Gerard Majella (1726-1755) is known popularly today as “The Mothers’ Saint.” It may seem odd that a male religious should be the saint for mothers, mothers-to-be and those wanting to become mothers. The origin comes from an incident that happened in the last months of his short life.
Once, as St. Gerard was leaving the home of his friends, the Pirofalo family, one of the daughters called after him because he had forgotten his handkerchief. In a moment of prophetic insight Gerard said: “Keep it. It will be useful to you some day.” The handkerchief was treasured as a precious souvenir of Gerard. Years later the girl to whom he had given it was in danger of death during childbirth. She remembered the words of Gerard, and called for the handkerchief. Almost immediately the danger passed and she delivered a healthy child.
This wonderful story was the beginning of devotion to and belief in the miraculous powers of St. Gerard in favor of women who are soon to become mothers, who long to be mothers or who already are mothers.
The Redemptorists were not the first to encourage devotion to St. Gerard. The popularity of this devotion is due, first of all, to all the Italian women and mothers who believed and promoted their confidence and trust in the intercession of St. Gerard. It was Italian mothers who spread this devotion throughout Italy and Italian immigrant women who took the devotion with them to many parts of the world.
Gerard Majella was born on April 6, 1726 in Muro, Italy. He was the son of a tailor who died when Gerard was 12, leaving the family in poverty. Gerard tried to join the Capuchin order but was denied because of his ill health. He was later accepted as a Redemptorist brother serving the Redemptorist congregation as gardener, tailor, fundraiser, peacemaker and spiritual adviser.
His intercession is requested for children (and unborn children in particular), childbirth, mothers (and expectant mothers in particular), motherhood, people falsely accused, good confessions and religious brothers.
He was a man of great depth and insight, prayer and kindness. He was a mystic and a reader of hearts, ever seeking to be perfectly obedient to the will of God. Unfortunately his health was never good. He died from tuberculosis on October 16, 1755 at 29 years of age. Gerard was beatified on January 29, 1893 by Pope Leo XIII, and canonized on December 11, 1904 by Pope Saint Pius X. His feast day is October 16th.
In times past, sailors depended on the direction of the star to sail and fish, when it is dark and cool. They usually would catch more fish in the night (Lk. 5:1-11). For them not to get lost in the sea, they would mark the position of the north-star or the north tail of the star or the star galaxy. They would usually begin their sailing-journey with the help of a guiding star and end with the aid of the same star.
As a matter of fact, in ancient times, being an astronomer or reading meanings into the stars was something common. The wise men of the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 2:2), were able to locate Jesus by tracing a star. Put simply, people then looked upon the star for wisdom and guide to arrive safely at their destinations. Travellers in particular never took star-reading for granted.
Mary is compared to that guiding star we need in our Christian journey of faith. We need her; we look up to her for wisdom and direction to manoeuvre the difficulties of life and arrive safely in heaven. We must not take her for granted. She is a great role model. We look up to her heroic virtues and holiness in our life’s row to reach Jesus. We are a pilgrim Church, journeying through the darkness of sin and the valleys of the shadows of death to heaven. Mary, our guiding star brings us to safe landing in Jesus’ will, for she will say to us: “do whatever he tells you (Jn. 2:5).”
But like the Wise Men from the East, sometimes it seems as if the star is lost or hidden. And at other times, the devil (Herod) fights hard to frustrate our efforts or if possible, quench the star (Cf. Rev. 12:1-17—the battle of the dragon with the woman and her offspring). But he cannot do so because God Himself ignited Mary with grace in its fullness. Mary is that star, enkindled by the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35) which can never be put off by the forces of this world. She will continue to shine. “All generations must look up to her and call her blessed (Lk. 1:48).” And all who look up to her and call her blessed shall forever shine in this world and in the world to come. With Mary as our guiding star in holiness, we shall conquer sin. She is the engine for our end-time society. The world needs her; you need her; I need her on the way of Christ, lest we capsize and perish amidst the tempest-waves of our life’s troubled sea. According to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, in the 12th century,
“If the winds of temptation arise, if you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation, look to the star, call on Mary; if you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry, look to the star, call on Mary.
Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of your soul, look at the star, call on Mary.”
When Mary, the star is present with us, we become filled with the Holy Spirit like Elizabeth (Luk. 1:40-44) and at her intercession, our empty jars are refilled and blessed with fresh wines (Jn. 2:3 & 5). She brings us joy, illumines our sorrows and pains with her presence and supports us as she supported Jesus at the foot of the cross (Jn. 19:25-27). In our faith journey, Mary gives us Christ. “And in Christ Jesus, we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37).” Therefore, we can shout like Saint Paul, “what can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35)?”
Rev. Fr. Christopher Osasumen Uwadiale, C.Ss.R