We shall see in the following Letters of St Gemma, that she had a intense desire to become a Passionist nun, however after a long time she eventually discovered that it was not God’s will, and with heroic resignation she offered this great sacrifice to God. At that time the Passionists in Corneto, Italy were unwilling to accept her due to her history of ill health and the fact that tuberculosis had afflicted her family (her mother, brother and one sister died of tuberculosis), and also the fact that she had no dowry, that is, she was very poor and had no financial ability to assist with her entrance into a religious community.
Not long before her death, Gemma resigned herself to God’s will in this regard, and abandoned the idea of becoming a Passionist, heroicly accepting the disappointment.
The following “Letters of St Gemma” were originally translated and published by Father Columban C.P. in “The Passionist” magazine in three issues, from Nov 1955 to April 1956. The webmaster would like to thank the Passionist Historical Archives in Union City, NJ. for granting permission to republish them on this website. Glenn Dallaire -webmaster
Letters of St Gemma –Introduction
The present issue of THE PASSIONIST contains the first of St. Gemma's letters to her spiritual director, Father Germanus, C. P. Succeeding issues will contain in chronological order the letters that the Saint wrote to Father Germanus. Most of St. Gemma's published letters were written to him though some were directed to her regular confessor, Monsignor Volpi, and a few to various other persons. Those to Father Germanus are understandably richer in content than the others so they will be given priority. All told, we have one hundred and thirty-one letters written to Father Germanus covering a period from Jan. 20, 1900 to March 18, 1903. Gemma died less than a month after the last letter was written, on April II, I903. Her letters to Father Germanus therefore contain the fruit of the crowning years of her spiritual life passed under his direction. In them she speaks with the simplicity of a child, no secrets of her soul are withheld from her spiritual Father. Her letters are written in such a personal and homey style that they give us a very rewarding insight into the spirit of the Saint. One feels the spirit and breathes the atmosphere of another world as he follows the growth of her soul through the letters. Like her Autobiography*, I am sure that the Letters of St. Gemma will carry their own conviction and win the reader to this so loveable. Saint.
-Father Columban, C.P.
LETTERS OF ST. GEMMA TO FATHER GERMANUS C.P.
(Gemma tells how she saw Father Germanus in a Vision. Her miraculous cure from meningitis (or spinal tuberculosis). Frequent apparations of St. Gabriel. Her vocation' to be a Passionist Nun and the strong desire of her heart to be one. St. Gabriel tells her when the Monastery of Passionist Nuns will be founded in Lucca and shows her some of the nuns who will make the foundation.)
January 20, 1900
For several days now I have been uncertain as to whether I should write you or not. Miss Cecelia has spoken to me many times about you and for a long time the greatest desire of my heart has been to see you and also to write to you. I asked permission of my Confessor to do so and he always said no. Last Saturday I asked him again and this time he said yes, if I wanted to. But here I am at the point of writing and I feel held back by fear, and do you know why? I should tell you about certain very strange things, so strange that even you would wonder. I tell you frankly: I am a little strange in the head(2), and consequently I imagine that I see and hear things that are impossible. I say impossible because Jesus has never spoken to nor shown Himself to other souls like He has to my poor sinful soul.
Some time ago I got the idea of asking Jesus if He would let me see you. He did not oblige me right away but a few days later when I was praying I seemed to see a Passionist who was also praying before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. And Jesus said to me: "Do you see what Father Germanus looks like?" I looked and do you know what I saw? You were a little on the heavy side, kneeling very quietly with your hands joined and it seemed to me that your hair was more white than black.
But I will tell you something stranger still. For almost two years I was seriously ill with meningitis (or spinal tuberculosis -ed). I stayed in bed an entire year and then Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque cured me. While I was in bed a lady brought me the life of Brother Gabriel to read(3). I read it many times. One day the lady came to take it back but because I no longer wanted to give it back I told her I wasn't finished reading it. She left it with me a little longer and I kept it with his picture under my pillow. This gave me such contentment that I couldn't express it. Every day I was afraid that lady would come and take it away from me. Finally, one day she came for it. No sooner was I deprived of it than I began to cry. It seemed that everything had been taken away from me and as usual I began to brood. All my consolation had been in that book. But night came and it seemed to me that a young man clothed in white was standing at the foot of my bed and I thought I heard him say these words: "Gemma, are you so displeased at being deprived of that book?" "oh, terribly so," I replied. "And why?" he asked. I didn't answer because I didn't even know. Then he pulled aside his white garment and I saw that underneath he was clothed as a Passionist. He held out his Sign [Passionist Badge sewn on the chest of the Passionist habit–editor] for me to kiss and then said to me: "Rest assured that this displeasure that you have experienced will one day be rewarded with a consolation that will be infinitely greater. "Have courage," he said, "and carry on." With this he disappeared.
To tell the truth, this consoled me very much but it also made me forget the matter because I no longer thought of Brother Gabriel or his life. A long time passed. During this time, in gratitude to Blessed Margaret Mary, I decided to become a Visitandine nun (for many years I have had the desire to be a religious but never told anyone about it). I manifested this desire to my Confessor and to my family. Everyone was pleased. In fact, on the first of May I went to make a retreat and eighteen days later returned home. It was all arranged that I should enter the convent for good during the month of June. (4)But when others spoke to me about entering I felt a certain strange doubt which almost caused me to cry, and many times I heard these words spoken in my ear: "You will never 'be a Visitandine. Another and more penitential life awaits you." I never spoke to my Confessor about these things because my only desire was to enter the convent so as to think only of God and it seemed to me that all rules were good. But when the time set for my entrance came, the Confessor of the convent opposed it and nothing could change his mind.(5)
Meanwhile, a mission was about to be held here in Lucca; only eight days remained before it would begin. One night Brother Gabriel came and said to me: "Go and make your confession to Father Cajetan(6). Tell him everything you have hidden from your Confessor up to now, and tell him also that you want to become a nun but that you want a very austere rule." The time for the Mission arrived and I decided to go to confession the last day, a few minutes before the sermon. I told him everything and later went to confession to him a few more times. When Father Cajetan heard that I wanted to become a nun he said: "There are also Passionist nuns." From that moment my thoughts centered on those words and on my desire to become a Passionist. I told my Confessor about this and he was satisfied and he also told me that he wanted me to enter a stricter order than the Visitandines. Along with my vocation I also had from that time on a great devotion to Brother Gabriel. I began to pray to him and my prayer was always that he might grant me the grace to become a Passionist soon.
Then one day I learned that Miss Cecelia wanted to found a monastery of Passionist nuns here at Lucca. I thought I would ask Brother Gabriel about it. One night I seemed to see him again and I asked him: "Will the convent be founded?" He answered: "My sister, it will be two years yet (it was the month of September), but I assure you that it will be founded." Then I asked: "Will I be able to become a Passionist? He answered: "Yes, my sister." "But where," I asked him, "Oh, have them send me to Corneto." Then he asked:
"Why so far away?" "So that I might forget everyone and everyone might forget me," I told him. He did not reply. He blessed me and went away. Before he disappeared he said: "Fear not, you will become a Passionist."
Another time I was crying because I wanted a grace from Jesus and he (Brother Gabriel) said to me: "Why are you discouraged? Have recourse to my Sorrowful Mother. During my life I do not remember ever having asked any grace of her that I did not receive." Then one day I became very discouraged again because I saw that it seemed impossible for me to become a Passionist because I have nothing at all; all I have is a great desire to be one. May Jesus at least grant me this grace soon because I am not at peace. I suffer much seeing myself so far from realizing my desires. Noone will ever be able to take this desire away from me. But when will it ever come to pass? Brother Gabriel replied: "Why do you act this way? Do you not believe what I have told you? You may be sure that you will become a Passionist." After Brother Gabriel had spoken thus I felt very contented but then no one seems to say anything about the matter. My Confessor seems not even to think of it.
Will that day ever come? Oh my Jesus, grant that it will come soon. For some days now my desire has been so strong that my thoughts have been continually up there (at Corneto). I seem to be able to wait no longer and from time to time I say: "My God, you have placed a vocation in my heart and I know that you are thinking of it, but grant that it may be realized soon."
Another day when it seemed that my Confessor wanted to send me to the Convent and others seemed to want me to forget the idea of becoming a Passionist, Brother Gabriel said to me: "Gemma, go and carry the cross where your Confessor wants you to because the time is coming when you will have to carry it in another place. As for those who want you to forget about becoming a Passionist, think nothing of it. It would be easier for the heavens to fall than that the words I have spoken should not be fulfilled." These last words he spoke because I was thinking that it was all imagination - that none of it was true. Then sometimes I am ashamed to tell my confessor .about these things and Brother Gabriel tells me that I am committing a sin of pride. At times I have concealed something and he said to me: "If you are not sincere I will no longer let myself be seen by you. But if you are good, I promise you that I will come every night from eleven until midnight." I begged him then that if my Confessor sent me to the Convent, not to let the Superior see him because she would not like it. In fact, he did come every evening and repeated the words: "You will be a Passionist." The name 'alone fills me with consolation. What will it be like if Jesus actually gives me the grace to be one?
Within the last few days something stranger still has happened to me. One day when I was praying I went out of my head"(7), and I found myself before Brother Gabriel who asked me: "Gemma, have you nothing to say to me?" I replied: "Oh, I have so many things to ask you, some of them in the name of my Confessor. He wants to know about this Convent. Who is going to begin the work, who will finish it and how long will it be till it is started?"
When I had said these words I saw several persons before me and Gabriel pointed them out to me one by one. There were seven of them and I knew three. (8)"Oh, who are those people?" I asked. And he said: "They will be Passionist nuns. Tell Monsignor that he is the one who, within twenty-one months, must begin this great work. Tell him to have courage because the devil is prepared to oppose it with fierce assaults. But what difference does that make? Go on!" He became silent and later he showed me a lady and said to me: "Look, do you see? This lady will bring the work to completion. Do you know her?" "No" I replied. He told me her first name, her last name and the city where she was born and grew up. Then she disappeared as also did Gabriel.
"Two years from now, on a Friday, the work will begin." "And what about me?" I asked. "You will be a Passionist."(9)
One more last thing. Sunday evening I was weeping. Brother Gabriel came and said to me: "Why are you weeping?" I replied: "I am afraid I won't be able to go to the convent because no one is interested in it.” And he said: "Fear not. On the first Friday of March you will be happy." "But how will I be happy?" I asked, "Do you not know what my happiness consists in?" He said: "You will be in the convent." "And where?" I asked. "God bless you," he said and disappeared. Then every night he comes and he sometimes reproves and chides me when in the course of the day I have committed some sins. At other times he says to me, in fact, only last night he said to me (because I wanted to finish this letter without' adding that last thing):
"Why do you find such repugnance in writing to Father Gerrnanus? Don't you know who he is? He is my brother." Without any more objection I am finishing the letter this morning.
Here I am at the end of all these things. One more thing I ask of you. If you can, please help me to become a Passionist; my mind is made up. Help me; I cannot wait any longer. Will you see if they will accept me? I have absolutely nothing; I am very, very poor, my desire is all I have. Jesus will grant me the grace.
I beg you to give me your blessing and to help me; I beg this very earnestly. And please pray for poor
(1) Miss Cecilia Giannini, sister of Matteo Giannini, in whose home Gemma lived the last three years of her life. In her Autobiography, Gemma tells how she was introduced to this good lady by the 'Passionist Father Cajetan. She was Gemma's closest confidante after her spiritual Director. Father Germanus insisted that Gemma tell her everything, that all her letters should pass through her hands. She was one of the principal witnesses in the processes for Gemma's beatification.
(2) "I am a little strange in the head." The Italian is "la mia testa e un po' mattuccia." Our rendition seemed the best idiomatic translation.
(3) Brother Gabriel of our Lady of Sorrows, now a Passionist Saint, was then Venerable. From this time on he appeared and spoke to Gemma, almost daily.
(4) We know from her Autobiography that the Convent she intended to enter was that of the Visitandines in l.ucca.
(5) This priest opposed Gemma's entrance on the advice of a doctor who knew that there was tuberculosis in her family.
(6) Father Caletan of the Child Jesus, Passionist, was one of the priests giving the Mission in Lucca.
The other was Father Ignatius. Gemma relates this incident also in her Autobiography and there is an apparent discrepancy in the two accounts. In the Autobiography she savs our Lord pointed out Father Ignatius as the priest to whom she should confess, but later adds that she actually went to Father Cajetan. We are at a loss to explain this. Father Caietan was the first to whom Gemma revealed her most hidden graces, especially her share in the Sufferings of Christ. She found in him a sympathetic Confessor and for a while he was convinced of the genuineness of her graces. Later however, he came to be convinced that, while her virtues were heroic, she was possessed by the devil. Young and indiscreet, he talked against her at times and places that caused Gemma endless suffering. One day she prayed to our Lord for "my greatest enemy," meaning Father Cajetan, She fortold that he would leave the Congregation which actually happened. He joined one of the older monastic Orders, but later returned to the Passionists where he died a holy death in 1925. He attributed his peace and happiness before death to the prayers of Gemma. (d. "Gem of Christ", Father Francis, C.P. pp. 155-156)
(7) "I went out of my head". Gemma says: "... mi ando via la testa," literally translated this means: "my head went away," It is by means of this and similar expressions such as: "I went to sleep" or "my head took off" that Gemma conveys the idea that she went into ecstacy.
(8) These were the first seven novices to enter the new Monastery at Lucca, only three of whom were known to Gemma.
(9) "You will be a Passionist." This repeated promise made to Gemma presents somewhat of a problem since Gemma never actually entered the Passionist Nuns. A footnote in the Italian text of the letters tries at great length to explain the problemas dealing with a conditional promise depending for its fulfillment upon free agents. To the translator, however, a more simple explanation seems adequate. The promise is always kept in vague form. When Gemma presses for a more detailed explanation, it seems that it is deliberately not given. It would seem sufficient to say, therefore, that a promise was being made her, the formal element of which was certainly fulfilled, but whose material element was not. In other words, Gemma was to become eminently a Passionist, but was not to wear the Passionist habit on this earth. This explanation seems to be supported by the following fact: Not long before her death Miss Cecelia asked Gemma about the promise. Gemma replied: "Jesus has prepared the Passionist habit for me at the gates of heaven."
LETTERS OF ST. GEMMALETTER 2-(Jesus tells her it is His will that her Confessor refer all to Father Germanus and com. man?s .her to obey perfectly. The Saint insists to Father Germanus that he help her to become a Passionist.)
February 17, 1900
Everything that I am about to write, I write through obedience but only with the greatest difficulty. Oh, so many times I have greatly desired to write to you but only to tell you that I want to be a Passionist-(Father, the very name makes me tremble), to ask, you to help me, to tell you that I suffer as not being able to realize my desire and because it seems that my Confessor does not even think of me. But in spite of all this I seem to see and feel myself a Passionist every day (this is nothing but imagination and the work of the devil), and this causes me great suffering. But I have received a command and that will overcome all obstacles. Last Monday my Confessor gave me permission to write to you and to Father Ignatius, if I wanted to, and even to Father Provincial(1). This consoled me but when the time came to write I could think of nothing to say except these words: "Father, time is flying by, I can do no more. Help me, help me, make me a Passionist. Jesus wills it, Jesus wills it!
-word about it.) He said to me:
"Daughter, write to Father Germanus and tell him that your Confessor should freely enter into consultation with him. Do this because it is my desire." "Yes, Jesus," I said, "I understand. You want Father Germanus to know everything about me.'" I wanted to say more but it seemed to me that Jesus (or rather my imagination) would not let me finish speaking and said: "This is my desire from now on: that, your Confessor refer everything to Father Germanus." Understand that I thought I heard these things, I am not sure. And Jesus seemed' to continue:
"Daughter, blind obedience, perfect obedience, this is the first thing to remember. Second, be like a dead body. Whatever they tell you to do, do it promptly. Finally, during these days, don't do anything without first asking my advice." Do you know why Jesus said these things? I ask you because I can no longer see Him nor can I speak to Him until Miss Cecelia returns. When I am with her I can treat with Jesus. When she is away, and she is now visiting a relative, I am not supposed to concern myself with Jesus. I am supposed to pray with her and with no one else.(2)
Will you help me, will you make me a Passionist? I am dying of desire. There are two reasons why my Confessor is keeping me in the world. The first is because I have a sickness that is called hysteria and because of it they would not receive me. But Jesus assures me that as soon as I enter I will be cured, and nothing will happen to me after Profession.(3) The other reason is a big one: I have absolutely nothing, neither father nor mother nor money. I have only one thing, and that is the desire to become a Passionist.
Bless me and pray much for poor
This morning after Holy Communion Jesus seemed to make Himself felt. Father, what moments they were! But after some time it was all over. I said to Jesus many times:
"My Jesus!" I could not express myself but Jesus understood me and replied: "Daughter, be at ease, you will soon be a Passionist." Every time I seem to hear these words I feel myself tremble inside with excitement, but I do not know how to express myself. Father Germanus, Jesus wills it. I would make both me and Jesus happy at the same time.
Bless me and pray much for poor
Do me the charity to write me a line in reply, will you? But above all, will you make me a Passionist?
(1) The Provincial at that time was Father Peter Paul of the Immaculate Virgin (Moreschini). In I909, he was elevated by Pius X to the Archiepiscopal See of Camerino.
(2) These were the orders giver her by her Confessor.
(3) Nothing extraordinary, that is, would happen to her after her religious Profession. Jesus had promised her this many times, and the Saint often repeats it in her letters.
LETTER 3- (Msgr. Volpi, her regular Confessor, wants to send her to the Carmelite convent at lucca. The Saint asks advice of Father Germanus, assuring him that she is ready to do the will of God in all things. She feels deeply her separation from Jesus, but continues to love him and to seek him anxiously.)
Very Rev. Father,
I am writing to you now because I don't know what else to do. If you only knew what I am going through! This morning my Confessor(1) told me that before Easter he intends to have it all arranged for me to enter the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa at Lucca. He had spoken to me about this many times but had never actually made a decision. This morning he asked to speak with one of my aunts here at home and instructed her to write to the nuns, asking them to send a copy of the Rule' and anything else that may be appropriate.
me to pray.
You will answer soon, won't you?
Just a few lines will satisfy me. If you only knew how much good your letters do me!
(For many nights now Brother Gabriel has been teaching me to say Matins. But every night it is different. Why?(3)
(1) Father Germanus had instructed her as foliows in his first letter to her: "As a little flower of
this beautiful virtue (humility) I advise you to make a daily visit of humility to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. During the visit ask Jesus to help you to understand well your own nothingness an your sins, and protest that you are not worthy to be found in the sight of His Divine Majesty. When you are alone in the church make these acts of abasement while prostrate on the floor. Offer your poor sufferings to Jesus In reparation for your sins."
(2) Other great Directors of souls have also recommended such procedure to those who seem to have visions. For example, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa and St. Paul of the cross.
(3) Without realizing it, the Saint was being taught to say the Matins proper to each day. Hence the variation.
I made the protestation that you suggested. On May 25 at the Franciscan Church(1). It was Friday and I made it after Holy Communion. Ever since that time I have worn the copy of the protestation over my heart. But if you only knew! This displeases that ugly beast very much and since that time he has come to tempt me more often and more strongly. Not a night passes without him appearing to me and recently he has gone so far as to appear in the form of my Confessor. I was convinced that it was my Confessor but when I made my confession to him I discovered the trick. He wants very much to deceive me.
If you only knew how hard my Confessor tries to make me good, and especially obedient! But my head is very thick. When it is a matter of obedience my body finds it very difficult. Anyway, when I got home after confession I had to remove a few little things that I was wearing that day.(2) I took all of them off in perfect peace. But the peace did not last long. I no sooner found myself alone (it was time for prayer) than I knelt down and began saying the Five Wound beads. I got to the Fourth Wound when I saw before me someone who looked like Jesus, and he was all covered with the wounds from the Scourging. I finished the beads and then said in a loud voice: "Blessed be Jesus and Mary!" He didn't answer. I repeated the words and he said : "Blessed, blessed", but never pronounced the names of Jesus and Mary.
Miss Cecilia will also write you later, since she recieved your greetings.
(1) To protect Gemma from the deceit of the devil, Father Germanus had advised her to make an act of protestation that he wrote out for her, and to carry the copy of it over her heart. In substance the aet expressed an absolute renunciation of the devil and all his works, with particular reference to his attacks on her.
(2) She refers, of course, to the insruments of penance that she was wearing with Msgr. Volpi's permission.