Life of St Gemma Galgani

Biographical sketch of St Gemma Galgani

Saint Gemma was a layperson whose life was marked throughout by divine favors and extraordinary graces, and also great trials and sufferings. Though she was a extraordinary mystic and stigmatic, bearing in her body the marks of the Lord Jesus, her spiritual life was quite hidden from the world. She was never the object of public curiosity or veneration. From outward appearances her life seemed ordinary, but her soul lived in the heights. She was especially chosen by God to be a soul victim, that is, she was especially called to sacrifice and suffer for the conversion of sinners. In other words, she was a victim of Divine Love. Hers was a life of sacrifice and suffering for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for sin.


Early childhood

Gemma was born at Camigliano, Italy on March 12th, 1878. She was the fourth of the eight children, and the eldest daughter of Henry and Aurelia Galgani. Her father was a very successfull Pharmacist (Apothecarist). A month after her birth the family removed to Lucca, where she remained the rest of her life. Sacrifice and suffering began for her at a very young age. Like all children, Gemma loved her mother with all her little heart. Her mother was a holy and devout Catholic, and Gemma’s first lessons in Christian piety were received on her mother’s knee, and it was by her mother’s side in their parish church that she first learned to taste the “hidden and unutterable sweetness of the Mass.” “It was Mamma,”she said years afterwards, “who as a child made me desire to go to Heaven.”

Death of her mother
It was during these tender years that her mother fell a victim to tuberculosis. Her long lingering illness, endured with saintly resignation, was made more difficult by the thought that she must soon leave her children when they most needed her care. Gemma came to know that her mother was going to the heaven of which she had so often heard her speak, and her great wish was to go with her. Every day as she returned from school her first thought was to hurry to her mothers sickroom fearing that her mother might have taken flight in her absence. Meanwhile the day of her Confirmation came, May 26th, 1885, and with it the first of those heavenly communications which played such a large a part in her spiritual life. During the Mass of thanksgiving after the ceremony “all of a sudden,” she tells us, “ a voice in my heart said to me: “Will you give me your Mamma?
“Yes,” I answered, “if you will take me as well.”
“No,” the voice replied, “give me your Mamma without reserve. I will take you to heaven later.”
“I could only answer ‘Yes’ and when Mass was over I ran home.”
It was her first great sacrifice and it cost her bitter grief and tears; but when her mother died a few months later it was Gemma who consoled the others. Gemma was only eight years old.
Why should we cry? Mamma is gone to heaven” she said.

Shortly after her mother’s death, Gemma was sent to the school of the Sisters of St. Zita in Lucca. Under the guidance and direction of the good Sisters she acquired a greater taste for prayer, and a tender devotion to the Passion of Our Lord on which she began to meditate daily. Her love for the Mother of God was always deep and intense, the more so as she had lost her earthly mother. “If God has taken away my mother,” she would often say, “He has left me His own.” And her frequent prayer was: “Holy Virgin, make me a Saint.” During this time she often said the whole fifteen decades of the Rosary on her knees in the evening after her return from school and she also began to use penances and to rise in the night to pray.

However, the devout life is often times a hard struggle. And the help she needed and desired most was as yet denied her. She had long expressed the wish to make her First Communion. “You are too young,” the parish priest had told her. “Give me Jesus,” she would say to the Confessor or the Sisters, “and you will see how good I shall be: I will not sin again, I shall be quite changed.” But the custom of the time was against Communion at so early an age, and she was ten years old before permission was finally granted, and only granted by special exception. “There is no alternative,” the confessor declared, “but to admit her to Communion or see her die of grief.” We can only imagine the angelic fervour with which she received her Lord for the first time on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 17th, 1887. “I feel a fire burning here,” she said to one of her fellow friends afterwards, pointing to her breast. “Do you feel like that?” She did not imagine that there was anything exceptional in her own experience. Her life afterwards was a constant growth in union with Jesus. “Gemma is good for nothing,” she would say, “but Gemma and Jesus can do all things.”

Gemma’s school life was brought to an end by a painful illness. An injury to her foot which she made light of resulted in a severe and painful infection and she was forced to remain bedridden for some months. An operation was necessary, but she refused an anaesthetic and with eyes fixed on the crucifix suffered the excruciating pain with little but a moan or two. The doctors were amazed and edified by her courage and endurance.

Restored to health she now took her place in the home to do the duties that naturally fall to the eldest daughter in a motherless family. During this time she kept quite busy, for it was a large household. In the intervals she busied herself in making altar linen and vestments for the church or clothing for the poor. However her activities were not confined to the home. She would often gather the poor children of the neighborhood together for religious instruction. She frequently visited the sick in hospitals, bringing them little material comforts but especially “comforting them with thoughts of God.” Her charity to the poor and sick went almost to the point of extravagance. Every time she went out she would ask her father for money to give in charity, and if sometimes he refused she would coax permission to take bread or whatever she could lay her hands on at the moment.

Her home duties and her pressing concern for others were in no sense an obstacle to the growth of her interior life. Rather the contrary: her busy life of active charity drew its inspiration from her life of prayer and union with God. When she was most occupied with external things she seemed to those around her wholly absorbed in God. “Her life was one continual prayer,” says a priest who knew her well, “and her prayerbook was the crucifix.” The thought of the sufferings of Christ never left her, and it was in those days, as she tells us, she “began to feel a growing desire to love Jesus Crucified with all her heart, and together with this a longing to help Him in His sufferings.” She was especially drawn and devoted to the Passion of our Lord. “O Jesus,” she prayed, “I wish to follow You whatever it may cost me of suffering—to follow You fervently . . . . I wish to suffer for You.”

Grave illness
God was not long in answering her prayer for it was at this time that she was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis (or possibly spinal meningitis). She had felt symptoms for awhile, but her pious repugnance to medical examination made her conceal it until she found herself bedridden. Her pitiful condition, and the patience and sweetness with which she suffered drew those who knew her to her bedside. One of these brought her the "Life of Venerable Gabriel Possenti", who was known for his sanctity and miracles though not yet canonized at that time. Gemma at first took little interest in the Life but having once invoked Brother Gabriel’s name in a distressing temptation with instant effect, she then read the book several times and thus developed a special devotion to him. Not long afterwards he appeared to her amidst her grave illness, speaking words of consolation and encouragement.

Miraculous cure
In February, 1899, the doctors pronounced her case hopeless and she received the Last Sacraments. Her confessor since childhood, Monsignor Giovanni Volpi, auxiliary Bishop of Lucca and afterwards Bishop of Arezzo, visited her on Feb 19th and suggested she should make a novena to St Margaret Mary Alacoque for her recovery. Twice she began the novena, but forgot to continue it. What then followed may be best told in her own words:
“On the 23rd February I began it for the third time, or rather had meant to begin it for it was now within a few minutes of midnight, when I heard the clink of a rosary beads and felt a hand laid on my forehead. A voice said the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Gloria nine times in succession. I hardly answered I was so weak. Then the voice said: 'Do you wish to be cured? Yes, you will be cured. Pray with faith to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I will come every evening till the end of the novena and we shall pray together to the Sacred Heart. "And what of Blessed Margaret Mary? I asked. "Repeat the Gloria three times in her honor." It was the Passionist, St Gabriel Possenti who had appeared and encouraged her. "He came every evening and we recited the prayers together. The novena was to end on the first Friday of March. Early that morning I received Holy Communion. Oh, what happy moments I passed with Jesus. He, too, asked me, 'Do you wish to be cured?' "My emotion was so great that I could not speak, but in my heart I answered, Whatever You will, O Jesus! . . . The grace was granted. I was cured. I rose from bed. Those in the house were crying for joy. I too was pleased, but not so much that I had been cured as that Jesus had chosen me for His child. For that morning before He left me He had said: 'My child, the grace you have received this morning will be followed by many others still greater.'



Gemma's cure was complete and permanent. Her illness had lasted more than a year and had brought her to death's door, but afterwards her health was perfectly normal.

Her first thought after her recovery was one she had long hoped for -that of entering a convent. Circumstances up to this point had made it impossible to realize, but now her way seemed clear. Several religious communities in Lucca would gladly have accepted her, and even encouraged her hopes. But ecclesiastical authority was slow to believe in the permanence of her sudden cure from such a dangerous disease and also her extraordinary mystical experiences were known to the local Bishop. So to her great sorrow Gemma found the convent doors regretfully but firmly barred against her.

Meanwhile her spiritual life continued to grow in intensity and fervour; her union with God became more intimate, and her soul began to be visited with divine communications of the most extraordinary and exalted kind. She had been accustomed even during her illness to make the Holy Hour in honour of the agony of Jesus in Gethsemani. In gratitude for her recovery she now promised the Sacred Heart of Jesus that she would recite the Holy Hour every Thursday night – a promise she kept for the remainder of her life. It was during this Holy Hour that Jesus began to pour into her soul those marvellous and extraordinary graces which made of her life a martyrdom of love. Her first experience on this Holy Thursday she thus described to her spiritual director-
“I spent the whole hour praying, and weeping for my sins. Feeling weak I sat down. The sorrow continued, but after a little I felt rapt in recollection. Shortly afterwards I suddenly lost the use of my senses. I tried to get up and lock the door of my room. Where was I? I found myself in the presence of Jesus Crucified, blood flowing from His wounds. The sight filled me with pain. I lowered my eyes and made the sign of the Cross: I felt great peace of mind, but still intense sorrow for my sins. I had not the courage to look at Jesus. I bent down with forehead to the ground and remained so for several hours . . . when I came to myself the wounds of Jesus were so impressed on my mind that they have never since left it.”
The vision filled Gemma with a new horror for sin and with an intense desire to suffer with Jesus and to become a victim for the salvation of souls. The desire was to be gratified in a way she little expected. One morning after Holy Communion she heard the voice of Jesus say to her, “Courage Gemma, I wait for you on Calvary where you are soon going."

Gemma receives the Stigmata
The meaning of the words was soon made plain. A few days later, on Thursday, June 8th, the eve of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, when she began as usual to make the Holy Hour, she felt a piercing sorrow for her sins such as she had never experienced, and a peculiarly vivid sense of the sufferings of Jesus. Suddenly she was rapt in ecstasy and found herself in presence of her heavenly Mother and her Guardian Angel. The angel made her repeat an act of contrition, and Mary comforted her with the assurance that her sins were forgiven, and told her she was to receive a great grace through the love of Jesus. “Then”—they are Gemma's own words-“She opened her mantle and covered me with it. At the same moment Jesus appeared with His wounds open: but instead of blood, flames as it were of fire seemed to issue from them. In an instant those flames touched my hands and feet and heart. I felt as if I were dying and should have fallen to the floor, had not my Mother supported me under her mantle. I remained in that position some hours. Then She kissed my forehead, the vision disappeared and I found myself on my knees alone: but I still felt intense pain in my hands, feet, and heart. I rose to go to bed, but I found that blood was flowing from the places where I had the pain. I covered them as well as I could and got into bed with the help of my Guardian Angel. Next morning I found it difficult to go to Holy Communion. I put on a pair of gloves to hide my hands. But I could scarcely stand, and felt every moment that I should die. Those pains continued until 3:00pm on Friday, the Feast of the Sacred Heart.”

Apart from her confusion and distress at such a sinner being so favored, Gemma's only thought seems to have been like that which occurred to her after her First Communion when she felt a fire burning in her heart and also that it was a common experience with those whom Jesus had chosen for His own. She began to make timid inquiries among her friends during the day, but only succeeded in mystifying them without obtaining any information. At last, feeling that she must confide in someone, as the blood continued to flow, she went to her aunt and holding up her hands said with the simplicity of a child, “Aunt, see what Jesus has done to me.” The good woman was struck dumb with amazement, but as little understood the meaning of the strange phenomenon as Gemma herself.

The phenomenon was repeated regularly every Thursday evening, beginning about 11:00pm and lasting until 3:00pm in the afternoon of Friday. Gemma seemed to pass through all the phases of the Passion and bore in her body all the marks of Christ's physical sufferings: not only the wounds in hands, feet, and side, but the punctures of the crown of thorns, the marks of the scourging, the wound on the shoulder caused by the weight of the Cross, all accompanied with the most excruciating pain. Throughout those hours she engaged in loving conversations and colloquies with Jesus in a low voice, often tenderly pleading for mercy for sinners and offering herself as a victim in expiation for their sins.

For some time Gemma kept these extraordinary occurrences a secret even from her confessor : partly through her extreme humility and partly through the difficulty of explaining them in the confessional. A few weeks after they began, however, a mission was given by the Passionist Fathers in Lucca which Gemma attended. After the general Communion on the last day of the mission, she heard an interior voice which said: “You shall be a daughter of my Passion, and a favourite daughter: one of these shall be a father to you: go and make everything known to them.”

She found a prudent and sympathetic adviser in one of the missioners, who communicated with Mgr. Volpi, her confessor, with the result that the Passionist Father Germanus was ultimately appointed her spiritual director. Mgr. Volpi was perplexed and doubtful about the authenticity of Gemma’s extraordinary mystical experiences. The mission Father and those whom he consulted were equally at a loss. Father Germanus, a priest of large experience and of a dry and scientific turn of mind, was frankly sceptical when first consulted by Mgr. Volpi, and he intitally declined to have anything to do with Gemma, and advised him to make his penitent follow the common spiritual path. It was only after considerable pressure that he was induced to visit her. After a searching and thorough investigation, however, he came to recognize in her an elect soul, “a true Gem of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” and remained her spiritual director for the rest of her life.
After her death he wrote a first hand Biography of Gemma entitled “The Life of Saint Gemma Galgani”

Gemma moves into the Giannini home
At this time Gemma’s father died, leaving the family destitute, and she was then obligated to live with one of her Aunts. Gemma was 19 years old at that time. “It is good to hide the secret of the King.”, and one of Gemma's chief anxieties was to keep secret of the great things God had done to her from the eyes of outsiders. It was soon evident that in her aunt’s house this was impossible. The younger members of the family were curious: not one was sympathetic: things began to be talked of outside, and much of what was said was not very kind. Gemma was frequently rapt in ecstasy even in the course of her daily occupations, and was thus at the mercy of those nearby who did not understand such extraordinary graces. She had to suffer much in consequence. At length, through the influence of the Passionist Fathers, she was received into the home of their benefactors the Giannini family; a well-known family in Lucca, first as an occasional guest, then finally as an adopted daughter. The household consisted of the father and mother with eleven children, and an aunt named Cecilia, who already knew and admired Gemma and was to become a adopted “mother” to her.

The overall quality and character of this family may be seen from a sentence or two of the father’s (Matteo Giannini) evidence in the Process for the Beatification of Gemma where, telling of her influence in his home, he speaks of “my five sons who are a great consolation to me. They go to Holy Communion every day and are much engaged in the field of Catholic Action. Of my daughters five are nuns, one has remained at home, and one is married.”

Daily life


In the Giannini home Gemma was sheltered from the prying eyes of the world and from the reputation for uncommon sanctity which she so dreaded. Her life in the Giannini household may surprise those who perhaps imagine that a life of exalted and continuous prayer must be one of inaction. For it was a life of constant and useful activity. Signor Giannini, just quoted, summed it up by saying, “Gemma was never idle.”
“At first when she came to us,” says her adopted “mother” Cecilia, “she used to crochet, but she preferred knitting or mending stockings, because I believe it permitted her to keep more recollected. It kept her busy, for she mended for the whole family. She was always ready to do whatever there was to do. She was never unoccupied.” A priest who lived with the family and saw her at her daily duties could not help admiring “her spirit of recollection and union with God. Even in the midst of the most distracting domestic occupations she always seemed as if absorbed in God and in continual meditation. But this did not hinder her from attending with great care to whatever she was doing.”
Another duty she especially coveted was the care of the sick. “She always looked after those who were ill in the house with the greatest care and attention, and in all things showing the greatest kindness and charity; and all this she did for the love of God.”

However, few indeed would have suspected from Gemma’s ordinary external life the sublime spiritual heights to which she was raised. Her simplicity and humility threw an effective veil over the secrets of her interior life. A priest, who frequently visited the Giannini family and knew her well, was unaware of her extraordinary holiness until her death revealed it. “Her modesty and simplicity,” he tells us, “made a most pleasing impression on me. And though I often came in contact with her I could not find in her the smallest imperfection . . . . Her words were few and in answer only to questions asked of her. I never heard her speak of herself. But while knowing well that she had a most delicate conscience and a beautiful soul, all intent on loving God, I should never have thought that she was so far advanced in sanctity.”
Father Germanus tells us that if there was a virtue characteristic of Gemma, it was her evangelical simplicity. It distinguished her from childhood and accompanied her all along her ascent to the summits of the supernatural life. She could not bear to think or speak to the detriment of anyone. “You would need a wrench,” a witness said in the Processes, “to draw a word from her regarding others, even when the information was necessary, if it had to be an unfavorable word.” She was frequently rapt in ecstasy during the day, but on returning to herself went on with her work apparently unconscious of any interruption. And after the long weekly ecstasy “she would rise as if nothing had happened, wash away the stains of the blood which had flowed so profusely, draw down her sleeves to cover the large scars on her hands, and believing that no one had noticed her, would return to the other members of the family and take her part in the work of the day.”

It was her simplicity that led her to think at first that her mystical experiences were common with all those who wish to love God. And when she realized that they were exceptional, she was haunted by the fear that she might be deceived or a deceiver. She had heard of such cases from those least qualified to deal with her. She had even heard a whisper of the ugly word, hysteria. And she would ask her director : “Am I to believe it is Jesus, or the devil, or my own imagination? I am ignorant, and I may be deceived. What would become of me if I were the victim of delusion? You know I do not wish these things. I only wish Jesus to be pleased with me.” Or again, “ Can it be that I am a deceiver ? If I am I shall lose my soul. I should like you to explain what a deceiver is, for I do not want to deceive anyone.” She found her only consolation in absolute obedience to her confessor and her spiritual director: “Oh, what consolation my heart finds in obedience! It fills me with a calm I cannot explain. Dear obedience! Source of all my peace.”

Gemma and the conversion of sinners
Gemma’s whole life indeed was one long uninterrupted sacrifice of the most heroic kind. To a worldly mind such a life of suffering may seem horrible and even tragic. There is one secret which fully explains it. From her earliest childhood the contemplation of Jesus Crucified filled her with a sense of her own sinfulness and a desire to atone for it, and then to be associated with Him in His sufferings and to share them in reparation for the sins of the world. To win souls for Jesus through prayer and suffering was the one passion of her life. Even as a child at school, her teacher says, “Gemma suffered because sin was committed. I remember that when she was quite a small child she grieved if any of her companions acted wrongly . . . . She prayed much, but especially for poor sinners, and offered for them such mortifications as a child can perform.” It was the feature of her life which the witnesses to her heroic sanctity repeatedly singled out as characteristic of her. Thus, some of the witnesses have stated: “She was especially attracted to pray for poor sinners.”.......“She was much afflicted by the thought of the sins committed in the world and she often offered herself to God on behalf of sinners.”........“She would gladly have gone through the world . . . to work for the extension of Christ’s kingdom by converting pagans, heretics, and sinners.”......... “The sins of mankind and the insults these offences offered to Jesus were an acute and constant source of suffering to Gemma.” She was often heard in ecstasy pleading for sinners and even offering her life for them. “What do You wish, O Jesus? . . . My life? It is Yours . . . I have already offered it to Thee. Will You be pleased if I offer it again as a victim in expiation for my sins and those of all sinners? If I had a hundred lives I would give every one of them to You!”

And in her letters she frequently returns to the same thought: “What is sweeter than to be filled with the thought of Jesus and to kneel before that Divine Victim of love and sorrow…a Victim for my sins, for my salvation and for the salvation of souls?”........ “I should willingly give every drop of my blood to please Him and to prevent sinners from offending Him.” .........“I shall be satisfied only when I am a victim—and may it be soon—to make reparation for my innumerable sins and for the sins of all the world.”

She did not confine herself to intercession for sinners in general, but almost constantly “carried on her shoulders,” as she would say, some obstinate sinner for whom she was asked to pray. And endless conversions were wrought by her prayers, from the dying man that refused to receive the Last Sacraments, who was converted by her prayers as a child at school, to the notorious sinner of Lucca whose conversion was announced to her the day before she died. Her sufferings were not meaningless, nor merely a personal discipline: they were the instrument of a great apostolate for the sanctification of souls, and especially for the conversion of sinners, that drew all its inspiration and all its virtue from her continual union with Jesus Crucified.

Desires to become a nun, but is denied
She had never lost her childhood’s desire of entering a convent. And from the time she first met the Passionists and heard of the Passionist Nuns, she felt that her place was with them. There was a convent of the Order at Corneto, Italy some two hundred miles from Lucca, and after asking advice she determined to go there for a course of spiritual exercises and ask admission. She met with a decided refusal, worded in no very genial terms, from a Reverend Mother who had heard about Gema’s illness and cure, and also the extraordinary graces that surrounded her life, and was therefore convinced that such a mystic (or possible hysteric?) would not be suitable for their contemplative Community. It was a bitter disappointment to Gemma, but she bore it bravely and patiently. Subsequent efforts were made in her behalf by her confessor Mgr. Volpi and her spiritual director Father Germanus, but without any effect. Gemma began as far as she could to lead the life of a Passionist Nun outside the cloister. She had already made a vow of chastity during her serious illness, and to this she now added with her Confessor’s approval the vows of poverty and obedience. She wore the Sign of the Passion on her heart underneath her clothing, and recited the Divine Office daily like the Passionist Nuns in choir. And she never lost the hope till near the end of her life of joining them, if not at Corneto, then elsewhere.

Her hope to become a Passionist nun was eventually realized after her death. In her first letter to Father Germanus, before she had yet met him, she predicted in minute detail the establishment of a convent of Passionist Nuns at Lucca. There was no thought of such a project at the time, but a year or two later it began to be talked of. Gemma was filled with enthusiasm and began to pray and to use all the influence in her power to hasten the coming of the nuns to Lucca. The difficulties in the way seemed at times insurmountable, but she was never disheartened. During the last year of her life it was her constant thought and the constant object of her prayers. She even searched Lucca more than once for a suitable site and interested herself in the material funds necessary for the foundation. She still had hopes of finding her vocation in the new convent. But towards the end she made the sacrifice even of these, if only the work on which she had set her heart might be accomplished: “I no longer ask to enter a convent . . . . Jesus has the habit of a Passionist Nun waiting for me at the gates of Heaven. Let me die so that the Passionist convent may be established.” She assured those who were losing heart that the foundation would be begun after her death and completed in the year of the Beatification of St Gabriel. Her words, contrary to all expectation, were verified by the events. Two years after Gemma’s death the first little group of Passionist Sisters came to Lucca, and though they met with many obstacles and disappointments a full community took possession of the new convent in 1908, just two months after St Gabriel was beatified. Pope Pius X, had already blessed the project, and, in words which would have brought joy to the heart of Gemma, assigned as the special object of the community that “of offering themselves as victims to Our Lord for the spiritual and temporal needs of the Church and of the Sovereign Pontiff.”

Today the Passionist convent in Lucca continues to flourish. Gemma’s body reposes near the altar in the little chapel and the nuns venerate her as their foundress and the patroness of their work.The Passionist Nuns would not accept me,” she had said, “but for all that I wish to be one of them, and I shall be with them when I am dead.” So was Gemma’s wish fulfilled at last. “If for reasons independent of her will,” writes a companion of hers now a Carmelite nun, “Gemma never wore the Passionist habit, she was none the less a true Passionist. She was a Passionist in soul, and she had the spirit of the Passionists. The Order has made her its own. Her convent has been established for years and continues to flourish exceedingly.” The same thought was expressed by Benedict XV in the decree introducing the Cause of her Beatification: “The pious virgin, Gemma Galgani, if not by habit and profession, undoubtedly by desire and affection is rightly numbered among the religious children of St Paul of the Cross.” And Pius XI in proclaiming her heroic sanctity congratulated “the sons and daughters of St Paul of the Cross on the possession of this true gem of sanctity who would be an additional honor to their Congregation.” Gemma had once described herself as “wandering like a soul that had gone astray”: her long cherished vocation was at last realized and certainly not many vocations have cost such a painful sacrifice.

Gemma had offered herself to God as a victim in expiation of the sins of men, and her offering had been accepted. Up to this point she had shared in all the sufferings of Jesus except one—the last and greatest, the agony, sorrow and destitution of His last hours on the Cross. Terribly as she had to this point suffered in soul and body, her suffering had been in secret, and her life was more like Gethsemani than Calvary. After her miraculous cure her health had been perfectly normal, and no one would have suspected that the strong, healthy girl was enduring the tortures of a living martyrdom. But the moment came when her sufferings could no longer be hidden: it was the immolation of the victim.

Final illness
At Pentecost, 1902, she was suddenly stricken with a mysterious illness which lasted, with one short interval, for the remaining nine months of her life. She could not taste any food, her body was torn with the most violent pains, and she was reduced to a skeleton. At first she managed to drag herself to church for Mass and Holy Communion, with the help of her adopted mother and friend Cecilia, but this consolation soon had to be abandoned due to her deteriorating health. Doctors were called in, but disagreed in their diagnosis and for the most part confessed themselves baffled by the mysterious nature of her disease. The pains which racked her body without ceasing were aggravated by furious assaults of the devil on her body and her soul, so horrendous and continuous that she imagined herself possessed and begged to be exorcized. Her heroic life, all the virtues she had practised, all the divine favors she had received, were now represented to her as an accumulation of hypocrisy and deceit. And during all those months of suffering no ray of divine consolation reached her heart. She continued to pray unceasingly, calling on Jesus and Mary to be with her in this hour of bitter dereliction, and outwardly preserved a serene and unruffled calmness. Of her bodily pains she never complained but once, when she murmured, “My Jesus, it is more than I can bear”: but when the Sister in attendance on her reminded her that with God’s grace it is possible to bear all things, she never used the words again. On the contrary when the Sister once asked her “If you had your choice which would it be: to go at once to heaven and cease to suffer or to remain here and suffer for the glory of God?” “Better to suffer,” she said, “than go to Heaven when the pain is for Jesus and His glory.” One of the religious nursing Sisters from the order of St Camillius who cared for Gemma during her last illness stated “We have cared for a good many sick people, but we have never seen anything like this!”

Holy death
One last consolation remained to Gemma and of this she was soon to be deprived. Pitiable as was her condition she was at least in the midst of affectionate friends. Some of the doctors, however, were of opinion that her disease was tuberculosis, and Father Germanus was anxious that the children of the family should not be exposed to the danger of infection. It was decided to remove Gemma, much to the disappointment of the Giannini family, who offered strong opposition. Some months passed indeed before they could be induced to consent to it. At last a compromise was made and a room was rented across the street street from which communication could be held with the Gianninis’ home by means of a bell fixed to a cord stretched across an intervening courtyard. Here Gemma was removed on February 24th, 1903, making her last sacrifice with a calm resignation that astonished even those who knew her best. At this point she could very well say, “I have made a sacrifice of everything; nothing now remains for me but to prepare for death.”

Death was not far off. Some two months later, on Good Friday; she entered with outstretched arms into a prolonged ecstasy, nailed, as she said, with Jesus to the Cross. Those who saw her suffering throughout that day and the following night knew that the end was at hand. On Holy Saturday a priest was called and gave her Extreme Unction, and then Gemma was left to taste the full bitterness of the desolation of Jesus on Calvary. The end came peacefully when with a look of seraphic joy on her face she gave up her pure soul to God an hour after midday on Holy Saturday, April 11th, 1903. Her countenance was so beautiful and peaceful that those present found it difficult to convince themselves that she was actually dead.


Gemma Galgani was beatified by Pope Pius XI on May 14th, 1933, and canonized by Pope Pius XII on Ascension Thursday, May 2nd, 1940. Among the vast multitude that filled St Peter’s on the day of her Canonization were thirteen hundred of the citizens of Lucca headed by their archbishop. Many of them had known her, including the numerous members of the Giannini family which had so devotedly befriended her. There too was her youngest sister Angelina sitting by the side of the nun of St. Zita who had taught her as a child and guided her first steps in the path of heroic sanctity.
The feast of St Gemma is April 11th (and also May 16th for those in the Passionist Congregation).


"I have loved You, oh Jesus. Grant me to love You even more, so that my thoughts turn only to You, all day, and all night, even while sleeping ... I wish my spirit to talk always with You, my soul to converse always with You." -St Gemma Glagani

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Anonymous said...

i asked to take the suffering of jesus a piec eof it eight years ago...two years ago i was struck with more calamities and searing nerve pain, many ijuries, losess of home food, identity, trappe din hurricane, closest friends cruel to me, closest allies died and i was there at their death, could not sit or walk each moment a torture and agony with doctors turning away...and praying constantly not for my healing as i did not want to leave the others who suffered...often finding nohope and thinking of suicide and hating self for wanting death more than life and feeling faithless even as i demonstrated faith

and one night found st. gemma and although i had prayed to all...it was reading her story and prayign to her...
and as i am not a saint...it was releasing myself from this vow of suffering with humility and knowing i can not bare such torments and can be more of use to others when not in hellish torment...everything began to change...hope came...healing is coming...patience...progress..all i have suffered all my life, judgements, fear, confusion, clarity apart from words and stories...andi hope true love in my heart for others...as well as healing powers greatly icnreased...thealing many...and i thank You.

Anonymous said...

God bless you,,, may you become a saint just like Saint Gemma.

christ the helper and restorer said...

A true saint please pray saint gemma that there may be more religious oorders for men right here in san diego california. I ask your powerful intercession before Jesus Christ. Amen. Igv.

Anonymous said...

The relics of many Saints were brought to my parish, and as I went from one to another, I found different feelings with some. A smell of incense with St. John Vianney, of perfume with St. Claire of Assisi, electric currents through half my body before St. Cecilia, unsteady feet before Sts Paul and Peter, humility with St. Francis, shame and contrition before St. Maria Goretti, sorrow before Our Lady's veil. As I stopped before St. Gemma's relic, I was struck by her photograph. Her intense eyes and reflective expression intimidated me, but I felt no physical signs of her influence upon me then. I went home, and as I slept, I dreamt of many saints and blesseds around me answering the questions I had asked at the exposition.
Then, I saw St. Gemma, in her simple clothes, and her intense eyes pierced me and set me to stillness. I remembered her relic instantly and said, "You did not touch me at the church like these others did, and you are here?" She shook her head, and took me by the hand and made me to follow after her. She didn't once look back at me, or speak out loud, yet I felt within me some sense of disapproval, as if she were scolding me for, "not listening when you ought to listen."
I know in this dream she charged me with some tasks, and was who should help me with my petition of courage and spiritual fire to defend my faith and offer myself for the will and glory of God as he should see fit. I am saddened that my dream ended and most of the things she told me are shrouded in fog. As i awoke, I felt as if i had held in my hand some precious, important thing she had given me, and my fist was clutched tightly by my side, but it was empty, and I panicked and began searching immediately in the covers, to find it, but nothing appeared. I could not remember what i had lost, and was immediately filled with sadness; like she admonished me, I don't listen when I should. I hope that she grant me once more a visit, so I can do what I must.

Anonymous said...

Could it be she was asking you to become a victim soul?

Rita Kay said...

Thank God for St. Gemma. Pray for me that I become a victim soul and go teach for two years without my husband and gain a Master's degree.lovexxoo

Anonymous said...

I am the anonymous of February 16, 2013, above. Since I wrote that comment, many things have come to pass which I now believe relate to my dream of Saint Gemma. At the time of the relics exposition, I had recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that will eventually destroy my liver, and more likely than not, cut my life shorter than I would have otherwise lived. as my liver begins to fail, I will be faced with something called hepatic encephalopathy due to accumulation of toxins that my liver will not be able to eliminate. I will lose my mind long before I die.

I was broken hearted, i had just begun medical school, i hoped to serve God by caring for the suffering, and now i wouldn't be able to work as long as i thought i would. I was in spiritual turmoil, having also recently lost my father. I was conflicted about what to pray for, as I felt absurdly unworthy to ask God for a miracle, because who am I to deserve such a thing? As I touched each relic, I asked only for courage and strength to accept the will of God. The night I dreamt of St Gemma, I woke up in terrible distress because I did not remember what she had given me or what she had told me I should do or expect.

A little over a month later, my husband allowed himself to be seduced into an affair by the reprobate, married choir director of the parish we belonged to at the time. I struggled with my losses, struggled through my academics, and as the suspicions began to arise, I also had to face my husband's anger against me for daring to question the sudden, excessive amounts of time he spent with that woman at "practice", visiting with her, going out with her, and inserting her into our lives while at the same time resenting my wishes to be with him and have him comfort me through my distress. This was the man who wrote me a heartfelt, loving letter on the day of the expositions, telling me how happy I made him, how I made him a better man and brought him closer to God! How did it go from that to him believing I was horrible, controlling, unloving, disrespectful, in just a matter of weeks?! It could only have been the work of Satan.

I

Anonymous said...

continued...
I have read the sections of Gemma's battles against the devil, how it turned her loved ones against her, discrediting her and slandering her and her intentions. Well, I can see so many of those same tactics in the events that unfolded in early June of 2013, when I finally found proof of the affair and my entire life collapsed under the damage, the hatred, the lies I endured for months from my husband, and the derision and cruelty with which he treated me when I begged him to open his eyes and see that he was in sin and that woman was not the Godsend he proclaimed her to be, because adultery is a sin, and God wouldn't send anyone to manipulate him into it.

For the past year, I've suffered a debilitating depression that, combined with PTSD over the events around my discovery, have placed me on the verge of madness and so much despair as to make me beg God for death, to even seek out a way to kill myself on more than one occasion. Despite the fact I have been so extensively damaged by all this, I am treated by my husband's family as if I am the one who has committed a horrible wrong against their brother. I am accused of being cruel and abusive and of faking my depression to "punish" him for cheating. I feel so isolated and lost in the chaos and darkness of my heart that sometimes it is difficult to feel the love of God for me, but I never stop praying. I feel so torn up and desolate, and reading about Gemma's suffering when the devil tried to leave her without the love and support of her friends and family feels almost like a parallel to my own experience. Sadly, in my case, I will not receive their support, love, or respect again.

Even though I still cannot remember what Saint Gemma communicated to me in that dream, I have come to believe she came to warn me of what was to happen between my husband and his affair partner. I feel like I failed to act to prevent it. I feel I should have listened carefully and implored God's assistance against such evil and destruction. At the time the choir director started insinuating herself to my husband, he had begun considering the vocation of permanent deacon and had approached someone to begin his discernment. He never got a chance to even meet with his would-be advisor. The very next day was when she emailed him a request for his personal phone number and began the first of several thousand text messages and secret chats between them. We used to pray the liturgy of the hours as a family every day, and when she learned about it, she laughed and mocked him for it... He stopped praying altogether during the affair.

I pray for St. Gemma's intercession, so that my husband never again is blinded by the lies of the devil, that he cling only to God, I pray for strength of faith and of love to heal my broken heart and forgive the wrongs and pain I have suffered. I pray for all struggling marriages in the world, for perseverance in the face of their difficulties, that they find again the love that united them before God, and that their eyes are open wide to the tricks of the enemy.

Finally, I ask forgiveness for my pride, for allowing despair and torment to push me to the edge of committing suicide, for not trusting that God does not abandon me, even when I am enduring the worst tortures my heart has ever known.

Blessed be Jesus and Mary.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,
I suspect the fact that you could not remember what Gemma told you in your dream back in February 2013(and also what she gave to you) was because the warning/information was to strengthen your soul for what was to come, but you had to come to know and experience it on your own, without any foreknowledge of it....in other words, Gemma came to strengthen your spirit for what was soon to come, but not to inform your conscious---anyway, this would be my interpretation and thought on the matter, for whatever it is worth.

As far as your husbands infidelity, I just have to say this one thing--you said "I feel that I failed to act to prevent it", well, I believe that it is important for you to know that there was NOTHING you could have said or done to prevent such a thing---when a married man has an affair he is not thinking about his wife or the pain that the revelation of his infidelity will cause her--he is thinking about lust and the excitement and thrill of the chase, although at the same time deep down he very well knows it is sinful and that it is forbidden fruit. From my perspective what happens in such cases is that the temptations from the enemy besailing the "lower" part in the man wins over the "higher" part (the spiritual part with the intellect and reasoning) of the man.

As for the deep despair and thoughts of suicide--this is the temptations of the enemy trying to prevail upon your "lower part" and you must not give in to them. Let your "higher" part, you spiritual self--your soul and spirit in union with Jesus and Mary prevail over such thoughts/temptations.

I think there is something else that must also be said: While perhaps you very well may have fallen short at times in your duties as a wife (we are all human with weaknesses and faults) NOTHING you could have done or failed to do would justify your husband being unfaithful to you.

And another point: You are quite right--there are close similarities and parallels in Gemma's life in respect to what you too are also undergoing at the hands of your family. So in Gemma you have a friend in heaven who understands very well what you are suffering in this regards.

I will post this reply anonymously, because it is simply one soul speaking to another, out of love for Jesus and Mary.

And I pray that Jesus, in His infinite love and mercy, may strengthen, guide and comfort you under the painful crosses that you are bearing. And I pray that St Gemma may be very close to you, to guide and help you in your sufferings. I pray this in Jesus holy name, Amen.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous:
This quote is for you:
"Jesus is the owner of my heart, and belonging to Him I find that I can smile, even in the midst of tears." -St Gemma Galgani

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