NOTICE: I am a practicing Catholic, active and in good-standing with my local diocese, who professes faith and loyalty to the Church. This ministry - my "little work" - is strictly a personal expression of that faith and loyalty, and not an officially recognized ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu.

~ Peter, Ministry Administrator

Monday, April 1, 2024

Saint of the Month - April 2024: Saint Gemma Galgani


St. Gemma Galgani
The Passion Flower of Lucca
Feast: April 11th

This biography is long overdue, and this writer is embarrassed to admit it since St. Gemma is one of my Patron Saints - a personal favorite - along with St. Anthony of Padua (d. 1231).  She has not only obtained many signal graces for me, but her example of victimhood spirituality continually inspires me!  Consequently, I am especially happy to pay tribute to this Saint by blogging about her incredible life.  Please allow her to inspire you, as well ...

Gemma Umberta Maria Galgani was born on March 12, 1878, in the small Italian town of Camigliano, Italy, but her father - a successful pharmacist – relocated the family to a larger home in nearby Lucca shortly after her birth.  Soon, however, the Galganis were hit with a string of misfortunes, starting with the mother – the pious Aurelia Galgani – contracting tuberculosis when Gemma was only 2-years-old.  The dreaded disease claimed not only the mother five years later, but it also took two of the Saint’s brothers (one was a seminarian), along with one of Gemma’s little sisters.

Despite these early tragedies, and likely influenced by Aurelia's example, Gemma developed piety from a tender age.  Her budding faith was also nurtured by Bl. Elena Guerra (d. 1914) and her teaching congregation - the Sisters of St. Zita in Lucca - to whom Gemma was sent to be educated; she was well-liked by her teachers and peers for her intelligence, devotion, and her kindness, but eventually had to drop out of the school due to chronic illness.

At 16, our Saint developed Spinal Meningitis, which left her bedridden and in dire condition.  She spent the time at home in spiritual reading and prayer, and was graced with a series of mystical encounters with St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin, who Gemma admired after reading his biography (he was only ranked a Servant of the God at the time).  Gabriel directed the sick girl to pray a novena to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the visionary nun of the Sacred Heart Revelations (she was only Beatified at the time) … and he returned daily, for the duration of the novena, to pray with Gemma.  She was completely healed at the end of the prayers!

The miracle of Gemma’s cure seemed to open the door to other mystical charisms in her life, among which were reported the following:

  • Ecstasies, which came upon her during periods of prayer and spiritual contemplation – gradually or sometimes suddenly – which left her oblivious to the external world.
  • Apparitions of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin from whom she received direction.
  • Familiar contact with her personal Guardian Angel, who further mentored and assisted the Saint, and who she saw visibly with uncommon frequency.

These various supernatural manifestations caused friction between Gemma and her family, as they misunderstood her … and she was often ridiculed by her siblings.  To make matters worse, her father died when she was 19, and the task of caring for her younger siblings fell upon her shoulders.  Poverty then followed for the Galganis, which was somewhat alleviated when Gemma was taken-in by an aunt.  Things did not fare better for her, though, as the Saint was still subjected to scrutiny and suspicion because of the ongoing phenomena that continued to surrounded her.  Furthermore, her relatives were extremely annoyed by Gemma’s resistance to their efforts to marry her off.

Her situation escalated in June 1899, when the Lord marked the young maiden with His Sacred Stigmata, which bled every week, via wounds that opened in her hands, feet, side, and around her head, beginning on Thursday nights and ending Friday afternoons with no trace of injury.  To the suffering of the Stigmata can be added occasional attacks from demons who, enraged by her holiness and sacrifices, sought to intimidate and frighten her, via frightful apparitions and physical harrasment, but to no avail.

Providentially, God  provided Gemma with a holy spiritual director – a Passionist priest named FrGermano Ruoppolo (now a Venerable in the Sainthood Process) – who expertly guided the Saint by requiring her strict obedience; ordering her to keep a diary; and by downplaying her mystical gifts in order to keep her humble.  She complied with everything Fr. Germano asked, and his priestly blessing also served to protect her from diabolic attacks … and knowing the difficulties she endured in her family home, the priest was instrumental in having Gemma moved in with an exceptionally devout family in Lucca, named the Gianninis.  In this new home, the Saint was afforded the freedom (and privacy) to practice her faith and experience her ongoing divine encounters with the dignity she deserved; she was treated as a daughter by the Giannini family and remained with them until her death.

Under the direction of Fr. Germano and the maternal care of Aunt Cecilia Giannini, Gemma’s sanctity reached its pinnacle - she was a model of humility, obedience, modesty, chastity, devotion, and generous self-sacrifice.  Furthermore, the Giannini household became privy to added charisms manifested in the Saint's life:

  • Prophetic foresight
  • Levitation (Gemma was witnessed lifted several feet above the ground to the figure of Christ on a large crucifix in the Giannini home)
  • Transverberation (the piercing of the heart with the “Wound of Divine Love”)
  • Incendium Amoris (being on fire with Divine Love) (Gemma once complained to our Lord that her heart was too small to adequately love Him, after which it immediately swelled-up to approximately 5 times its normal size, displacing two ribs without causing any pain to the Saint; a tangible, elevated heat emanated from her, as well as, a luminous glow being seen from her chest on many occasions, especially during her ecstasies).

Towards the end of her life, Gemma had often expressed to her confessor her desire to become a Passionist nun, but her goal was never realized because of her precarious health and the mystical sufferings she endured.  She did, however, correctly predict that after her death, a monastery of Passionist Nuns would be founded in Lucca and she would eventually be with them then.  All happened as she said.

This hidden mystic’s life ended on April 11, 1903 – a Holy Saturday – after she succumbed to the same disease that claimed many of her family members (Tuberculosis); Gemma was only 25-years-old.  Almost immediately, a spontaneous devotion sprung up in Lucca around the memory of the “Passion Flower" of Lucca.  Her cause was taken up by the Passionist Congregation, who considered her one of their own, and successfully concluded in her Canonization on May 2, 1940.

St. Gemma's tomb in Lucca, Italy

Today, Gemma’s tomb and relics are enshrined under the main altar of the sanctuary dedicated to her in Lucca … and which are lovingly cared for by nuns from the adjoining Passionist Monastery!

Dear St. Gemma, as you opened your
heart in total surrender to the Love of God,
help us open our hearts to Him!

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