Saint Gerard Majella
St. Gerard Majella was born in the southern part of Italy in Muro, fifty miles south of Naples, in the year 1726. He was the baby of the family, the youngest of five children. On April 6th, his mother Benedetta and father Dominic rejoiced at the birth of this their newest child, but alas the joy was mixed with fear – fear he wouldn’t survive. He was so frail and sickly at birth, they immediately brought the baby to the Cathedral to be baptized. The stigma of being frail and sickly followed him all the days of his life. He had to fight harder to be able to become a member of a Religious community because of his frailty.
He felt drawn to the Church from his earliest days. He spent as much time there as possible. His mother, Benedetta Golella Majella said of him, “My child’s only happiness was in church, on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament. He would stop there till he forgot it was dinner-time. In the house he prayed all day. He was born for Heaven.”
Miracle of the Bread
At about age 5, unusual blessings were showered on the family through Gerard’s time in church. He began to come home with a loaf of bread under his arms. Now this was a very welcome gift to the family, who never had enough to eat with five hungry children, plus a mother and father. So they were happy to see the loaf of bread, but concerned about where it came from. They knew their child would not steal, but his defense when asked where it came from was always the same. When questioned where he got the bread, he would invariably answer, “A most beautiful boy gave it to me.” This did not make any sense to the parents, but they didn’t know how to further approach the matter.
His sister, Elizabeth, was more of a no-nonsense person. She found it hard to accept his explanation. She decided she would get to the bottom of it, and so she followed him to the church one day. She watched him kneeling and praying before a statue of the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus in Her arms. As she continued to spy on her brother, an astounding thing happened. An ordinary act became extraordinary. The Child Jesus came down from His Mother’s arms and began to play with little Gerard. Elizabeth thought her heart would burst, when, after a little time passed, the Child Jesus gave Gerard a loaf of bread and returned to the loving arms of His Mother. When the sister shared with their mother what had happened, she was stunned, but relieved that her child had not stolen the bread. From that time on, however, the entire family looked upon Gerard differently. They paid attention to him when he said he saw and spoke to Our Lady and Our Lord Jesus.
Even his parish priest realized how special a boy he had in his midst, so much so that he allowed Gerard to receive Communion every other day. Today, we don’t think anything special about that, but at the time of St. Gerard, the Church was plagued by Jansenism, which was totally against anyone receiving the Lord that often. Actually, there is a tradition that at age seven, Gerard hungered for the Eucharist, and went up to the altar rail to receive. It is said that the priest, upon looking at him, and realizing how young he was, passed him by, which crushed him completely. But the story goes that the following night, St. Michael the Archangel came to him and gave him his First Holy Communion.
His whole life was filled with Heavenly experiences, but he also felt the strong presence of the evil one. His father, Dominic, died when he was very young, only twelve years old, and his mother sent him to learn his father’s trade of tailoring. The man he was sent to, Martin Pannuto, was a good man, who realized the need the family
Jansenism taught that God chose a few to be saved, that God does not will all men to be saved-only a small minority, that He did not die for all-only that small minority He chose to be saved. With these Jansenist heresies, there is no hope in prayer to Jesus, directly or through Mary and the Saints. Jansen’s dogma points back to Calvin’s no hope, no help dogma of predestination.
had of Gerard being able to provide for them, and so he treated him with great respect. However, the journeyman, with whom Gerard worked every day, was a completely different story. He treated him miserably. There’s no logical explanation for the man’s behavior towards this young boy, other than that he was in the employ of the devil, and realized what a special child of God was before him. For the entire time that Gerard was apprenticing with Martin Pannuto, this employee took every opportunity to deride him and persecute him in as many ways as he could, never sparing the rod on any occasion he saw fit.
Gerard never questioned his behavior or why he had such disdain for him. Instead, believing all was under the control of God and His Divine Will, Gerard would smile when he was beaten. Completely perplexed, and a little more than annoyed, one day the journeyman asked him why it was that he was smiling when being beaten. To which, he replied: “I was smiling because I saw the Hand of God striking me.” Needless to say, the journeyman did not appreciate his attitude and the totally Christian manner with which Gerard handled the abusive behavior. If anything, it made him all the more furious.
Four years later, after having completed his apprenticeship, everyone thought he would set up his own tailor shop. So it was a surprise when he applied for a position with the Bishop of Lacedonia, as a servant in his household. The Bishop just happened to be recuperating from an illness in Muro, Gerard’s home town. This was to be another test for Gerard, as the Bishop was as inconsiderate as Gerard was considerate and as harsh as Gerard was kind and gentle. All his friends told him this was not a wise choice, since all the servants who had worked for this Bishop had never lasted but a short time. They could not put up with his temper. But no matter, Gerard served the unhappy Bishop faithfully, filling his duties without complaint or bitterness.
Miracle of the Key
As God always allows the sweet along with the bitter, one of Gerard’s miracles came to pass during his sojourn with the Bishop. One day Gerard accidentally dropped a key to the Bishop’s house into the well. Because the Child Jesus had been a Friend and Benefactor from the time Gerard was a boy, with the simplicity and innocence of a Saint, Gerard lowered a statue of the Child Jesus in the well. Before the onlookers could begin to make fun of him, to their utter astonishment, Gerard raised the statue of the Child Jesus, only now with the key in its hand.
But as all things, good or bad, come to an end, the Bishop died three years later in 1745 and Gerard, now 19 years old, returned to his family’s home in Muro, and opened a tailor shop. While the business did well, Gerard was not a businessman. He remained at home and supported his mother and three sisters, giving one third of his income to them for their upkeep. He also supported the poor, giving them one third of his income, and the remaining third went for stipends for saying Masses for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. So he never had any money, but money had no meaning to him, other than how he could help the poor or have Masses offered for the Souls in Purgatory.