Saint Gerard Majella - Early Years
Saint Gerard Majella was born in the southern part of Italy in Muro, fifty miles south of Naples, in the year 1726. He was the baby of the family, the youngest of five children. On April 6th, his mother Benedetta and father Dominic rejoiced at the birth of this their newest child, but alas the joy was mixed with fear - fear he wouldn’t survive. He was so frail and sickly at birth, they immediately brought the baby to the Cathedral to be baptized.
The stigma of being frail and sickly followed him all the days of his life. He had to fight harder to be able to become a member of a Religious community because of his frailty. He felt drawn to the Church from his earliest days. He spent as much time there as possible. His mother, Benedetta Golella Majella said of him, “My child’s only happiness was in church, on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament. He would stop there till he forgot it was dinner-time. In the house he prayed all day. He was born for Heaven.”
At about age 5, unusual blessings were showered on the family through Gerard’s time in church. Saint Gerard Majella began to come home with a loaf of bread under his arms. Now this was a very welcome gift to the family, who never had enough to eat with five hungry children, plus a mother and father. So they were happy to see the loaf of bread, but concerned about where it came from. They knew their child would not steal, but his defense when asked where it came from was always the same.
When questioned where Saint Gerard Majella got the bread, he would invariably answer, “A most beautiful boy gave it to me."
This did not make any sense to the parents, but they didn’t know how to further approach the matter.
The Handkerchief Saint - Patron of Expectant Mothers
We told you at the beginning of our chapter on Saint Gerard Majella that he came to our attention through the devotion we found, mostly by expectant mothers, in a little hamlet in central Arkansas, Morrilton. When we began studying about St. Gerard, we made it a point to find out whatever we could which would encourage expectant mothers to appeal to St. Gerard either for being able to become pregnant, and/or for the healthy delivery of their children.
The tradition of the handkerchief as told by the Redemptorists goes like this. One time, after having visited with a particular family, he dropped his handkerchief as he was leaving. One of the daughters called out to him as she picked it up. He looked at her with a very kind but knowing look. “Keep it,” he said. “One day it will be of service to you.”
The young girl kept it, not because she thought it would come in handy later on in life, but because Gerard was considered a living Saint by most of the people in that southern part of Italy. She just wanted it as a souvenir or relic of a Saint. However, a time would come for her later in life, most likely after the death of our Saint, but before he was beatified or canonized, when she drew on that relic of the Saint for help. She was in the throes of childbirth, which is always a dangerous situation, but at that time, it was much more dangerous than it is today. She was in danger of dying, and her child with her.
It came to her, or did Saint Gerard Majella whisper in her ear from Heaven, to take that handkerchief and pray for the intercession of St. Gerard to save her and her baby. No sooner had she made the petition than the gift was granted. Her baby was delivered in perfect health, and both mother and child were well.
Thus began the devotion to the Saint for expectant mothers. The handkerchief was passed from pregnant mother to pregnant mother in that area of Oliveto Citra, near Salerno in southern Italy. Over the centuries, pieces were torn off it, and by the time our Saint was canonized in 1904, we’re told by the Redemptorists that it was nothing more than shredded cloth. But that did not stop the people in that area, or all over the world for that matter.
The story of Saint Gerard Majella and the Handkerchief for expectant mothers has traveled to distant shores and prayers have been offered up to the Saint.
The Redemptorists, for their part, have distributed handkerchiefs with the picture of the Saint on it, which have touched relics of St. Gerard. There are documented countless miraculous cures and accounts of expectant mothers, in danger of losing their lives or of their babies, who were healed.
Shrine of Saint Gerard Majella
There is a Shrine to St. Gerard in Materdomini, Italy, which is in the area of Caposele. Pray for the intercession of Saint Gerard Majella.