Modern Day Saints


Saint Gemma Galgani


Feast Day April 11

Maria Gemma Umberta Pia Galgani was born on March 12, 1878, in the hamlet of Borgo Nuovo. Gemma was the fifth of eight children born to Aurelia and Enrico Galgani, a prosperous pharmacist. Soon after Gemma's birth, the family relocated north from Borgo Nuovo to a large new home in the Tuscan city of Lucca; a move undertaken to facilitate an improvement in the children's education. Gemma was regarded as a highly intelligent child, and at a very young age she developed a love for prayer. As a pupil at the school run by the Sisters of St. Zita, Gemma was loved by her teachers and her fellow pupils. She excelled in French, arithmetic and music. Although quiet and reserved, Gemma always had a smile for everyone. And although she was a good student, she had to quit school because of chronic ill health before completing the course of study and was later refused entry to the Passionists to become a nun because of her poor health and her visions. Throughout her life, Gemma was to be favored with mystical experiences and special graces. These were often misunderstood, causing ridicule. Gemma suffered these heartaches in reparation, remembering that Our Lord Himself had been misunderstood and ridiculed, offering this disappointment to God as a sacrifice.

Bringing further heartache, several members of the Galgani family died during this period. Their firstborn child, Carlo, died at an early age. On September 17, 1885, Gemma's mother died of tuberculosis, which she had suffered for five years. Gemma's beloved brother, Gino, died from tuberculosis while studying for the priesthood. Her little sister, Giulia, also died at a young age.

At age 20, Gemma returned home and almost immediately became very ill with spinal meningitis. Throughout this illness, her one regret was causing extra work for the relatives who took care of her. *Gemma prayed for help to the Venerable Passionist, Gabriel Possenti of Our Lady of Sorrows (Gabriel was later canonized). Through his intercession and that of Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque, Gemma was miraculously cured. *

Gemma had an immense love for the poor, and helped them in any way she could. After her father's death, nineteen-year-old Gemma became mother to her seven brothers and sisters. When some were old enough to share this responsibility, she lived briefly with her married Aunt Carolina. At this time, two young men proposed marriage to her. Gemma, however, declined these marriage proposals as she desired silence and more than ever to pray and speak only to God.

On June 8, 1899, Gemma had a physical warning that some unusual grace was to be granted to her. She had pain in her hands, feet and heart, and blood was flowing from these places. These were the marks of the stigmata. Each Thursday evening, Gemma would fall into rapture and the marks would appear. The stigmata remained until Friday afternoon or Saturday morning when the bleeding would stop, the wounds would close, and only white marks would remain in place of the deep gashes. Gemma's stigmata would continue to appear until the last three years of her life when her confessor forbade her to accept them because of her poor health. Through her prayers, this phenomenon ceased, but the whitish marks remained on her skin until her death.

With the help of her confessor, Gemma went to live with a family named Giannini, where she was allowed more freedom than at home for her spiritual life. She had many ecstasies, and her words spoken during these raptures were recorded by her confessor and a relative of her adoptive family. At the end of her ecstasies, she returned to normal and went quietly and serenely about the family life she was living. Gemma often saw her guardian angel with whom she was on familiar terms. She often sent her guardian angel on errands, usually to deliver a letter or oral message to her confessor in Rome.

Gemma was well-known in the vicinity of Lucca before her death, especially to those in poverty. Opinions of her were divided. Some people admired her extraordinary virtues and referred to her as The Virgin of Lucca out of pious respect and admiration. Others mocked her. In light of the extraordinary events surrounding her life, some skeptics thought she had a mental illness. During the apostolic investigations into her life, however, all witnesses testified there was no artfulness in Gemma's manner. Most of her severe penances and sacrifices were hidden from nearly all who knew her.

In January of 1903, Gemma was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and thus began a long and often painful death. There were numerous extraordinary mystical phenomena that occurred during her final illness. At the beginning of Holy Week 1903, her health quickly deteriorated, and by Good Friday she was suffering tremendously. Gemma died on April 11, 1903, Holy Saturday, in the company of the parish priest. He said, "She died with a smile which remained upon her lips, so that I could not convince myself that she was really dead." After a thorough examination of her life by the Church, she was beatified in 1933 and canonized on May 2, 1940, only thirty-seven years after her death. Gemma predicted the Passionists would establish a monastery at Lucca; this came to pass two years after her death.

Today, St. Gemma's mortal remains are still treasured at the Passionist monastery in Lucca, Italy. As one of the most popular saints of the Passionist Order, devotion to St. Gemma Galgani is particularly strong both in Italy and Latin America. She is a patron saint of students and of pharmacists.

"O my soul, bless Jesus. Never forget the many graces He has given thee. Love that God who so loves thee. Lift thyself up to Him, who has lowered Himself for thee; show thyself as He shows Himself with thee; be clean of heart, be pure. Love thy Jesus, who has lifted thee out of so much misery. Love thy God, bless thy Lord." ~ Saint Gemma Galgani 

(Information for this article was taken from Catholic Online, EWTN Library, Saints SQPN, &

Patricia Johnson

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