Saint Gerard Majella, C.Ss.R., the “Mothers’ Saint”
At heart, though, the hardworking Brother was a mystic. "If God were to remove this veil from our eyes," he once said, "we would see paradise everywhere; God is here, even beneath these rocks." He spent hours before the Blessed Sacrament, and his deep union with God was evident through frequent ecstasies and the gift of healing. Gerard’s prayers brought about the cure of a teenager dying of tuberculosis, the multiplication of food for the poor, and the healing of a paraplegic girl. He was a skilled guide for people burdened by depression or wavering in their faith since he, too, battled depression and doubts about his faith.
In his free time, Gerard liked to visit the sick. Public hospitals were filthy, wretched places in the early eighteenth century. Gerard brought candy to the patients, did what he could to make them comfortable, and – perhaps most importantly – spent time chatting with them. At the end of one of his visits, the patients were so upset when he rose to leave that they pinned him to a chair. The hospital staff had to pry Gerard out of the patients’ arms.
Not everyone recognized Gerard’s gifts, though. When Gerard’s superior asked him to give a conference on Saint John’s Gospel to a group of seminarians, the students grumbled. What could a Brother with only a primary school education teach them? But once Gerard began, they were captivated. A theologian who heard Gerard speak later wrote, "Learned men are silent before this poor unlettered Brother. He draws knowledge from its source, the heart of Christ, not from the muddy cisterns of the human mind. In his mouth the most obscure mysteries become luminously clear."
In 1753, Gerard became the subject of a malicious rumor. An acquaintance named Neria accused Gerard of having had relations with a young woman. When Alphonsus Liguori received a letter informing him of the allegation against Gerard, he promptly summoned him. Gerard had never before met the Redemptorist superior and perhaps anticipated a warm reception. We can only imagine his confusion and embarrassment as Father Liguori read aloud the incriminating letter.
When he had finished, Father Liguori looked up and waited for an explanation. Gerard remained silent. Father Liguori was bewildered. Although he doubted that this highly regarded Redemptorist was guilty, he was forced to take the allegation seriously and prohibited Gerard from having any contact with the outside world. Gerard was in disgrace. His confreres urged him to clear his name. "It is in God’s hands," Gerard answered. "If he wills that my innocence be proven, who can accomplish it more easily than he?" Fortunately, a few months later Neria’s conscience began to torment her. She admitted that she had lied, and Gerard’s name was cleared.
By the spring of 1755, Gerard’s health was failing. Tuberculosis left him looking "more like a ghost than a man." A few months before his death, he wrote in a letter to a friend, "The pain is so very, very severe that I cannot follow in Christ’s footsteps, I cannot walk, I cannot even move, being fastened with him to the cross, and in terrible agony. Everyone seems to have abandoned me. I bow my head and say, ‘This is the wish of my dear Lord. I accept it.’"
One of Gerard’s last requests was that a sign be tacked to his door, saying, "Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills." He died just before dawn on October 16, after crying out from his bed, "Look! Look! It is the Madonna."
Alicia von Stamwitz has been writing the lives of the saints for twenty years.