St Gemma- Patron Saint for the poor and the unemployed
Poor and destitute- The death of her father
On Sept 17, 1886, St Gemma's saintly mother Aurelia died, leaving her Father Enrico to raise the family alone. Gemma was only 8 years old when her mother died. Gemma’s father Enrico had been carrying on a very successful business as a Chemist (Pharmacist) when, suddenly, his affairs took a bad turn. He had always been generous, most free in giving away money, and had allowed his daughter to become a mother to the poor. It was a common saying that all he had slipped through his fingers like sand. Himself a perfect pattern of moral integrity in business transactions, he trusted implicitly in the honesty of others. He lent money to various people and unwisely stood security for others. The failure of rents from his lands, the long sickness and death of his wife and two children had greatly reduced his resources. One by one the bills which he had signed fell due and all his property, movable and immovable, was seized by the creditors, so that both he and his family were thrown into utter destitution. Soon after, he fell seriously ill with cancer of the throat. Gemma, who had just gotten over her own sickness which included painful foot surgery (without an anaesthetic), was frequently by his bedside, animating, consoling, and preparing him to receive the last Sacraments. He died at the age of 57 on November 11, 1897, leaving her a penniless orphan.
The death of her father and the poverty of the family in Gemma's own words
Gemma writes in her Autobiography"
"We entered on the year 1897, I alone, without heart [she used these words to hide what in her was heroic virtue], remained unmoved by so many misfortunes. That which most grieved the others [note: the others, not herself] after Papa's fatal illness, was to be left without means. I understood one morning the greatness of the sacrifice that Jesus required at once, and I shed many tears. But Jesus, during those days of sorrow, made Himself all the more sensibly present in my soul; and even from seeing Papa so resigned to die, I drew such strength that I bore this bitter separation with great tranquillity. The day he died, Jesus forbade me to give way to useless grief, and I spent it in prayer, fully resigned to the most Holy Will of God, who then became my earthly and heavenly Father.
After Papa's death on November 11, 1897, we were left without anything, and had not even the means of supporting life. We had only enough to live on. One of my aunts, realizing this, helped us a great deal. She was unwilling that I should remain with my family. So the day after my father's death she sent for me and had me stay with her for several months."
In the many writings of Gemma, we usually find her opening her heart, and sharing her thoughts and difficulties in a most tender and beautiful sincerity. But, in speaking of the death of her father, she does not lay open to us the secret feelings of her heart. He was only fifty-seven when he died, and left behind him three sons and three daughters, penniless and orphaned. But a scene occurred which even Gemma could never forget. Scarcely had her father closed his eyes when the creditors in large numbers rushed in upon the little group to close the pharmacy, to seize what little furniture still remained, and to search even Gemma's own pockets, taking away the few small coins they found in her purse. The scene made such a lasting and painful impression upon her mind that, during the mental agonies and wanderings of her last illness, she saw over again these pitiless oppressors of the poor searching her home, and laying hands on all they could find, regardless of the death that was within those walls.
Thus, the Galgani children were now reduced to the extreme of poverty and destitution. They had to depend on their relatives for the means of subsistence and oftener than not even for their daily bread. And so it was that Gemma's family was in the literal sense of the word thrown out on the roadside, with nothing left except their tears. To crown their misfortune their aunts, who had signed over their property to their brother, also lost all they possessed. This family of nine was therefore reduced to absolute poverty. The sad story is told by two witnesses. Cecilia Giannini deposed:
‘The family was ruined and at times reduced to such straits that it was necessary to solicit help from others: in other words, to beg. Elisa Galgani told me that it was she who went out to try and get something for a family that was dying of hunger, and how she met a man who gave her a franc with which she bought a loaf of bread and a few things to bring home. During the months in which Gemma came to us and returned home in the evening, she used not to stay for dinner, because we dined late, and I usually accompanied her home after Benediction. Once I said to her: "You won't be offended if I buy you a couple of eggs? You can eat them when you get home." She answered that she certainly would not be offended, so I bought them and gave them to her. I afterwards learned that she had used them to make an omelette on which the family dined. But she told me this only when I insisted, and on condition that I would not divulge it. Having thus come to know of their poverty, I used to give things to the aunts, who willingly accepted what I gave. When about to set out to accompany Gemma home in the evening, I sometimes said to her: "Do you want anything? Have you something to eat when you get home?" And sometimes she would say: "Let me have a little wine and that will do for my supper." And that was all she wanted; she used to say even that it was too much. When she reached home she would say that she had already had her supper.'
Justina Giannini on her side deposed that the Galgani family was so badly off that often they had nothing to eat, and that it was said that collections were made throughout the city for these poor people who had once known ease and comfort, and who in consequence were ashamed to beg and thus make their poverty known.
According to Elisa Galgani this state of affairs lasted a long time. 'We had nothing. The Court and the creditors took all. In the beginning we depended upon the charity of the good, but afterwards Guido got a position as chemist at the City Hospital.' Gemma, however, was not appalled by the poverty to which she and her family were reduced, because she considered poverty and the sorrows of life as precious gifts from God-as an ignored inheritance reserved by Him for the elect.
‘This is the state of life God desired for us,' she often said to the family, and was content thus to fulfil the will of God. 'And not only did she love to be poor,' continued her aunt, ' but she encouraged us to love it also. And at this time we were in want even of necessaries!' According to her own account she tried to bear the heaviest burdens that arose from this state of affairs and to alleviate the sufferings which the others endured as a result of their poverty. 'No matter how small it was,' said Elisa Galgani, ' Gemma always reserved the smallest portion for herself.' And another witness declared that she ate very little in order to have more to give to her brothers.
Gemma knew how to inspire others with her own confidence in God. A domestic servant from her uncle's home at Camaiore, deposed:
‘In these sad circumstances Gemma found a means of exciting even myself to have confidence in the Providence of God. She used to say to me: "Say the Rosary of five decades with these words: 'Providence of God, have mercy on me.' When you have said that ten times, add: 'Providence of God, You have provided for me,' or, 'Providence of God, You will provide.' "
Gemma also expressed the same sentiments to her Aunt Elisa, ' Have patience, have patience, God will provide.' And God always did provide.
To one of a character different from Gemma's own this sudden fall of the family into utter poverty, at an age when she most needed the help of its reputation and support, might well have been a source of discouragement. Was this the reward of her virtues, her prayers and Communions? But Gemma had trained herself to see in all things the Divine Will, and courageously faced the future trusting in God's Providence that was to her "an anchor of the soul sure and firm." Nor did she trust in the kindness of Providence in vain. Carolina Lencioni, an aunt who was in relatively good financial circumstances, invited Gemma to reside with her in Camaiore, a village not far from Lucca. And Jesus, who had chosen this child for Himself, was knocking at the door of her soul filling it with an ever increasing abundance of graces and extraordinary favors.
St Gemma's great love and concern for the poor
"Whenever I went out," she says in her autobiography, "I asked papa to give me some money, and if, as sometimes was the case, he refused, I had at least bread and clothes to give away. It was God's will I should meet these poor people, and every time I went out I encountered some three or four of them. To those who called at the house I gave clothing or whatever I could lay my hands on, until I was forbidden by the confessor to do so. But a day came when papa gave me no more money, nor was I allowed to take anything from the house, yet every time I went out I seemed to meet none but those who were in distress. They all ran to me and I had nothing to give. I wept with grief and resolved to go out no more."
And so the poor and unemployed have in St Gemma a most compassionate and understanding friend and Saint who can certainly sympathise with their sufferings, having experienced such sufferings and trials herself.
For those interested, there is another article here which goes into more detail about the time in Gemma's life when she and her family were very poor, even to the extent of having no food whatsoever to eat. -St Gemma, pray for us!
".......Love, Jesus, is that not the best reward for all of your generosities? And then, too, I love you. Yet, it is not for your benefits alone, but because you are my Jesus. I love You because You are the sole object worthy of my love. I love You because You are Goodness itself. I love You because You have promised, You have sworn never to abandon me ... I love You, oh Lord, for an infinity of reasons. " -St Gemma Galgani