On October 16, we celebrate the feast of St. Gerard Majella. St. Gerard was born the son of a tailor on April 6, 1726. He grew up about 50 miles south of Naples in Muro Lucano, Italy, in a large, poor family. When St. Gerard was only 12, his father Dominic Majella entered eternal rest. Upon the death of his father, Gerard’s mother, beholden to poverty, sent Gerard away to live with his uncle. Gerard thereafter became an apprentice to a tailor. This tailor treated him well; however, the foreman treated him poorly.
After serving as a sewing apprentice for a couple years, he instead became a servant in the household of the bishop of Lacedonia, who was a cantankerous master. Upon the death of the bishop in 1745, he returned home. At the age of 21, he became a journeyman. He split his earnings for his mother and the poor, and made offerings for the holy souls in purgatory. Afterwards, he opened his own tailor shop.
At a young age, Gerard tried to join the local Capuchins, but he was turned down twice due to his youth and poor health. He also tried to become a hermit, but that too was not God’s will for him. He then entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in 1749 and professed perpetual vows under the Redemptorist’s founder, St. Alphonsus Liguori, in 1751.
He served as tailor and infirmarian and became known for his extraordinary supernatural gifts of bilocation, prophecy, ecstasies, visions, and infused knowledge. Though not ordained to the holy order of priest, his spiritual direction and advice were sought by many among the clergy and communities of nuns, to which he also gave conferences. He was most successful in converting sinners, and was widely known for his sanctity and charity.
In 1754, he was calumniated and accused of lechery by a woman named Neria Caggiano. Caggiano later admitted her charge was a lie. Even before she admitted to her falsehood, Gerard did not deny her charges. As these charges were still up in the air, his superiors became suspicious, so they put him under surveillance and excluded him from communion for months until the girl admitted that she had lied. When asked by St. Alphonsus why he had kept silent in such circumstances, Gerard replied that he thought such patience was required in the face of unjust accusations. As Gerard bore this calumny with such humility and patience, St. Alphonsus said, “Brother Gerard is a saint.”
Gerard was sent to Naples soon after, but when the house was inundated by visitors wanting to see him, he was sent to Caposele a few months later. He served as the porter there and ministered to the poor of the town. Gerard spent the last few months of his life raising funds for new buildings at Caposele.
Just prior to his death, Gerard visited his friends, the Pirofalo family. One of the daughters ran and called after him as he left the home, as he had dropped his handkerchief. Speaking through the gift of prophecy, he replied, “Keep it. It will be useful to you someday.” Years down the road, when this young woman was in danger during childbirth, she recalled these words of Gerard, and requested the handkerchief. The handkerchief was applied to her, thus a miracle: her pain immediately ceased and she gave birth to a healthy child.
Gerard died of tuberculosis on October 16, 1755, at the age of 29 in Caposele. He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on January 29, 1893, and was canonized on December 11, 1904, by Pope Saint Pius X. He is the patron saint of mothers, motherhood, expectant mothers, childbirth, children, pregnant women, unborn children, the pro-life movement, the falsely accused, good confessions, and lay brothers.
Catholic News Agency