintain and augment his spiritual life. Often he would be overtaken with an ecstasy, causing him to hide under the worktable to avoid notice. This was highly unusual of course, but Pannuto didn’t mind, knowing that a saint was on his premises! His foreman was not amused, however. He became a tormentor of Gerard, abusing him verbally and physically. On one occasion the foreman knocked Gerard onto the floor with his fist. Pannuto entered the room in time to see the poor victim of brute force on the ground. When questioned, Gerard simply said that he had fallen, thus charitably protecting the malefactor without telling a lie.
Gerard had no resentment of the abuse. On the contrary, he welcomed it. He wanted to suffer reproach for love of Christ, not as an end in itself, but in order to repair the outrages Christ suffered at the brutal hands of Pilate’s soldiery. Yes, Gerard, who was so in love with the Crucified Christ and receptive to His Will, became a very easy victim, not so much of the cruel foreman, but a victim of Jesus’ love. When beaten, Gerard was heard to say, “My God, Thy Will be done.” At another time he was smiling after some blows and the foreman, annoyed at this joviality, demanded an explanation. Gerard replied, “I’m smiling because God’s Hand is striking me.”
Now if up to this point the reader has felt unable to identify with a saint who received such miraculous favors from God as the white loaves of consolation, it is worth noting that Gerard, a true lover of the Will of God, equally accepted and relished the black bread of penance.
This tremendous love of God stemmed from coming to know Him intimately. The obedience to His Will (and later to the Superiors in his religious life who represented the Divine Will) marks the glorious fruit of that love. We can therefore recognize in Gerard a saint to imitate as well as to admire.
Pannuto was of course uneasy about the episode that he had walked in on and surely he had already heard rumors about the abusive foreman. He secretly followed Gerard to church one morning and found proof of the young boy’s holiness as had Benedetta years earlier. He saw Gerard lick the floor of the church in Capotignano in reparation for sins of the tongue, especially blasphemy. This penance was not uncommon in southern Italy in those times, but certainly it is startling to the modern world, which is complacent toward evil. Pannuto then saw with his own eyes Gerard going into ecstasy. Not surprisingly, the foreman was later fired.
The Bishop of Lacedonia
Gerard’s next occupation also proved his heroic patience in the face of ill treatment. Monsignor Albini, of neighboring Lacedonia, administered Confirmation to Gerard on June 5,1740. Whether it was then that his Excellency became familiar with Gerard’s reputation for holiness or earlier is not known. In any event, Gerard’s services were requested in the Bishop’s house. Apparently, the Bishop’s servants rarely stayed employed for more than a couple of weeks, if not days, because his Excellency was a difficult taskmaster! Advice to decline such a position was freely given but Gerard happily accepted the offer. At age sixteen he had found more opportunities to be a victim of reproaches for love of Jesus. Patiently he bore all the trials for three years until the Bishop died. No one cried at his passing more than Gerard.
One memorable and miraculous incident during his service with the Bishop concerned a well and brought much attention to the obscure saint. Gerard had accidentally dropped the Bishop’s keys down the well. Knowing the terrible consequences, Gerard prayed for return of the keys, not because he feared the pending abuse so much, but that his carelessness would cause the Bishop to sin by impatience. A crowd gathered as Gerard, having been inspired by prayer, tied a rope to a little statue of the Infant Jesus and lowered it down the well. When the statue was reeled up, the key was in its hand! The delighted exclamations of the crowd resounded at the miracle. The well was henceforth known as “Gerard’s Well.”
The Tailor of Muro
Gerard was now just under twenty years old when he opened his own tailor shop in Muro. The skillful tailor lived up to his father’s name, conscientiously fulfilling all his customers’ orders and at the same time growing in reputation for holiness. One poor customer requested a certain garment from his piece of cloth, which was too small. “Non e niente,” or “It’s nothing,” was the response of the saint who stretched it this way and that until not only was the garment made, but miraculously a surplus was given back as well. Customers unable to pay were never refused. Most of the time customers underpaid him, so much so that his mother who depended on once his income feared that ends would not be met. “God will provide,” was the answer of the saint who also gave some of his income to the poor—a whole week’s salary! Gerard never missed daily Mass in the cathedral at the crack of dawn. He received Communion two and three times a week depending upon his confessor’s approval. Many nightly vigils were spent before the tabernacle since Gerard often bribed his relative, the sacristan, for the keys to the church.
After he had been a tailor only a year, a new tax code changed everything for the Majellas: the new law imposed taxes greater than the shop’s income. Providentially, a boys’ high school opened in 1746 at San Fele. Gerard was accepted as the resident tailor and found it rich in opportunity for more suffering. The boys mocked the holy tailor unmercifully and even whipped him when the headmaster was absent. Gerard bore it all as a saint and never retaliated or sought revenge.
This employment at San Fele lasted only a month. Gerard’s motive for returning to Muro is not known. It certainly wasn’t to avoid persecution since he soon suffered more by his own penances. He was so inspired by a book on the Passion entitled Anno Doloroso by Fra Antonio dell’ Olivadi, that his Lenten penances now included scourging his own flesh. Gerard intended to give love for Love, humiliation for humiliation, to the God Who died for him. Love suggested an incredible penance to quench Gerard’s thirst to make reparation to God—one practiced already by Saint John of God in his day: feigning madness to repair the mockery of Christ by Pilate’s soldiers and Herod’s cohort. Gerard played the part of a fool in the streets during Lent of 1747, inviting people to strike at him. He convinced many that the tailor of Muro was indeed mad. The neighborhood ruffians wasted no time in making sport of him—tripping him, dragging him and beating him. Gerard would arise with a smile and was heard to say, “Now I am happy and satisfied.” Another time he said in prophecy, “You despise me today. There shall come a day when you will think it an honor to kiss my hand.” Gerard would not have said this if God had not inspired him to say it. Of course, it provoked further abuse.
Is this madness? No, Love suggested to Gerard these acts and more tremendous penances still. Sin is really madness. It is sheer insanity for us creatures to offend the Almighty God. We can pray to Saint Gerard for a share of this holy madness and be reserved in our judgment of others who appear foolish to the world because of their piety.
At sixteen Gerard attempted to join the Capuchin monastery at San Menna, close by his native town. Although he had the influence of an uncle residing there, Gerard was rejected because of his frail appearance. At eighteen he was again rejected for the same reason at another Capuchin door. At twenty-one, he persuaded a friend to try the life of a hermit and the two setout. The friend returned to the world after a day or two but Gerard loved it and only returned under obedience to his confessor. God had something else in mind for him besides the life of an anchorite.
Gerard first came into contact with the Redemptorist Order in 1748. A Father Francis Garzilli and a Brother Onufrio set foot in Muro on a mission of begging alms for the establishment of a new monastery right at Materdomini Caposele where Gerard had been so favored as a child. The great founder of this new Order, Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, had begun the Redemptorists only sixteen years prior to this and the Order was gaining a tremendous reputation for holiness. Saint Alphonsus was 30 years older than Gerard but would outlive him by another 30 years in the Order. This Most Zealous Doctor of the Church would have much contact with the future brother and even desired to write Gerard’s biography but death prevented him.
To return to the story, Gerard was impressed with the two Redemptorist visitors and his admiration grew more the following year when a larger group came to preach a mission in Muro. Inspired by their sermons at church, Gerard was determined to join the Congregation. His mother, however, was not yet ready to relinquish the bread-winner of the family and begged the superior, Father Cafaro, to refuse Gerard’s admittance. This priest, a very holy man who later became the spiritual director of Gerard, had no intention at first of accepting the gaunt-looking aspirant. He advised her to lock Gerard in his room upon the departure of the Redemptorists from Muro. Recognizing God’s will in the matter, Gerard lowered himself out of his window with bed sheets in order to catch up with the departing religious. He left a very simple note to the effect of: I’m going to be a saint. Think no more of me. The Redemptorists did all they could to rid themselves of Gerard but his persistence won in the end. “Try me; you can then send me away,” Gerard had pleaded. Father Cafaro sent him to the house at Iliceto (today known as Deliceto) with this note: “I am sending you another brother, who will be useless as far as work is concerned, since he has a very delicate constitution; but I could not do anything else in view of his persistent entreaties and the reputation for virtue the youth enjoys in the town of Muro.”
The house at Iliceto was procured by Saint Alphonsus in 1744 and was at the site of a Marian shrine called Our Lady of Consolation. Gerard arrived at the door with the letter of introduction and his bag of penitential gear that included a hair shirt. The rector could only agree with Father Cafaro’s comment on Gerard’s apparent uselessness. In any event, work was the test of a vocation and Gerard would have to prove himself.
Father Cafaro returned to the house after finishing his missionary tour to become the new rector and to find the “useless” brother working diligently. (A brother does not have the power of the priesthood but takes the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as do the Redemptorist priests and they follow the same Rule. The brothers take care of the manual labor and material needs of the monastery while the priests occupy themselves with the spiritual concerns.) Gardening was his first occupation, which was a vast change from plying the needle in tailoring, finishing his work ahead of time to help the others. It is said that he did the work of four brothers! From gardener, to sacristan, to tailor, to porter, to cook, Gerard did all things well and united his prayer to his work.
Obedience was the saint’s most illustrious virtue. Gerard obeyed superiors as he would Jesus Christ Himself, hence his title of The Saint of Obedience. He knew the Will of God was found in obeying them. As porter, Gerard was told to drop everything at the sound of the bell. Once he arrived to open the door for Father Cafaro with a stopper to the wine vat that he didn’t have time to plug, still in his hand. On examining the vat later, they found that not a drop of wine had spilled in reward for his obedience. God instructs us through His saints. God loves obedience and Gerard would continue to be rewarded for his heroic acts of obedience, so much so that some say God did the will of Gerard. Miracles and favors were his for the asking.
Gerard’s obedience went so far that he could anticipate the orders of his superiors which he even received mentally when they were not physically present. For example, Father Fiocchi, another devout priest and Gerard’s second superior after Father Cafaro, related that he sent Gerard with a letter to the archpriest in Lacedonia having omitted an important detail. Gerard returned home without having been summoned so Father Cafaro could include the forgotten detail in the letter. Another time Father Fiocchi was in the presence of the Bishop of Melfi, Monsignor Basta. The Bishop desired to see the illustrious Brother Gerard so Father Fiocchi merely gave Gerard a mental order to come. Father Fiocchi feigned ignorance upon Gerard’s arrival but Gerard simply said that he had come under obedience since the Bishop desired to see him, Gerard who described himself as “a worm of the earth, a sinner, a wretched man who stands in need of all God’s mercy.” For a short interval Gerard was subject to an unworthy rector who later left the Order. Gerard obeyed him as cheerfully as he did the Bishop of Lacedonia—with heroic patience to the edification of all.
The Soul Reader
One day during the novitiate of Brother Gerard, a rough-looking man appeared at Iliceto for confession. He related that he had met Brother Gerard, who seemed to be waiting for him at an intersection. Frail Gerard had locked the burly man into a vice-grip! Gerard warned him, “I know what is in your heart. You are on the point of despair. You are on the point of giving your soul to the Evil One. God knows what you are thinking and sent me here to warn you.” The man admitted that he was about to commit an evil deed and readily followed Gerard’s directions for confession at Iliceto. This episode signifies Gerard’s great gift of reading souls and preparing them for confession. Thus another of Gerard’s titles is Patron of a Good Confession.
Gerard’s profession was on July 16, 1752, Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. His mother was not present because she died three months earlier. Gerard’s joy could not have been greater at becoming a Redemptorist forever on Mary’s feast day. Two months later he made a special vow of perfection, with proper permission, to always do what pleased God best.
Agenda For Holiness
Before continuing with the course of Gerard’s life and apostolate, an examination of his plan for sanctity is in order. Under holy obedience Brother Gerard composed a document in June of 1754,with three headings: Desires, Reflections and Resolutions, of which some passages are highlighted here.
Desires: “To love God much; always to be united to God; to do all things for the sake of God; to love everything for God’s sake; always to conform myself to the Will of God; to suffer much for God.”
Reflections: “Lord, grant me a particularly living faith in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar.”
Resolutions: “My dear and only love and my true God, today and forever I give myself up to Thy divine will and so in all the temptations and tribulations of this world I will say: Fiat voluntas tua! I will embrace everything with my whole heart, never ceasing to raise my eyes to Heaven to adore those divine hands of Thine that shower down on me the precious gems of Thy Divine Will. My Lord Jesus Christ, I will do everything commanded me by my holy Mother, the Catholic Church. My God, for love of Thee, I will obey my superiors as if I saw Thy very self in them and were obeying Thine own divine Person. I will live as if I were no longer mine own but Thine by conforming myself to the judgment and wishes of him who commands me. For every word I might wish to say to God’s displeasure I will substitute an aspiration: My Jesus, I love Thee with my whole heart. I will never excuse myself, even though I have every possible reason. It will be enough for me if no offense to God or harm to my neighbor follows from what is said against me. I will never accuse anybody or speak of the faults of others, even in jest. I will take from the board at meals the plate that is nearest to me, without looking at the others.”
Gerard is then a saint for imitation as well as for admiration as shown here. Saints begin by doing the ordinary things well. So many of us want prodigies and miracles while ignoring the day-to-day duties of the Faith.
Conformity to Christ Crucified
One talent Gerard acquired as a religious was making crucifixes, Ecce Homos (Our Lord represented as He appeared before Pilate, scourged and crowned with thorns) and statues of Our Lady of Sorrows. One biographer, John Carr, C.S.S.R., aptly says that his best representation of Christ Crucified was his own mortified self. Shortly before he joined the Congregation, he was in a Passion Play, a reenactment of Good Friday’s events leading up to the Crucifixion. Gerard played the role of Our Lord and he succeeded in bribing the “executioners” to deal with him as brutally as possible. Benedetta was brought to tears and fainted at the sight of Gerard in so much pain. All the onlookers were astounded by the performance. At home, Gerard, totally content. He merely explained to his mother that he had endured nothing and must suffer for Jesus Christ.
In religious life, Gerard treated his own poor flesh harshly for love of God, for reparation for his sins (few to be sure) and for reparation of the world’s sins. His rough treatment of self is not generally understood in our comfort-loving, self-glorifying and sin-laden society. Also, it must be admitted that discipline of the mind is higher than corporal penance and sanctity can be achieved without the latter, but Gerard excelled in both. A few of his austerities included a nearly constant fast, the taking of bitter herbs with all food so as not to enjoy the taste, few hours of sleep on a mattress filled with thistle and sharp stones, and hair shirts. Gerard never expected others to follow his austere way, but used these penances for his own sanctification.
Conformity to Christ Crucified did not stop there. Gerard suffered intense pain in his soul, crying out with Christ,” My God, My God, why Hast Thou forsaken Me?” In some of his correspondence he wrote of his agonized soul: “I am so afflicted and disconsolate, since I am nailed to the cross by Divine Justice as never before. Blessed be the Divine Will!” and “Have pity on my soul.” Much later Gerard cured this very man of a fever. True to the prediction, after an interim of five months, the man converted and became a member of the congregation.
Gerard also prophesied that a certain man named Peter Paul Blasucci would become Superior General of the Redemptorist Order, which did come true in 1793.Gerard worked many miracles curing the sick. Some well-known miracles include the cure of a boy from tuberculosis and the cure of a girl crippled from birth. At times, however, he did not heed requests for cures. The daughter of the Mayor of Castelgrande, Judith, was born blind. Gerard told the family that if he cured her she would lose her soul. Judith accepted her cross and went on to become a model daughter with impressive domestic skills.
Pilgrimage to Monte Gargano
Brother Gerard was selected in the autumn of 1753 to lead a pilgrimage of nine Redemptorist students to Monte Gargano, the site of an early apparition of Saint Michael the Archangel, Gerard’s special patron. The students were dismayed over the meager thirty silver carlins entrusted to Brother Gerard. How would that cover their expenses? Brother Gerard used his oft-repeated refrain, “God will provide.” The students were even more alarmed when Brother took all the money in his purse at one point to buy some flowers for the altar of a chapel en route. “We have thought of You, so You must now think of us,” Gerard prayed to Our Lord in the tabernacle. The chaplain in back of the church had observed the whole scene and graciously gave them free lodging for the night.
The next day the pilgrims climbed the mountain and visited the shrine. When the students approached a nearby inn they began murmuring again about how they could afford it. A wealthy man came to the rescue by handing Gerard a purse of silver. The innkeeper was an unjust man, however, and tried to overcharge the group. Gerard suspected this and so warned the man that his mules would die if he cheated them. The innkeeper’s son immediately ran in to tell of the mules lying half-dead from the plague. The shocked innkeeper admitted his dishonesty and begged Gerard to save the mules. This favor being granted, the lodging was given free of charge along with food for the route home. When Gerard and the students arrived home, they had surplus change to give the rector, much to his surprise.
A Great Trial
In November of that year, an epidemic broke out in Lacedonia. The wonderworker was soon in the town amidst the sick, curing some by simply making the sign of the cross on them or preparing others to die a holy death. While in Lacedonia, Gerard was hosted by the Capucci family who were relatives of the archpriest of the cathedral. Two of the daughters from this family had entered the convent under Gerard’s spiritual direction. Because of his reputation for holiness, Gerard had been requested by many religious superiors to give spiritual direction although it was highly unusual for lay brothers to be spiritual directors.
One of Gerard’s spiritual daughters, named Neria Caggiano, had entered the convent at Foggia. Unfortunately she did not persevere and returned home. Disappointed in herself, yet too proud to admit her failure, she began to blame and defame the Sisters at Foggia. No one believed Neria, for it was obvious she was bitter about her experience. Determined to take the blame of her failure off herself and to appear as a victim, she began to attack Brother Gerard, her spiritual director. She fabricated a detailed and malicious story accusing Gerard of having seduced one of the Capucci daughters while staying at her home in Lacedonia. Neria, using clever and evil dramatics, managed to convince her confessor that all she told was true. The priest, not questioning her sincerity, ordered her to write to Saint Alphonsus immediately telling him the details that she had relayed to him. One can hardly imagine Father Rector’s surprise when he read Neria’s letter accompanied by a letter from her confessor. Brother Gerard’s reputation was more than that of a pious person—he was hailed as a saint by all!
Brother Gerard was quickly summoned to Nocera de Pagani, where Saint Alphonsus resided, for interrogation. The first meeting of the two saints took place under these awful circumstances! Saint Alphonsus read Neria’s letter to Gerard who listened calmly and completely silent as Christ before His accusers. Unable to get Gerard to say anything in his defense and this being a public accusation, Saint Alphonsus imposed a severe penance upon him until the matter could be resolved. As part of the punishment, Gerard was ordered to remain at Nocera, where he would be under the watchful eye of the holy founder, Saint Alphonsus. He was also forbidden to receive Holy Communion from April through most of June.
As news of the “scandal” spread, Gerard’s reputation was more than ruined. His fellow religious who were aware of the strict disciplinary action taken wondered what horrible thing he had done. He became ostracized and avoided like the plague. Some of the brethren, though, were convinced of his innocence and they strongly urged him to clear his own name with the truth. “No,” was Gerard’s reply; “It is in God’s hands,” and, “If He wills that my innocence be proven, who can accomplish it better than He?” The loss of his reputation did not concern Gerard because he knew he was innocent. But he did suffer excruciatingly from the deprivation of Holy Communion. When one kind priest asked him to serve his Mass Gerard replied, “Don’t tempt me lest I snatch the Sacred Host from your hands.”
Added to this great cross was the cross of infirmity. During this same time of emotional trial Gerard had a recurrence of hemorrhaging brought on by an earlier beating by a cruel assailant. Unable to hide this problem, the poor brother was confined to bed for awhile. Having heard from others about the perfect obedience of the brother once known for his holiness, Saint Alphonsus witnessed this firsthand. Without telling anyone, Alphonsus desired to see the sick brother and within a few minutes of the desire, Gerard appeared at his door, having promptly arisen from his sick bed at the unspoken wish of his superior.
At the beginning of June, Brother Gerard was transferred to the house of Materdomini at Caposele, his second and last home. The warmer climate, it was believed, would be better for him. The prohibition of receiving Communion was lifted for the last Sunday in June and permission was granted for Gerard to make a preparatory retreat. An amazing incident occurred at this time. When Gerard was sought, he wasn’t found in his monastic cell or in the chapel or anywhere. Everyone knew, however, that he would appear on time for Mass, which he did. When asked about his whereabouts. Gerard explained that he was in his own cell and Our Lord granted him the favor of being invisible! (There is no doubt that Gerard would have appeared if a superior had sought him.) Little children of Italy even today call the game of hide-and-seek “Facciamo Fratello Gerardo!” or “Let’s play Brother Gerard!”
Meanwhile, Saint Alphonsus received a letter from Neria Coggiano who was very ill and close to death. Her guilty conscience was more than she could bear. In the letter she explained that she had fabricated the accusations she had made against Gerard and that he was totally innocent. At last Gerard’s name was cleared. Saint Alphonsus, whose heart had mourned for his spiritual son, was elated. When he met Gerard soon afterward, he asked why he had remained silent when he knew that the story was a lie. Gerard simply said that the Rule forbade one from excusing oneself!
One of the other phenomena that Gerard experienced was ecstasy. An ecstasy is a spiritual state of physical suspension while the soul participates in the rapturous joy of heavenly contemplation. This was a frequent occurrence for Gerard. Once he fell into one while cooking dinner. Seeing him motionless for a long time his fellow religious wanted to know if dinner would be served. Coming out of his state and serving the dinner, surprisingly on time, Gerard explained to them that the angels had cooked it in his stead. Another time he held up a line of visitors on a stairway as he fell into rapture when he gazed at a picture of the Madonna. Another time when he was visiting a Carmelite Convent he unconsciously bent the bars of the grille with a super human strength while he was experiencing an ecstasy. The nuns there never repaired the damage for a lasting memorial of the event.
His deep spiritual thoughts would cause him to levitate at times, his body rising in the air like a feather, often during his contemplation of the Holy Will of God. At other times he was seen to make an ecstatic flight. Once, expounding on the loveliness of Mary, the Mother of God, he leapt forward with joy and continued for a half mile before he came to himself again. On another occasion he went into an ecstasy and started to dance. He swept along a startled priest and danced him around like a piece of straw!
Gerard had no control over these ecstatic experiences. Had he a choice, he would surely have chosen to continue the assignment given by his superior. One day Gerard passed by the tabernacle and genuflected but could not get back up as he was in an ecstasy. An observing priest heard him say, “Let me go. I have something to do.”
Witnesses also insist that Gerard had the gift of bilocation, which is the ability to be in two places at once. For example, while some brothers testified that Gerard never left the monastery others verified his caring for the sick in their village.
Even more startling was his power over angelic spirits. Many times angels were employed in his service, but the humble brother even had power over demons, the fallen angels. One night Brother Gerard was traveling alone by horse through the woods. A big storm broke out and the torrential rain and fog made the route very hazardous. A horrible demon appeared to Gerard threatening to possess him. Gerard commanded the unclean spirit (in the name of the Holy Trinity) to lead him to safety, which the reluctant devil did.
The Motivating Force
Brother Gerard’s all encompassing motivation was, of course, his tremendous love of God. His second great love was The Blessed Virgin Mary, the pretty lady who allowed her Son to play with him. Gerard considered himself marries to the Mother of God even refusing a proposal made to him in his youth by an inn keepers daughter. As a religious, he placed a ring on the finger of Mary’s statue, in the sight of all. “Behold, I am wedded to the Madonna!” he joyfully announced. Gerard, being an angel of purity, explained that he espoused his purity to the purity of the Virgin of virgins.
Gerard’s third love can be said to be his neighbor. He was always doing good to all in imitation of Christ. He wanted everyone to be happy and holy. He cured the sick, as we have seen, and he had a great love for the poor. One of his last assignments was porter at Materdomini, which enabled him to distribute loaves of bread to the poor. Gerard was in the habit of being so generous that the baker complained to the Rector that the cupboard of bread was empty, thanks to Gerard. Upon investigation all the inspectors of the cupboard found it miraculously filled! Also ,if a latecomer arrived when there were no loaves left, Gerard would simply say, “Non e niente,” and return from the kitchen with a steaming hot loaf to give away, the origin of which no one could explain.
Gerard also had a special love for the mentally ill. He loved to visit them with consolation and cheerfulness. They loved him so much that their hugs would nearly suffocate him. Gerard couldn’t help but remember how Our Lord was treated as insane by Herod’s court. It was obvious in all he did that Gerard truly loved Christ in his neighbor.
In the last year of our saint’s life at the house of Materdomini, Gerard, although in a weak state of health, did missionary tours to such places as Naples, Calitri and Senarchia. Naples was incredibly favored one stormy evening. A boat of fishermen was trapped on the sea by the violence of the waves. Onlookers knew that the fishermen’s lives were in peril. To the amazement of the onlookers, Brother Gerard unhesitatingly walked upon the churning waves out to the ship. He then reached for the prow and with two fingers guided it to land. Because of the excitement the miracle caused, Gerard had to flee from the crowd who were all yelling his most dreaded epitaph, “Il santo, it santo,”—”The saint, the saint!” Gerard was forced to take cover in a shop that night. When Gerard was obliged to retell the story to his superiors he made the comment that “…when God wishes it, everything is possible.”
In the town of Senarchia, Gerard helped some workmen move giant trees needed for repairs on the church. The workmen were powerless to move the felled trees until the thin and weak Gerard took a rope and moved a log as if it were a twig. He then invited the workman to follow suit, and they experienced the same ease in moving the logs. Also in this town a young mother and infant were in danger of death after a difficult childbirth. Both survived through Gerard’s prayers. A similar thing happened when Gerard stopped at the home of his close friends, the Pirofalo family. Gerard accidentally left a white handkerchief at the friend’s house. One of the daughters discovered it and ran after him to return to him. He bade her to keep it, prophesying that she would need it one day. The girl later remembered the cloth when she was in the midst of difficulties with a life-threatening childbirth. She took the treasured handkerchief, and placed it on herself. Miraculously the trouble abated and she delivered a healthy and happy baby with no repercussions to her own health. During the same visit at the home of the Pirofalos, in that last year of Gerard’s life, the saint made another prophecy: If the family looked in the direction of Materdomini they would see a white flag at his window as long as he lived and at his death it would disappear. The Pirofalos testified that this was the case even though the monastery was miles away!
A Saint Goes Home
Gerard arrived home in September at Materdomini, a very sick man. Confined immediately to bed, Gerard was asked by Doctor Santorelli, the house physician, if he wanted to die. Gerard replied that he only willed what God willed. Gerard even requested that a placard be placed on the door of his cell that read, “Here the Will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills.”
Gerard’s hemorrhages worsened now, complicated by a case of dysentery. The hemorrhage was actually consumption, which was ravaging his body. This was just the type of affliction Gerard yearned for: one that would cause him to be abandoned by most for fear of contagion. Eventually one brother was assigned to keep watch over the dying saint, for whom Gerard was painfully apologetic. He felt he had no right to any attention at all.
In this month of September, Gerard mystically learned that Our Lady’s birthday, September 8, was to be the day of his death, his entrance date into Heaven. However, the Saint of Obedience had yet to glorify God in one more beautiful and miraculous way: Father Fiocchi, his superior from Naples, ordered him to stop spitting blood and to recover. Upon receiving the command, Gerard promptly told the doctor that he would get up from bed! Even though Gerard was on his feet he continued to have the symptoms of consumption, with the exception of the hemorrhage that had stopped. Another priest, Father Garzilli, testing his obedience chided Gerard for not fully obeying by recovering completely. True to his reputation of complying with all he was asked to do, Gerard went about his daily work routine, the dreadful symptoms having ceased!
With the month of October the suffering recurred with even greater intensity this time. The worst afflictions, however, were in Gerard’s tortured soul where he felt all the abandonment of Christ in the agony in the Garden.
Finding Gerard’s sick bed was easy since a miraculous perfume emanated from it. This great lover of the Blessed Sacrament lay with a corporal, the cloth upon which the Sacred Host rests, on his breast. He asked to be dressed in his habit the day before his death in order to sing the Office of the Dead for his own soul. On October 15feast of Saint Teresa of Avila, a favorite feast among the Redemptorists, he prophesied, “Tomorrow will be another festival day.” True to his prophecy, October 16 became another great feast day for the Order (and for all the world!) when Saint Gerard died.
In that evening, Gerard was alone with Brother Xavier, who kept vigil with him. At about ten or eleven o’clock, Gerard urged the brother to chase away some demonic spirits who made a final assault on his soul. Immediately following this, Gerard burst out ecstatically, “There is the Madonna! Let us honor her!” For two more lingering hours Gerard constantly invoked the holy names of Jesus and Mary and stammered such phrases as, “I wish to die to give Thee pleasure. I wish to die in order to do Thy most holy will.” Gerard asked for some water, surely being consumed with a burning love rather than suffering a bodily need. Brother Xavier went to fetch the water. Upon his return, a glance at Gerard was enough to send him running for Father Buonamo. The two returned to witness Brother Gerard’s last breath after he had been given absolution. Gerard was home with his true Loves, Jesus and Mary, at the age of 29 in the year 1755.
Many miracles and prodigies too numerous to relate here immediately followed his death. These favors and miracles granted through his intercession over the two and a half centuries since his death would require volumes of books to record. Pope Saint Pius X, in 1904, had the great happiness of proclaiming him a canonized saint to the world.
The Saint of Mothers and Children
Our lovable, childlike Saint Gerard has been known to grant many favors and miracles to mothers and their babies, of whom he is the patron. There are many reasons for this, including Gerard’s simple and childlike love toward Jesus and Mary. In his life, his love for the Divine Playmate of Capotignano endeared all children and mothers to him. We also know that he saved many mothers and children from death during childbirth during his time.
It is still a popular custom for mothers to obtain a white handkerchief touched to Saint Gerard’s relics at Materdomini to apply to themselves during a troubled pregnancy or delivery. Furthermore, Saint Gerard was a great proponent of the Holy Will of God.” God will provide” was ever on his lips. We live in a selfish world of birth control and abortion. This saint of modern times happily contradicts the need to resort to these sinful and selfish anti-life procedures. The Holy Will of God must be done always. In married life this means accepting the children that God wants to send. He will provide! We must trust Him. Abortion defies God’s Will not only by preventing a child’s birth but also preventing his entrance into Heaven by denying him baptism.
Saint Gerard, this simple lover of Jesus and Mary, is a glorious light in our darkened, modern world. As the patron saint of a Good Confession, Saint Gerard can lead those on the path of disobedience to Church teachings back to the light of the Faith. As Patron of Mothers, he will safeguard motherhood and unborn children from physical and spiritual dangers. Christian families, the all-important fabric of a Christian society, have a great and powerful ally in Saint Gerard. Christian youth today have their patron in this saint, known for his angelic purity, Saint Gerard pray for us so that we may become little children, obedient to God’s Will and deeply in love with Jesus an Mary!
Prayer for a Mother with Child
O Almighty and Everlasting God, Who through the operations of the Holy Ghost didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin Mary to be a worthy dwelling place of Thy Divine Son; and, through the operation of the same Holy Ghost, didst sanctify Saint John the Baptist while still in his mother’s womb; hearken to the prayers of Thy humble servant who implores Thee, through the intercession of Saint Gerard, to protect her (me) amid the dangers of child-bearing and to watch over the child with which Thou hast deigned to bless her (me); that it may be cleansed by the saving water of Baptism and, after a Christian life on earth, it may with its mother attain everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.
(Mothers may obtain a white handkerchief touched
to St. Gerard’s relics, from St. Lucy’s Church, in Newark. New Jersey)