Feast Day : October 16
Patronage: childbirth; expectant mothers; the falsely accused
Also known as: the Wonder-Worker
Gerard Majella was born in April 1726 in Muro, south of Naples. His father, Dominic Majella, was a tailor, and died while Gerard was a child. Gerard’s mother was forced to apprentice the child to a tailor, who treated him cruelly. Gerard was attracted both to the priesthood and to suffering. He became the servant of a bishop. When the bishop died, he resumed work as a tailor. In 1745 he opened his own shop, and divided his earnings between his mother and the poor, and offerings for the souls in purgatory. Gerard unsuccessfully tried to become a Franciscan, and then a hermit. In 1749 he became a Redemptorist and was professed by Alphonsus Liguori in 1752. In his vows, he promised to always do that which seemed to him to be more perfect. Though sickly, he obeyed all orders, performed his duties and was a model of virtue, much to the appreciation of Alphonsus. He also seemed to know the needs of others even when absent. Alphonsus declared him a saint. Gerard accompanied the fathers on missions, and converted many to the faith. He desired to spend so much time in church that he had to do violence to himself to keep himself away. When a woman falsely accused him, he was defended by Alphonsus, and was sent to Naples and then Caposele. The woman then admitted she had lied. Gerard remained in Caposele raising funds. He died there of tuberculosis on October 15, 1755, at age 29. After his death, Gerard became a powerful intercessor, especially for expectant mothers. During his short life, Gerard experienced many miracles and mystical experiences. He bilocated, and used his gift to spend more time in prayer, sometimes in ecstatic prayer. He fell into raptures and levitated before witnesses. On one occasion, he was seen to fly rapidly about one-quarter of a mile. He also could make himself invisible. He was often attacked and annoyed by demons, who left him bruised; he used holy water to heal the bruises. Sometimes when he fell into ecstasy, rays of light shot from him, so bright that the very room he was in seemed to be on fire. His face and body glowed until he became like a sun. He was often permeated with a heavenly odor. When he was dying, even his vomit smelled sweet. One day while traveling along the Neapolitan seashore, he saw a ship in danger of capsizing in a sudden squall. While onlookers screamed, he made the sign of the cross and ordered the boat to pause in the name of the Most Holy. He took off his mantle, laid it on the water, walked to the ship and took hold of it and pulled it to safety. Gerard’s explanation was that when God wills, all things are possible. He also controlled the elements and stopped torrential rain. He had an amazing rapport with animals, and birds were attracted to him. On one occasion he slew mice. He met a poor farmer whose field was being ravaged by mice. Gerard asked him if he would like the mice to move or to die. The farmer said he wanted them to die. Gerard made the sign of the cross, and in moments the field was covered with dead and dying mice. On numerous occasions, Gerard manifested money— after intense periods of prayer—for the poor and for church projects. He also multiplied food for the poor and for his brethren. He healed people, sometimes using dust from the tomb of St. Teresa of Avila to cure illness and prevent accidents. He had the gift of prophecy, and knew when others would die. He predicted his own death six months in advance. He said he had prayed to die of tuberculosis, knowing that few would want to attend him, and he would die virtually abandoned. He predicted the day and hour of his death. Gerard had the gift of mystical knowledge, and spontaneously said profound things at the right time. He knew the sins of others and could read souls and hearts. He knew when people had not confessed all they should, and sent them back to the confessional. Posthumous miracles are recorded as well. In 1855, during his cause of beatification, Gerard’s remains were exhumed. The head and bones oozed a perfumed oil or manna in such abundance that a basin overran with it. The manna was collected on handkerchiefs and linens and given to the sick, many of whom were healed. In 1892, the remains were exhumed again. The bones, found to be humid, were dried and placed in a casket. Four hours later, they were found to be oozing a sweet, white oil. The oil never appeared again. In 1895, two years after Gerard’s beatification, people gathered at Caposele to celebrate his feast day. After delivery of a panegyric and prayer, three flashes like lightning illuminated the chapel containing the saint’s tomb, the basilica of Materdomini.