History of Saint Gerard Mejalla
The life of St. Gerard Majella reads like a fairy tale for
children: full of surprises, full of impossible things that
happen anyway because of him. An archangel brings him Communion!
A statue comes to life! Empty pantries suddenly bulge with
bread! A bird bolts out of the air to perch on his finger
and sing for a crying child! The life of St. Gerard teems
with such things. If you are one who finds wonders hard to
stomach, if dozens of “commonplace” miracles tax
your forbearance . . . this booklet is not for you. Lay it
will love this story . . . and their mothers, too. That is
only as it should be. For today, for some secret reason of
Divine Providence, little ones and their mothers are St. Gerard’s
favorite beneficiaries. Thousands of children in the United
States bear the name “Gerard” because of his powerful
intercession. He is commonly called the Patron of Mothers.
Annibale Rosso! It was incredible. He had suddenly
given up membership in the Communist Party. Even more surprising,
he was seen at mass. People naturally talked in the small
town south of Naples. Communism was on every lip just then,
for it was the month of April 1948. On the third Sunday of
the month all Italy would vote and Communism might well take
over the government. But one thing was certain. The vote of
Annibale Rosso would be against the Hammer and Sickle. He
said so himself. He swore a solemn oath, he would have no
more truck or traffic with the Party . . . not after last
night he had been ranting in his usual fashion against the
“duplicity and trickery of the Church.” If anything
he was more boisterous, more caustic than ever. The occasion
was a candlelight procession that had come to town. People
singing. Little children in white carrying spring flowers,
and priests in the black cassock and rosary of the “Liguorini”
– the Redemptorists. Annibale cursed the “tomfoolery.”
He was all for stoning the priest preaching in the public
square before the church. “What new-fangled sort of
nonsense is this?” he muttered . . . “digging
up a saint two hundred years dead and carrying him round the
countryside! It’s a trick. The whole thing is a trick
of these priests.”
the wish of the Archbishop of Conza, the remains of St. Gerard
Majella had been traveling through the Archdiocese since the
first of April. They would continue visiting town after town
until April 15th. It was an attempt at waking the towns of
the Archdiocese to the practice of their Faith; to warn them
of their duty as Catholics to vote on April eighteenth and
avert the red menace. Gerard Majella had come from that neighborhood.
He had visited these very towns as a Redemptorist laybrother
two centuries ago. He had died at Materdomini in 1755 at the
age of twenty-nine. Wonders were his specialty. Stories of
his miracles were still handed down from father to son all
through that countryside.
the fifteen-day tour of his native diocese of Conza, St. Gerard
continued his wonders. All spring the skies had been clear.
The fields were parched and dry. Farmers, among them Annibale
Rosso, were hoping for rain for their crops. The evening the
procession came to the town, it rained for the first time
in weeks. The same thing had happened in many other places.
Then there was a little thirteen-year-old girl suffering from
an incurable malady – tuberculosis of the bone. The
afternoon St. Gerard passed through the village, she was cured
rumor of all these happenings ran like wildfire. By the time
the procession came to the town of Annibale Rosso, new wonders
were already passing from lip to lip. It was too much for
Annibale. The peasants with their beads and shawls, the smoking
candles, the church bells, the sermon, the flower-decked statue
of Our Lady of Materdomini. People stood in queues waiting
to confess their sins. Eight Redemptorists were constantly
busy. And there was to be a Mass at midnight! Annibale Rosso
swore a withering oath and went home to bed.
it happened. In his sleep he saw St. Gerard Majella accompanied
by a group of priests. “Annibale Rosso, have I not helped
you often before this?” The saint’s face was stern.
His dark eyes flashed disapproval. “Have all my graces
been fruitless? Do you think you can make sport of the Saints
of God and come off unscathed? It is not as you say, a “trick”
of these good priests, that I am carried through the countryside.
I am visiting my friends . . ." Annibale Rosso sat up
in bed. He was trembling. Dressing at once, he hurried down
to the church, waiting with his townsmen to confess his sins
and receive the absolution of the missionary.
1948, just as in 1755, Brother Gerard Majella of the Redemptorists
was busy – not only battling with Communists in Italy,
but leading the counterattack in America on the forces of
Anti-life, pouring favors on countless mothers, and blessing
He was born in the South of Italy in a small town called Muro
on the sixth of April. It was in the year 1726. His father,
Domenico, was a tailor. His mother, Benedetta, had already
borne three daughters. Gerard was the youngest – the
only son. They were an ordinary hard-working Italian family.
Pious too. Donna Benedetta often brought her three youngest
to Mass with her at the shrine of Our Lady of Graces at nearby
Capotignano. And, like thousands of other small boys, then
and now, Gerard was all eyes for the strange new things he
saw. Not quite four, he was too young to know what was going
on. But he did know this: he liked the “pretty
lady with the baby.”
Mama, see what I got from the little boy.” In his hand
he clutched a small roll of bread. Nobody paid him a bit of
attention as he chattered about a pretty lady and her baby
who had given him the bread. Small boys love to make up stories!
But the next day he brought back another white roll, and again
the next day, and the next. His mother decided to investigate.
Next morning she followed her son. Off he ran the two miles
to Capotignano, making straight for the chapel. Benedetta
followed. It was then she saw who his playmate was –
the Christ-Child himself. The statue of Our Lady of Graces
had come to life. The infant climbed down from his Mother’s
arms to romp with Gerard. A bewildered Benedetta ran home
to Muro. At mealtime, little Gerard came back with another
roll of bread.
after life this childhood attraction for the “pretty
lady with the baby” ran over into a love for all children
and their mothers. This can be seen in the most cursory glance
at his life. There are so many wonders wrought for little
children . . . and for mothers. The “Mother’s
Saint” has earned even greater claim to the title in
the nineteen decades since his death.
Ten years later when he was houseboy for Bishop Albini at
Lacedonia, children went home to their mothers with all sorts
of stories told them by Gerard Majella. But the townsfolk
had learned about the new houseboy themselves. Everyone had
tales of his kindness, his visits to the poor in the clinic,
his compassion. How he bandaged the wounds of the sick and
brought them leftovers from the bishop’s table. Anyone
who noticed him at prayer in the cathedral knew Gerard for
what he was.
the morning they saw him running down the cathedral steps
with the Bambino, they didn’t know what to say! It was
the last week in December in 1743. People stopped and stared
at Gerard racing down the street with the statue of the Infant
from the crib. A crowd followed after him. He paid no attention.
On he ran to the public well.
happened? What’s the matter?” Someone explained
how His Lordship had gone for his morning walk, and the house-boy
had locked the door and come down to the well for water: but
as he leaned down to haul up the bucket, the bishop’s
key had dropped into the well.
had by now tied a rope around the Bambino, and was lowering
it gently into the well. “Gesu, Gesu Bambino”
he prayed aloud, “find me my key. It’s the key
to His Lordship’s house . . . and he’ll be back
in half an hour . . .” Bystanders craned their necks
to peer into the well. Others shook their heads and walked
off. Some smiled a little smugly at the antics of the frightened
houseboy. But when he pulled up the rope from the well and
the dripping statue of the Infant came into view, there in
Bambino’s tiny hand was the Bishop’s key.
June of 1744, Bishop Albini died at Lacedonia and Gerard returned
to his hometown of Muro. He had been apprenticed to a master-tailor
before going to Lacedonia to work for the bishop and knew
the trade quite well. Now after a short apprenticeship with
a second tailor, he set up his own business in his mother’s
magic in an established name. And the sign “Majella
the Tailor” hanging over the shop brought many of his
father’s old customers to the door. His growing reputation
for faultless workmanship won him patrons from all walks of
life. His prices were always fair. He was scrupulously honest.
From the poor, he took no payment at all.
day, a man came in with some goods for a suit. Gerard spread
it on the table, and laid his tape measure along its length.
“Mmmmm!” He shook his head. The cloth was much
too short. The poor man could not hide his chagrin, as he
had no money for more. “It is nothing,” said Gerard,
running his fingers along the edge of the cloth. He measured
it once more. Three yards . . . four . . . five! More than
enough for a fine substantial suit! As a matter of fact, when
the garment was finished, the man received a good extra piece
of material. The cloth had grown longer under Gerard’s
April 6, 1747. How the years fly! Gerard was twenty-one and
as yet had not found his heart’s desire. He had a fair
business: at least he could support his mother. He gave he
a third of all his earnings. Another third went to the poor
of Muro. The rest was for Masses for the Poor Souls. As for
himself . . . God would provide. Not too practical to a hard-headed
businessman, but he was more than just a small town tailor.
He wanted to be a saint.
mother was driven to distraction by her son. He would not
eat her meals. He was lean from fasting and penance, pale
from long vigils of prayer in the nearby cathedral. But if
his constitution was frail, his disposition was always on
a holiday: gay as a lark, merry as a little child.
Twice he had applied for admission to the Capuchin monastery
at Muro. But a glance at his sunken chest and thin white hands,
and the Capuchins turned him down. Candidly, they told him,
he had not the health nor stamina for so strenuous a life.
Perhaps he should go off into the hills to live as a hermit
in seclusion and holy meditation! He tried it but his confessor
firmly forbade it. So Gerard went back to his needles and
tape. He understood that a man can achieve holiness in any
walk of life, in the faithful discharge of his duties. If
it were God’s will that he be a tailor, then he would
be a good one.
God showed evident approval. The whole countryside spoke openly
of his supernatural powers. Had he not cured little Amata
Giuliani! The little girl had tumbled into a vat of boiling
water and for all the medications of oil and wax, the child
whimpered in her mother’s arms all day. As Gerard was
passing the house he heard the child and went in. “It
is nothing,” he said, laying his hand on the scalded
skin. Suddenly, little Amata Giuliani was smiling. The next
morning all trace of the burn was gone.
down a side street of Muro another day, Gerard noticed a new
house abuilding. Work was at a standstill. The carpenters
stood awkwardly by while the foreman ran his fingers through
his hair in a helpless rage. The rafters had been sawed too
short. “Pull them with ropes,” suggested the onlooker.
Practical men though they were, they took the suggestion.
The rafters fitted snugly from wall to wall, and work was
No matter what was ado about the cathedral, Gerard was there.
He attended all the Sunday Masses, the May devotions, the
tridua. In fact, he often spent the whole night locked up
in church. One of his relatives happened to be sacristan.
The rest was easy. One evening while deep in prayer, Gerard
heard a voice . . . “Pazzarello . . . My little fool,
what are you doing?” looking up at the altar, he answered.
“Ah, but you are more a fool than I, a prisoner for
me in your tabernacle.” When the bells rang for Mass
the next morning, Gerard was still in church.
was there the afternoon of Low Sunday, April 13, 1749, for
the start of the parish retreat. A newly founded congregation
of missionaries were to preach in all three churches of Muro.
Their founder had been a well-known lawyer at Naples, Alphonsus
de Liguori. Wherever these missionaries went, they moved all
hearts with their fervent words. It was the same in Muro.
of the missionaries, Father Paul Cafaro, made a deep impression
on Gerard Majella. “I must join these men as a lay brother,”
he decided. Each day the resolution grew more insistent in
his heart. He even gave away all his worldly goods –
one extra shirt and a pair of linen breeches! Finally, he
went to see Father Cafaro.
But like the Capuchin superior a few years before, Father
Cafaro gave him no encouragement. He was too frail for the
rigorous tasks of a lay brother. Despite the rebuff Gerard
was not disheartened. He was convinced that God wanted him
to join his new Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. He
went on making preparations for departure.
his mother discovered the plan she was frantic. His three
sisters wept aloud, pleading with him to stay. “Mother
needs you at home,” they insisted. But Gerard stood
firm. He was going to Iliceto to become a Redemptorist! They
ran to the missionaries, begging them not to accept their
brother. Father Cafaro has no intention whatever of accepting
the young man. However, he shrewdly foresaw it would be hard
to dissuade this importunate youth. “Detain him at home
somehow the day we leave,” was Father Cafaro’s
advice to Gerard’s distracted family. They promised
to do so.
bolted Gerard’s door the morning the Redemptorists left
Muro. But later when she tiptoed into the room, he was not
there. His bed-clothes, knotted together, streamed from the
open window, and on a small table lay a scrap of paper: “Mother,
I am off to become a saint,” it read. It was signed
“Gerardo.” He had gone after the missionaries.
“Wait, wait for me!” The group of missionaries
half way to Rionero turned to see a cloud of dust on the road
behind them. It was that young man again. He had pursued them
for twelve miles. Gasping for breath, he commenced his entreaties
all over. He was too frail for the life, the missionaries
countered. He had better go back to Muro. But Gerard would
not be put off. He argued. He nagged. He pleaded. He prayed
to Our Lady. He made such a holy nuisance of himself during
the next few days in Rionero that Father Cafaro at last gave
in. He wrote a short note for the Rector of the monastery
at Iliceto, and gave it to the persistent young man. At once
Gerard was on his way. By nightfall, he had reached the novitiate
of the Redemptorists.
a Saturday evening, the seventeenth of May in 1749, a tired
young man, dusty from long hours of walking, knocked on the
door of the monastery at Iliceto. Soon he was presenting his
precious letter to Father D’Antonio, the rector. He
had no idea of what Father Cafaro had written. As the Rector
unfolded the note, Gerard was all happiness, his face wreathed
in smiles. “I am sending you a brother, who as far as
work goes, will be perfectly useless.” The Rector glanced
up at the young man over the letter, noting the frail little
frame and the pallid face. He read on . . . “But because
of his many earnest entreaties, and the high reputation he
holds in Muro, I could not quite deny him a trial . . .”
Now Father D’Antonio was smiling. “This is not
an easy life,” he dryly remarked, “But we will
give you a chance at it.” Gerardo Majella was happy
unto tears. He was going to be a religious . . . a lay brother
of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.
Majella, the Redemptorist Lay-brother
A lay brother is lay: he is not an ordained priest. He is
not bound to the Divine Office. He does not say Mass or hear
Confessions, or preach missions. But he is a brother to the
priests of the community, wearing the same Redemptorist habit,
living under the same roof, eating the same meals, sharing
the community’s prayers and good works. He is a religious
with the three vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience . .
. the same vows as any Redemptorist priest. In no sense is
he a servant to the priests. He is their helper. He takes
care of the material upkeep of the monastery while his confreres
are busy with the spiritual work of the apostolic ministry.
He has little commerce with the world beyond the monastery
walls except when the business of the house may require it.
He should be modest, humble, simple, and joyously obedient.
Above all, he must be devoted to prayer.
what we do of Gerard, we can appreciate how ideally he fitted
these requirements. Today, in the Constitutions of the Lay
Brothers of the Congregation, St. how ideally he fitted these
requirements. Today, in the Constitutions of the Lay Brothers
of the Congregation, St. Gerard Majella is named their patron
and model. But, back to Iliceto in May of 1749.
morning he began his new apprenticeship: doing odd jobs here
and there about the monastery, helping the brothers at their
various tasks. His first assignment was the garden . . . hard
and back-breaking work for a lad accustomed to needle and
thimble. Somehow he managed to finish his own work and always
have time to help the others. “This new-comer does the
work of four of us,” was the comment of his new companions.
Their admiration mounted wit the weeks; and by the time Father
Cafaro came as Rector to Iliceto in October of that year,
the young man from Muro was considered the jewel of the house.
Will of God
The new Rector of Iliceto was quick to realize how premature
he had been with his scribbled recommendations. Absolutely
worthless! It embarrassed him to remember what he had written.
Not only could the postulant do the work of four, he did the
downright impossible! He read the minds of total strangers.
He cured sicknesses. He set the natural laws at naught. His
recollection was constant. So fixed were his thoughts on God
and His Holy Will, he became a model of punctilious obedience.
That was the secret of Gerard’s holiness: that in everything
he sought the Will of God. For him the Redemptorist Rule in
its minutest detail was the express Will of God. He knew it
by heart. Were the rulebook to be lost, he could have rewritten
it from memory, line for line. He obeyed his superiors to
the letter. Often they had but to think of a task for Gerard,
when at once he began to execute their wish.
was the morning the Rector sent him off to Lacedonia with
a letter for one of the priests of the town. He had been gone
some time when the Rector remembered a post-script he had
meant to add. “If I could only get hold of that letter,”
he thought. Hardly had he phrased the thought when there was
a knock at his door, and Gerard walked in with the letter.
Without a word, he laid it on the Rector’s desk.
weeks later, the Rector was visiting the Bishop of Melfi.
Conversation turned to the young man at Iliceto whom everyone
regarded as a saint. The Rector spoke glowingly of him, so
much so that the Bishop wanted to meet the young novice: would
it be possible for Gerard to visit with him at Melfi? When
the Rector agreed, the Bishop called for a messenger; but
the Rector smilingly assured him a messenger would be unnecessary.
“Your lordship, I will show you the extent of this young
man’s obedience. I will close my eyes and desire him
to come to Melfi.
that same moment, Gerard went to Father Minister at Iliceto
for permission to go to Melfi, as the Rector wished to see
him. And while the Bishop was still conversing with the Rector,
Brother Gerard came into the room.
what brings you here, Brother?” the Rector feigned surprise.
“Obedience,” said Gerard. “I sent no message
for you to come here,” the Rector spoke sternly. “No,”
replied Gerard meekly. “But in the presence of His Lordship
you commanded me to come, as he desired to meet me.”
So the Bishop of Melfi met the novice. He remained at Melfi
for three weeks.
Reports of his wonders came from all quarters. One afternoon
a rough looking character came to Iliceto and asked for the
Rector. He wanted to go to confession. After making his peace
with God, he told how he had come to seek out Iliceto. “I
was coming down the road quite a distance from here thinking
my own wicked thoughts, when just below Acadia at an intersection
I met one of your Brothers. He stood there as though he were
expecting me. I hastened my pace as I had no mind to talk
to him. When he saluted me, I snarled that he mind his own
affairs. He was a frail, thin fellow; but then he reached
out and grasped my arm and held me as in a vice. “Where
are you going?” he asked. “I may be able to help
you.” I was furious at his impertinence! I tried to
jerk my arm from his grasp. “I know what is in your
heart. You are in despair. You are on the point of giving
your soul to the Evil One.” I turned pale at his words,
because it was the truth. That very moment I had been mulling
over that very idea. “God knows what you are thinking.
He sent me to this spot to warn you.” Frightened at
the way he could read my soul, I admitted I was about to commit
a crime, and asked his guidance. He told me to come here to
Iliceto to you.
The days of Brother Gerard’s novitiate were drawing
to a close. He had tried the Redemptorist Rule and found it
to his liking. His various superiors had tried him in many
ways and found that he passed their tests. Anyone who observed
him in chapel knew he was a man of prayer. His fellow Brothers
could vouch for his alacrity at the hardest work. From all
over came reports of his wondrous dealings with the poor and
the sick and the sinner.
On the feast of Our Lady’s Visitation in 1752, Brother
Gerard commenced his fifteen-day retreat in preparation to
make his vows as a Redemptorist. On July sixteenth, the feast
of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, he knelt in the chapel at Iliceto
and pronounced in the presence of his community, the vows
of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, and the oath of Perseverance
until death. Brother Gerard Majella was a professed member
of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. Two months
later, with the consent of his Director, he made a fifth vow:
To do always that which was most pleasing to God.
as Gerard preferred solitude and meditation, his life as a
lay brother demanded that he often leave the monastery on
business. He traveled with the missionaries, helping them
in every way possible, in their tedious weeks of preaching
in many villages and towns. Often too, he was called by the
poor and the sick. Wherever obedience demanded his presence,
Gerard was there to “do the Will of God.” And
God in turn seemed to do the will of Gerard for the benefit
of countless souls.
hometown of Muro was his first assignment after Profession.
It was now three years since he had climbed from his bedroom
window and run after the missionaries. His mother was dead.
She had passed away in April, four months before he returned.
So during his stay in Muro, he lived with Alessandro Piccolo,
the watchmaker, though he had invitations from nobles and
well-to-do, and was greeted like a hero by everyone in the
in Text Books
The students of the new seminary in Muro could hardly believe
their ears. Their rector had invited Brother Gerard to give
them a conference on the first chapter of St. John’s
Gospel. Some of them had been boys with him. They knew he
had left school at the age of twelve; that he could barely
read or write; and had never studied theology. And yet when
he began discoursing lucidly on the eternal generation of
the Second Person of the Trinity, he held them spellbound.
He made it sound so simple! Canon Bozzio was later to write
of Gerard . . . “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.” Is it any wonder that confessors flocked to
Gerard seeking advice?
always there were the children. They flocked to him from all
over Muro. He told them stories, taught them to pray. One
little fellow tumbled from a cliff and was found, to all appearances,
dead. He was the son of Piccolo, the watchmaker, with whom
Gerard was staying. “It is nothing,” he told the
distracted father. He traced a little cross on the boy’s
forehead and the child awoke.