Gerard Majella, C.Ss.R. (April 6, 1726 – October 16, 1755), was an Italian lay brother of the Congregation of the Redeemer, better known as the Redemptorists, who is honored as a saint by the Catholic Church. His intercession is sought for children, unborn children, women in childbirth, mothers, expectant mothers, motherhood, falsely accused people, good confessions, lay brothers and Muro Lucano, Italy.
Majella was born in Muro Lucano, Basilicata, the youngest of five children. He was the son of a tailor who died when Gerard was twelve, leaving the family in poverty. His mother then sent him to her brother so that he could teach Gerard to sew and follow in his father's footsteps. However, the foreman was abusive. The boy kept silent, but soon his uncle found out and the man who taught him resigned from the job. After four years apprenticeship, he took a job as a servant to work for the local Bishop of Lacedonia. Upon the bishop's death Gerard returned to his trade, working first as a journeyman and then on his own account. His earnings he divided between his mother and the poor, and in offerings for the souls in purgatory.
He tried to join the Capuchin Order, but his health prevented it. In 1749 he joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known as Redemptorists. This order was founded in 1732 by St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) at Scala, near Naples. They are essentially a missionary order dedicated to "preaching the word of God to the poor." Their apostolate consists principally in the giving of missions and retreats.
During his life, Majella was very close to the peasants and other outsiders who lived in the Neapolitan countryside. In his work with the Redemptorist community he was at different times, gardener, sacristan, tailor, porter, cook, carpenter, and clerk of works on the new buildings at Caposele.
At age of 27, Majella became the subject of a malicious rumor. An acquaintance named Neria accused him of having had relations with a young woman. When confronted by Alphonsus Liguori, the founder, regarding the accusations, the young lay brother remained silent. The girl later recanted and cleared his name.
Some of Majella's reported miracles include: restoring life to a boy who had fallen from a high cliff; he blessed the scanty supply of wheat belonging to a poor family, and it lasted until the next harvest; several times he multiplied the bread that he was distributing to the poor. One day he walked across the water to lead a boatload of fishermen through stormy waves to the safety of the shore. He was reputed to have had the gift of bilocation and the ability to read souls.
Majella's last will consisted of a small note on the door of his cell saying, "Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills." He died on October 16, 1755 in Caposele, Campania, of tuberculosis, aged 29.
Some quotations attributed to Gerard Majella include:
- "The Most Blessed Sacrament is Christ made invisible. The poor sick person is Christ again made visible."
- "I see in my neighbor the Person of Jesus Christ."
- "Consider the shortness of time, the length of eternity and reflect how everything here below comes to an end and passes by. Of what use is it to lean upon that which cannot give support?"
Patron of mothers
One miracle in particular explains why Majella became known as the special patron of mothers. A few months before his death, Gerard visited the Pirofalo family and accidentally dropped his handkerchief. One of the Pirofalo girls spotted the handkerchief moments after he’d left the house, and she ran after Gerard to return it. “Keep it,” he said to her. “You may need it some day".
Years later when the girl—now a married woman—was on the verge of losing her life in childbirth, she remembered the words of the saintly lay brother. She asked for the handkerchief to be brought to her. Almost immediately the pain disappeared and she gave birth to a healthy child. This was no small feat in an era when only one out of three pregnancies resulted in a live birth, and word of the miracle spread quickly. Because of the miracles God worked through Gerard's prayers with mothers, the mothers of Italy took Gerard to their hearts and made him their patron. At the process of his beatification one witness testified that he was known as "il santo dei felice parti"—the saint of happy childbirths.
This devotion has become very popular in North America, both in the United States and Canada.
Majella was beatified in Rome on January 29, 1893, by Pope Leo XIII. He was canonised less than twelve years later on December 11, 1904, by Pope Saint Pius X. The feast day of Saint Gerard Majella is October 16.
In 1977, St. Gerard's Chapel in St. Lucy's Church (Newark, New Jersey) was dedicated as a national shrine. Each year during the Feast days which include October 16, there are the traditional lights, music, food stands and the street procession. Devotees visit the Shrine also throughout the year to petition the help of St. Gerard.
The St. Gerard Majella Annual Novena takes place every year in St. Josephs Church, Dundalk, Ireland. This annual nine-day novena is the biggest festival of faith in Ireland. St. Joseph's sponsors the St. Gerard's Family League, an association of Christians united in prayer for their own and other families, to preserve Christian values in their home and family life.
St Gerard's Church in Wellington, New Zealand, built in 1908, was the first church to be dedicated to Gerard Majella.
In England, there is a church dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes and to St. Gerard Majella in Preston, Lancashire. There is also a church dedicated to Saint Gerard Majella in Bristol.
In Scotland, there is a church dedicated to St Gerard Majella in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, opened in 1971.
In Hollis (within the Borough of Queens), New York City, there is a Catholic parish dedicated to St. Gerard Majella.
In the Del Rey section of Los Angeles, there is another Catholic parish dedicated to St. Gerard Majella.
Two towns in Quebec, Canada, are named in his honour: one in the Montérégie region and another in the Lanaudière region.
He was featured on an Italian 45-eurocent postage stamp in May 2005.