Gerard Majella was born in the South of Italy in a small town called Muro on the sixth of April. It was in the year 1726. His father, Domenico, was a tailor. His mother, Benedetta, had already borne three daughters. Gerard was the youngest – the only son. They were an ordinary hard-working Italian family. Pious too. Donna Benedetta often brought her three youngest to Mass with her at the shrine of Our Lady of Graces at nearby Capotignano. And, like thousands of other small boys, then and now, Gerard was all eyes for the strange new things he saw. Not quite four, he was too young to know what was going on. But he did know this: he liked the “pretty lady with the baby.”
“Mama, Mama, see what I got from the little boy.” In his hand he clutched a small roll of bread. Nobody paid him a bit of attention as he chattered about a pretty lady and her baby who had given him the bread. Small boys love to make up stories! But the next day he brought back another white roll, and again the next day, and the next. His mother decided to investigate. Next morning she followed her son. Off he ran the two miles to Capotignano, making straight for the chapel. Benedetta followed. It was then she saw who his playmate was – the Christ-Child himself. The statue of Our Lady of Graces had come to life. The infant climbed down from his Mother’s arms to romp with Gerard. A bewildered Benedetta ran home to Muro. At mealtime, little Gerard came back with another roll of bread.
Ten years later when he was houseboy for Bishop Albini at Lacedonia, children went home to their mothers with all sorts of stories told them by Gerard Majella. But the townsfolk had learned about the new houseboy themselves. Everyone had tales of his kindness, his visits to the poor in the clinic, his compassion. How he bandaged the wounds of the sick and brought them leftovers from the bishop’s table. Anyone who noticed him at prayer in the cathedral knew Gerard for what he was.
April 6, 1747. How the years fly! Gerard was twenty-one and as yet had not found his heart’s desire. He had a fair business: at least he could support his mother. He gave he a third of all his earnings. Another third went to the poor of Muro. The rest was for Masses for the Poor Souls. As for himself . . . God would provide. Not too practical to a hard-headed businessman, but he was more than just a small town tailor. He wanted to be a saint.
No matter what was ado about the cathedral, Gerard was there. He attended all the Sunday Masses, the May devotions, the tridua. In fact, he often spent the whole night locked up in church. His mother was driven to distraction by her son. He would not eat her meals. He was lean from fasting and penance, pale from long vigils of prayer in the nearby cathedral.
Always frail in health, it was evident that Gerard was not to live long. In 1755, he was seized by violent hemorrhages and dysentery and his death was expected at any moment. However, he had yet to teach a great lesson on the power of obedience. His director commanded him to get well, if it were God’s will, and immediately his illness seemed to disappear and he left his bed to rejoin the community. He knew, however, that this cure was only temporary and that he had only a little over a month to live.
Before long he did have to return to his bed, and he began to prepare himself for death. He was absolutely abandoned to the will of God and had this sign placed on his door: “The will of God is done here, as God wills it and as long as He wills it.” Often he was heard to say this prayer: “My God, I wish to die in order to do Thy most holy will.” Between midnight of October 15, early morning of the next day his innocent soul went back to God.