Devoted to a life of service and of prayer
Italian saint lived a short but holy life of penance, prayer
By Tony Staley
At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, then told them they too must serve others. Gerard Majella learned the lesson well and spent his short life serving others.
This 18th century saint was born in southern Italy in Muro. After the death of his father, a tailor, Gerard was apprenticed to a tailor.
But Gerard, whose mother described him as an ideal child who prayed constantly, with a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, wanted to join the Capuchins. But they said he was too young and frail and rejected him.
Instead, he became a servant of the bishop of that diocese, a man known for treating his servants poorly. Nevertheless, Gerard stayed with him for three years until the bishop died. Gerard then returned home to his mother and sisters and became a successful tailor, supporting his family and helping the poor.
When a group of Redemptorist priests came to Muro to conduct a mission, Gerard was so inspired that he asked to go with them to become a lay brother. But they also thought he was too frail and asked his family to lock him in his room until they left town.
Gerard would not be stopped. He tied his bed linens together and escaped out a window. The superior, impressed by Gerard's persistence - but nothing else - sent him to a nearby Redemptorist community with a note saying, "I am sending you a useless lay brother."
Gerard proved him wrong, serving as a gardener, sacristan, infirmarian, cook, tailor, porter, carpenter and construction foreman. But his spiritual gifts are what attracted attention.
He soon became known for performing miracles and for being able to tell people what their sins were. He was also known for his spiritual wisdom, giving generously to the poor and for being able to bi-locate - be in two places at once.
And always, he sought to help others. One hot summer day, while Gerard was dying of tuberculosis, he cured a lay brother assigned to care for him, who also suffered TB.
That was the bright side of Gerard. But there was another side that's hard to understand. He performed extreme physical penances daily. For example, he always wore a heavy chain. At least twice a day he made a cross on the floor with his tongue. He fasted weekly and three days a week ate while kneeling.
It must be said that such penances were not uncommon then and even encouraged by some. Fortunately, these are no longer recommended and we are not asked to follow his example in penance. Rather, we are asked to use Gerard as a model for service and prayer.
Sources: Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints, Patron Saints, Saints for Our Time and Voices of the Saints