Modern Day Saint

Saint Gemma Galgani


Gemma Galgani was born into poverty in Tuscany, Italy during the year 1878. At an early age she suffered from tuberculosis of the spine. In the Calendar of Saints she is described as a quiet and unexcitable girl who nevertheless was endowed with a remarkably fervent religious disposition. Although she desperately wanted to become a Passionist nun, her illness prevented her from being admitted to the Order.

She was not easily dissuaded and began a series of novenas to Saint Gabriel, whom she reportedly saw in an apparition, and was cured. She once more sought to join the Order but was again rejected.

Shortly thereafter, in June 1899, she received the stigmata on her hands and feet. She bore the marks of Christ's crucifixion intermittently for some eighteen months. Later she received the marks of His scourging. The appearance of these painful wounds was accompanied by ecstasies. Her confessor and spiritual advisor, Father Germano, attested to all of this. She was to declare that, at those moments of true fervor, Jesus was corporally present.

In addition to the stigmata, Gemma was a victim of assaults by the devil, as was the well-known stigmatist Padre Pio and the Cure d'Ars. In each case there were competent witnesses. In the cases of both men, these witnesses reported hearing struggles in the night from the cell occupied by Padre Pio or from the room to which the Cure retired. Both men would thereafter appear in the morning with bruises such as those sustained from a physical contest with someone.

Gemma's experiences were, of course, very controversial. Through it all she maintained a spirit of peace and love. Following a long and painful illness she died on Holy Saturday, April 11, 1903. Even to this day, the Church has not made a final judgment on her stigmata. Although she was canonized in 1940, the Congregation of Rites points only to her 'heroic virtues' in proclaiming her to be a saint. The Church has always been cautious in such matters, choosing not to rush in where she cannot clearly see the way, as in this case, where there is no substantial store of evidence to certify that the stigmata were of a supernatural origin. Some scholars have judged the appearance of the wounds to be the result of an emotional state experienced by the stigmatic. Others remain mystified by the phenomenon.

(Further Comments on the Stigmata)
Throughout history the paranormal has drawn crowds of the curious. People are attracted by what is beyond their experience; beyond what they know can be reasonable and readily proven. The otherwise unexplainable is ever so much more seductive than the common everyday experiences. It would appear to fill some human need for what is beyond the finite mind. A person watches with a true fixation for that which he cannot really account -- thinking it may be a trick or due to some unexplained natural causes, but hoping that it is true. He cannot honestly be sure. He believes that it is not for him to decide and returns to the practical tasks at hand. He shall make no judgment either way, when there is not enough to engage him that he can know and verify.

The religious seeker, however, cannot help but be one of those who is touched by what lies beyond his human grasp, which remains within the realm of the supernatural. For it is into this precise region that the religious pilgrim must venture, while the skeptic chooses to halt where he is and stay behind. Saints, for the most part, have been ignored by the secular world during their lives with only the most faithful gathering around them. Sanctity does not capture the eye of the masses. In the case of the stigmatist it is another matter. These are the ones that excite our interest, and not because of their piety or holiness. It is rather because of the seemingly magical marks to be seen on their hands, their feet, and, sometimes, their head, shoulder, back, and side.

There are exceptions. Saint Francis of Assisi created great changes and won the respect of the world. This would have occurred even if he did not have the stigmata. The holiness of Padre Pio, whose prayers were sought by thousands, would have been widely recognized even if he did not have the wounds of Christ on his body.

But there have been others among the saints who were neither well known nor accorded a similar devotion or respect. They were thought to be erratic or their behavior caused a discomfort to some of those around them. Such a stigmatic was Gemma Galgani. She was scoffed at by some even while she won earnest attention.

Saint Francis of Assisi is generally considered to be the first stigmatist in the history of the Church. However, the Apostle Saint Paul described himself as one crucified with Christ and closed his letter to the Galatians with the statement that he bore the marks of the Lord Jesus on his body.

One of the most visited, documented, and profound stigmatists in today's world was Therese Neumann of Konnersreuth, Bavaria. Although little known before World War ll, hundreds of G. I.'s and soldiers of other countries visited her after the conflict. They could identify with the pain she felt while participating in the suffering of her Divine Redeemer when she followed Him in the Sacred Passion. Therese received her first stigmata during Lent of 1926 while in contemplation of the Passion of Our Lord. She received the stigmata nearly every Friday for the remainder of her life. As a true stigmatist, she had been granted ecstasies and received the stigmata while enraptured. This has been the rule to such an extent that any stigmatization lacking the marvelous complement of ecstasies would be suspect, not the kind proposed for veneration. Therese's visitors could view on her face and body the Passion of Jesus during her ecstatic visions. She shared in the emotions of one actually present at the events from Gethsemane to Golgotha and partook of the agony of Jesus during this time complete with the wounds on her body. Many visitors, including many priests and even a bishop, witnessed Therese in the Passion visions from Thursday night till Friday afternoon. Some non-Catholic observers were so moved as to become immediately converted to the Catholic faith.

Therese Nuemann died in 1962. There is currently a cause underway for her beatification.

Jim Fritz

Parts of this article were taken from Saints forToday, by Ivan Innerst, Ignatius Press.



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