In his efforts to join the Redemptorists, Gerard Majella demonstrated incredible perseverance. He first encountered the congregation in 1749, the year Pope Benedict XIV approved the Redemptorist way of life. That year, 15 Redemptorists came to Muro, the little town in southern Italy where Gerard lived. There, they worked in all three parishes at once.
Seeing the missionaries in action, Gerard knew at once that this was the life he wanted. He approached Fr Cafaro, the leader of the mission team, but Fr Cafaro turned him down. So persistent was the young man, however, that the missionaries advised his family to lock his door when they were leaving Muro, lest he try to follow them.
The ever imaginative Gerard was unstoppable. He knotted the sheets of his bed, climbed out of the window and followed the band of missioners down the road. He ran for 12 miles to catch up with them, and amidst his puffing, cried out, “Take me on, give me a try, and then send me away if I’m no good.” Fr Cafaro could resist no longer.
St Gerard Majella went on to become the best known of the Redemptorist saints. He was a Redemptorist brother who never sought ordination. During his life, he was very close to the peasants and other outsiders who lived in the Neapolitan countryside. His ability to make deep connections with people was a great gift and it lives on among Redemptorist brothers the world over.
Gerard was able to touch people in the depths of their being – you might say in the secret recesses of their experience. He touched people in their consciences, guiding them to their own truth. He touched people in their hearts, revealing to them how boundless their own capacity for love was. He touched parents in their efforts to have a family and he did it in a way that they knew God and they were in this venture together. In Gerard’s touch, people knew that God was with them deep inside where no one else could reach, not even their loved ones.
St Gerard was popular during his life but became even more popular in death. He remains well known and loved to the present. St Alphonsus entrusted him with the spiritual care of various groups of people.
Gerard was born at Muro in 1726. He grew up understanding that God’s love was boundless. He knew this in his prayer, in his apostolate among the poor and in his work with the community, where, at different times, he was gardener, sacristan, tailor, porter, cook, carpenter, and clerk of works on the new buildings at Caposele.
Gerard approached life in a simple and unfettered way. It left him free to be present to all persons, divine and human. His presence transformed others, so much so, that people experienced his actions as miraculous. He became ill in 1755 and died soon after, accepting it all as part of God’s great designs in life. He was canonised by Pope Pius X in 1904. St Gerard, pray for us.