Why Saint Gerard?
Why the Mother's Saint?
In a dingy village church of southern Italy, a candle of thanksgiving burns before the statue of St. Gerard Majella at the request of an American G.I. Hanging on a nearby wall, a yellow cablegram is framed in glass. “Mother and baby in good health,” it reads. The story behind the burning candle and the cablegram is just one reason in thousands why St. Gerard Majella is popularly called the Mother’s Saint.
It was during the Italian campaign . . . in 1944 precisely, that a certain American soldier walked dejectedly through the village. He had just received news from home . . . bad news from his wife. For three years, they had stormed Heaven praying for a baby. Now that his wife was pregnant, complications had set in. Her doctor had given her up as beyond hope. It was in this frame of mind that the soldier wandered into the dim-lit church. Though he had no idea who St. Gerard was, he knelt down before the statue and began to pray: “Good saint of God, help my wife. Help my little baby.” He stayed praying for a long time. Two days later, he received the cablegram that is now framed in the village church. On the very evening he had knelt before the statue of St. Gerard, across the ocean in a certain American city, his wife was happily delivered.
A letter from Los Angeles. (Hundreds of letters come to the St. Gerard Guild each month). It brings news of a baby boy. “During the months before her time, my wife and I prayed and prayed to St. Gerard for a safe delivery. So it happened. We had him baptized Gerard. . . In the years to come, I hope to teach my little son to have the same devotion for his namesake that I have had all my life.” The father who wrote this goes on to tell how back in 1912, his own mother had prayed to St. Gerard for a safe delivery. How she had promised to call the baby Gerard, if a boy. “A boy it was,” he writes. “None other than myself . . . alive today, thanks to the Patron of Mothers.”
But St. Gerard Majella is really not the Patron of Mothers! Not officially. No one has as yet been so officially designated by the Catholic Church. The title is given him nowadays by popular acclaim. Women, not only in his native Italy, but in Holland and Belgium and Ireland, in Canada and the United States, mothers by the hundreds, the thousands, seek and win his intercession at that crucial hour when they must go down to the grim gate of death, to open for a little one the frail door of life. But why St. Gerard?
When anyone asks why St. Gerard Majella and not some other saint of God, is invoked at such a time, we can only shrug our shoulders and say that it seems to be part of some secret design of God. Gerard’s whole life was one long sequence of wonders down to the evening of his death at Materdomini . . . down the two hundred years to the present day.
Some ascribe his intercession on behalf of mothers and children to the shameful accusation leveled against his chastity. Because of this, they surmise that God has given Gerard a special custody over mothers with child. Some again see a token in the fact that he was so delicate at his own birth that he had to be baptized that very day – April 6, 1726. Others, that when a youngster, the Christ-child was his frequent playmate, even giving him gifts to take home; or, because all through his life he showed special affection for children – taught them new games, instructed them in catechism, brought them into churches to tell them of God.
"Saint of Happy Delivery”
On several occasions during his life, his prayer saved the life of a mother and her newborn child. So it was after his death. Very shortly after his burial at Materdomini, Father Giovenale, his former Rector, preaching in a nearby town, was summoned to a woman dying in childbirth. He gave her a small picture of the deceased Brother Gerard, and scarcely had she touched it than she was delivered from all danger. Her child was born in perfect health. There are several such instances of this special patronage over mothers, even before Gerard was raised to the altar. In fact, during the investigations prior to his canonization, one witness openly styled him, “the little saint of happy delivery.” The expression can be found in the Apostolic process.
A Deeper Reason
But there may be a deeper reason yet why, two centuries after his passing, St. Gerard is invoked in so many quarters. It has been observed that in the long history of the Church, when a particular vice becomes widespread, God brings into the spotlight some saint to contradict it by the spectacular practice of the opposite virtue. Thus, when greed and the love of luxury was in its medieval heyday, there came Francis of Assisi with his Lady Poverty, his doctrine of detachment. Later, during the so-called Reformation, when men deemed it wiser to curry the favor of civil princelings than keep the Faith, there came a Lord Chancellor of England – St. Thomas More. And still later, when scientific discoveries dazzled men, blinding them to belief in God, there came a young girl to the Carmel of Lisieux with her childlike, all-surrendering love of God – Therese.
Thus, it seems God assists His Church in every age, giving to each a model and champion to hearten and help against some new attack on His authority. Today it could well be that God trains His spotlight on St. Gerard Majella to contradict an age that has lost trust in God’s providence. For one of today’s most vicious and concerted attacks is that which seeks to set at naught the eternal law of marriage and the home. Sadly, too, this campaign is weaning many Catholic parents from God’s law, from the pursuit of God’s Will, from trust in His kindly Providence.
From the day of his birth and hasty Baptism, till his death at the age of twenty-nine, St. Gerard was a paragon of weak health! That was why he was three times denied admission to a religious order. And yet, for all his spare frame and pallid face it was found that he could do “the work of four.” To those today who might adduce poor health as a reason for closing their hearts against another child, St. Gerard is a loud reminder that “God will provide,” either health or heaven.
Money never seemed to trouble a hair of Gerard’s head. As a tailor he gives away all his earnings. He squanders the last few pennies in his purse to buy a bouquet of flowers for Christ on the altar . . . then confidently tells Him: “See, I have taken care of You . . . now You must take care of us.” This carefree impractibility outraged many. But Gerard always had an answer -- the same answer he has for mothers today who sigh with worry over means to provide for another child; for husbands who may storm and grow quarrelsome at mention of another back to clothe, another mouth to fill . . . “God will provide.”
Fear of Death
Brother Gerard on his last trip through the diocese of Conza was frequently brought down with illness. At death’s door, he scribbled a note to his superior: “Only bid me to continue. Give me an explicit command and I will go on.” Had his superior commanded, that would be God’s express Will for him. He had no fear of what might happen as a result.
For those today whom doctors consign to certain death, should they dare to bear another child, St. Gerard Majella has an answer — the same that he gave to the doctor assisting at his last illness. Casually he inquired if Gerard wished to get well or to die. At once, Gerard answered: “Whatever God wills.”
As he lay dying at Materdomini, his only wish was that a small white placard be tacked to his door. Today in the home of every Catholic family that placard might well be hung as a continual reminder! Printed in large black letters, it read: Here we do the Will of God!
The Word of a Saint
There are countless mothers whom St. Gerard Majella has helped to do the Will of God. Two hundred years ago he once remarked: “If anyone unable to bear the sufferings which God has sent him, calls on me for help . . . or if I hear of such a one, I will pray that God give him the grace of conformity with His holy Will.
On the written testimony of countless wives, motherhood has been a joy, thanks to St. Gerard’s powerful patronage. His intercession has triumphantly contravened the dark predictions of how many gynecologists and obstetricians. Whether it be the newly discovered RH-factor, apparent sterility, “inevitable” death to a mother . . . any of a dozen gloomy diagnoses . . . there are letters from jubilant parents telling of “bouncing” newborn babies, thanks to the intercession of St. Gerard Majella.
A Man in Greenbelt
Greenbelt, Maryland, just outside the Nation’s Capital, is a town that almost takes St. Gerard for granted. Hardly a Catholic baby is born there without a mother’s novena to good St. Gerard. And though it is very probably a pure coincidence, the latest census statistics name none other than Greenbelt, Maryland, as the town with the highest per capita birth-rate in the United States.
But take the case of the Moore family. Father and mother Moore have been saying special prayers every night “for a sick child.” Their little Joan suffered from a severe asthmatic condition. It was pitiful to hear her wheezing all night long . . . until the evening father Moore got desperate. “Listen, St. Gerard,” he began. “I’ve prayed to you a lot . . . but this is special. I want you to go to Our Lady right now, and don’t you dare to leave her presence until my Joan is well.” It was a strange sort of prayer, but it brought results. Next morning, little Joan was well . . . and has been so ever since.
A Woman in Cleveland
Out in Cleveland, Ohio, one lady who has raised her family with the help of St. Gerard Majella, now keeps on hand a supply of medals and novena books. Whenever she hears of a mother in the family way, she pays a call and presents the mother-to-be with a bright silver medal of St. Gerard. “Not a one who has made the novena to St. Gerard Majella,” she writes, “has ever lost a child.”
In a Hospital Ward
In the maternity wards of many eastern hospitals, St. Gerard is no stranger. Due to the zeal of Father Thomas Roche, C. SS.R. director of the St. Gerard Center in the eastern United States, till his sudden death in 1947, wall-shrines of St. Gerard have been placed in over forty hospitals. That was in 1944. Many more have been established since. From one such hospital comes a letter from a nun:
“When I first was put in charge of the maternity ward I dreaded the responsibility involved until a Redemptorist missionary suggested that I put St. Gerard Majella in charge. At once, I had a picture of St. Gerard hung on the wall, and had the ward dedicated to him. I introduce every patient to him, give them each a medal and urge them to pray to him for a happy delivery. I’ve been in charge here for a good many years, and it would take a good sized volume to tell the wonderful favors St. Gerard has wrought here for mothers and their little ones.”
The Western Union girl in a Pittsburgh office copies down a strange telegram to a priest in New York. “St. Gerard O.K.,” it reads. “Twelve pound boy. Mother and baby well. Doctor W.” Three months before, the priest had told one of Pittsburgh’s leading obstetricians about St. Gerard Majella. “Why not introduce him to all your Catholic patients,” the priest persuaded. “Call on him yourself in any especially difficult case.” The doctor, a good Catholic himself, promised “to give him a chance.”
The chance came sooner than he bargained for. The next morning a patient called at his office. The doctor remembered her only too well. He knew how ardently she wanted to be a mother, but four times already she had had miscarriages. The last time she had all but died herself. Now she was again expectant. (“Here is a case for St. Gerard, if there ever was,” the doctor thought.) “Mrs. Blue,” he said. “I’ll do all I possible can to help you as a doctor, but may I introduce you to someone?” He told her about St. Gerard, encouraging her to pray to him daily. And within three months, at Mercy Hospital, the woman’s dreams came true. She was a mother at last. And so the telegram sped towards New York with the good news” “St. Gerard O.K.”