I recently received a treasure of a book entitled “The Gem of Christ” by Father Francis C.P (Passionist) , Catholic Book Publishing, 1949. The book has some interesting and inspiring stories about Saint Gemma that I have not read elsewhere, and that are not currently on this website. And so, because I think that part of the mission of this website is to be a repository of information on the Saint, I would like to post a number of these stories here, in two parts. Below is Part 1 of 2. -Glenn Dallaire
St Gemma and Father Cajetan C.P.
Those who have read Gemma’s Autobiography will recall how in the summer of 1899, only a few months after her miraculous cure and right after she had just received the holy Stigmata, Gemma took part in a Mission that was being preached by three Passionist Priests in the Cathedral of St Martin. During this time, she went to Confession to one of the Priests, named Father Cajetan. While prayer a few moments before her confession, Jesus in an interior locution, ordered her to reveal everything in Confession –“everything” meaning the Stigmata and the other mystical experiences and graces, along with her faults.
Father Cajetan, of course, sought to be prudent and did not make any rash judgments or statements, however afterwards he arranged to meet Gemma at the Giannini family home (the home where Gemma later lived) to discuss and discern her spiritual and mystical life in greater detail. He and Gemma became friends, however soon after he turned against her. Here is what Father Francis relates in the “Gem of Christ”:
“…He [Father Cajetan] was an excellent missionary, an esteemed religious but not well-read or experienced in the ways of the mystical life. Acknowledging Gemma's virtue and sincerity, he had strangely come to believe that some of the extraordinary phenomena in her life was the work of the devil. He was convinced of this when she foretold that he would leave the Congregation. Young and indiscreet, he had expressed his opinion in places and to persons in a way that made many enemies for Gemma.”
Thus, Father Cajetan, once a friend, now turned into a painful source of suffering for Gemma by spreading untruths and misunderstandings about her to those about him. To continue the narrative-
“After the example of Jesus on the Cross, she prayed with special fervor for those who had injured her in any way. In one instance of this, she carefully introduced an prayer from obedience because Our Lord had always blessed what she did through obedience:
‘Jesus, by order of my Confessor, I recommend to Thee my greatest enemy, my greatest adversary. Guide him and if Thy hand must be laid heavily on him, press it on me instead. Give him every grace, Jesus. Do not abandon, but console him. What does it matter if you leave me in pain? But do not let him suffer. I recommend him to Thee now and always. Confer on him many blessings, twice as many as the harm he would like to do me. And to show that I love Thee, I will offer Holy Communion for him tomorrow. He will perhaps be thinking of doing us some harm, but We desire to do him every possible good’.
The charity in this prayer is all the more admirable when we know that it was offered for Father Cajetan who, from a friend, had turned into an enemy.”
And history reveals that Gemma’s prediction that Father Cajetan would leave the Passionists did in fact come true-
“...he did leave the Congregation for one of the older Orders of the Church. Not succeeding there, he humbly sought admission again among his former brethren where he was kindly received; no doubt through the prayers of Gemma. He bitterly regretted his incredulity and mistaken zeal. He died November 12th, 1925 with the peace and confidence of one who had been the object of heroic prayer from the heart of a Saint.”
Later in life Father Cajetan deeply regretted his poor judgment concerning Gemma, and in evidence of this he gave an excellent eye witness testimony in favor of Gemma which we have in writing here:
Statements of Palmira Valentini, Elissena, Tecla Natali- friends of Gemma
“The life of retirement led by Gemma in pursuit of contemplation and Union with God precluded the making of many friends. Those she had were girls, older than herself, who had visited her when she lay sick so long in her father's house. Because they, too, were charitable and devout, of one mind and soul with her, Gemma gave them a sincere and loyal friendship. The case of Palmira Valentini was typical:
'I had heard about Gemma and the desire came to me to meet and know her personally, and without any introduction I presented myself at her home. She welcomed me kindly; she asked if I went to Holy Communion every day, and, when I said 'yes', she gave me a look and a smile of pleasure and praise. In taking leave of her, she asked me to come soon again to see her and from that moment began our friendship. From that day on, I knew that I was in the presence of a great and beautiful soul.'
When Gemma was restored to health, she returned these visits of her friend, who, though pleased to engage in holy conversation with the saintly girl, declared that she always felt unworthy of receiving her.
More warmhearted in feeling and exuberant in language is the letter written to a certain Elissena in Rome, like herself an invalid. The two had never met; their friendship had begun and was continued by letter. Elissena had written to condole with and comfort Gemma in her sadness at being forbidden to attend the Holy Week services on account of her health and the distraction caused in others by her ecstasies. Gemma's answer makes us realize that the charity of God diffused in her heart by the Holy Spirit now possessed her completely. Love had cast out fear; chastity had ennobled love, and detachment from self had conferred on her an immense capacity for the spontaneous, pure love which begins and ends in God. In the lives of the Saints it would be difficult to find a better example of the way grace perfects nature, or a more touching illustration of the freedom which perfect virtue confers on the soul. Lover of God, she was the sister of all souls. The letter reads in part:
'...Having received your letter and read those words dictated by true, religious feeling, I am consoled and peace has returned to my heart. I am happy and I shall always be grateful to you, to your generous heart which knew so well how to inspire the same in me. I should prefer a thousand times that you might be cured instead of me, for what joy could I have in health if you were sick? I pray God to give health to both of us; if not, to choose me to suffer. Permit me to speak in all sincerity - for a long time I have had a great affection for you, a genuine love. A thousand times I have desired to make your acquaintance; a thousand times I have taken up my pen to write these simple words - I love you but I never attempted it because I did not know whether you felt the same toward me. I ardently desire the moment when you can come to see me. How happy I should be if it were today! Promise that you will come when you get well. Tell me that you will always love me and I will be happy.'
'You will please me very much if you grant two favors: the first is never to talk about being grateful to me, because I have done nothing at all for you; only believe that if my strength equalled my desires, oh, how much I would do! The other favor I ask is that you consent to treat me as a simple friend, no longer using that formal language of past letters. I hasten to wish you a happy Easter and to offer my congratulations on your expected recovery.'
To love one's friend in God and to find in that love an incentive to greater holiness is Christian friendship. To pray for sinners, to wrestle with God for their salvation is Christian zeal. To forgive injuries, to pray for those who persecute and calumniate is Christian charity. But to receive a sinner into intimate friendship is Christlike, for only the innocent, the humble, the loving can do it. In the voluminous pages of the Processes there is a little story told by a witness who was Gemma's friend. It had nothing to do with ecstasies or the size and shape of the Stigmata; nor is it an impressive prophecy of an important event. What did she care for matters that took Gemma away from her, for things that enemies scoffed at, for questions that theologians disputed?
"Next, reading Tecla Natali's testimony, one is immediately apprised of her own enthusiastic love for her holy friend [Gemma] but at the same time one may detect a certain holy envy for another, quite different from herself, who was more favored by the Saint. Tecla Natali states-"
'I have read letters of hers in which she gave good advice to a young girl who was on the way to becoming bad. In these she appealed to the girl to lead a good life. She exhorted her most earnestly and told her that she would pray very much to obtain for her the grace to be restored to virtue. She is dead now, and a good death she had, this young girl, who would have had so many letters to present here and so many things to say because she went every day to Gemma where I myself saw her on one occasion. Gemma was sick, unable to move and she said to the girl, she herself was crying: 'Do me this favor - go to confession and you will be happier and you will obtain also the graces you need.'
“A good death, indeed, she deserved, did this young girl whose feet strayed not so far as to keep her from a daily visit to her holy friend Gemma, one who fought with her against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life with an invincible love and an allconquering humility, with such simple weapons as a daily, loving welcome; frequent, earnest letters and tears.”
"A faithful friend is a strong defense; and he that hath found him hath found a treasure. No weight of gold and silver is able to countervail the goodness of his fidelity. A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality; and they that fear the Lord shall find him. He that feareth the Lord shall likewise have good friendship, because according to him shall his friend be." (Ecclus. 6, 14-17.)
Gemma’s childlike purity and innocence
“She possessed such childlike purity that it never entered her mind to think of the sinister or impure interpretations people might read into her innocent actions. A Passionist lay brother enjoyed telling of the time she asked to accompany him to the Mission at Santo Concordio. When he observed that it would not look right for him, dressed as he was in the religious habit, to walk on the public streets with her, she exclaimed: "Oh cursed human respect!" [Gemma it seems, thought that because of his statement, the good brother was embarassed to be seen with her, when in reality the Brother was referring to a situation that could mistakingly be a cause for scandal amongst those who may see them innocently walking together] Another time she asked if she might walk to the monastery with him six miles out in the country. The good brother found an ancient excuse the only escape from her naive request: "What will the Provincial say to me!"
Her brother Guido’s wedding
“One day she surprised her aunt by asking her to come with her to the milliner's shop; she was going to have a hat made. Arrived there, Gemma described in word and gesture what she wanted - a hat of black straw with a wide flexible brim to come down around her face. The milliner pointed out that such a hat was not in style, that it was not becoming to a girl like her. "She meant," says her aunt proudly, "a girl as beautiful as Gemma." Gemma was not so foolish as to be unaware of the fact, for she had planned the hat to avoid the admiring looks she often encountered in public. And so she answered with emphasis: 'Please make it exactly as I have described it because I want it that way.' This was the finishing touch to the famous costume which made the rising young lawyer, Joseph Giannini remark: ‘I would not be seen outside with her.’
[Joseph was one of the Giannini family children around the same age as Gemma with whom Gemma lived] he further states:
“Summer and winter she wore a black woolen dress reaching to the ground, a black mantle of the same stuff that came to the waist and - the unstylish hat.”
In this outfit she went to her brother's wedding. This brother, Guido, left home in 1897 and, after his term in the army, became, like his father, a pharmacist, and now lived in a town near Pisa. Gemma had never seen her future sister-in-law and, evidently, Guido had forgotten to tell his bride what to expect. Consequently, when she saw Gemma in her ridiculous costume, she was furious; she told her to go away and never come back. The meek and placid Gemma returned home, not resentful nor even apologetic, for there is no reference to the incident in the affectionate letter of felicitation she wrote shortly after:
‘Dearest Assuntina: It was a great pleasure for me to see your wedding day come at last and I write to tell you a thousand times: May you both be happy. It is not duty that moves me to say this but rather a pleasure which delights me in doing so. I will say it again now and always:
‘May you both be happy. This expression of my most ardent desire I will offer to God for you each evening, for you should know that I have nothing more at heart than your happiness and this will always remain fixed in my thoughts.’
‘I ought to have written sooner but I am sure that you will excuse my negligence. In the name of my aunts, then, I wish you great happiness; all of us will pray to Jesus that He may preserve you for long years in the affections of Guido and for the greater good of the family . . . Before ending I want to tell you something. From the moment of your marriage I have had this thought constantly; Papa was so pleased that you two were to be married. If only he had been there! Then afterwards I realized that all my adversities have made me resigned to the Will of God.
"Good-bye to both of you; live joyfully and happily. Believe me to be always, as I now sign myself with all my heart,
Your sister and sister-in-law,
Her brother Guido and his wife later visited Gemma, and Gemma having the stigmata, was obliged to wear gloves even at table, where she was subjected to some good-natured banter from her unsuspecting brother: "How stylish, eating with gloves on!" His wife seems to have taken for granted that Gemma was protecting a bad case of chapped hands and, after dinner, drew her aside and said: "I have some rose water and I will bathe your hands." And not waiting for Gemma's consent, she stripped off the gloves, and recognising the wounds ran weeping to Aunt Elisa: "Oh Aunt, why didn't you tell me! Gemma has wounds on her hands just like Our Lord's!"
Perhaps the young bride finally got around to the reading of the little book which Gemma brought to her as a present on her wedding day: “The Introduction to a Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales. If so, Assunta then realized that one with nails through the palms can neither grasp nor hold anything else on this earth. Gemma had sold all to gain a Pearl of great price, a Treasure of infinite worth. And Jesus kept her strictly to the bargain.
The relic tooth of Venerable Gabriel Possenti
Once in prayer she said to Jesus:
‘Jesus, the Father [her spiritual director, Fr. Germano] is always talking about detachment . . . but I have nothing and I don't know from what to detach myself.'
To which He replied: ‘What about the relic of St. Gabriel? Are you not too much attached to that?’
‘I was thunderstruck and was about to complain, 'but, Jesus, it is a precious relic' - and I was almost crying.’
And Jesus said rather severely : "My child, it is Your Jesus that says this and that should be enough."
The relic of a Saint so dear to her was a large one and a gift from Father Germano. When some nuns had asked to borrow it, she had cried on parting with it. For this Our Lord had rebuked her and, recognizing her attachment, she gave it to Cecilia Giannini.
The portrait of St Gemma
This detachment from self led her on one occasion to commit an act of mischief, which though impulsive and rather comic, brought down on her Father Germano's severity. The Giannini family had had an oil painting done representing the holy girl in an attitude of prayer. Her letter tells the story:
'Father, Pardon me! I have been acting foolishly as usual. The portrait which you had sent from Rome is in my hands, hidden in the house. When it came they concealed the fact from me. I looked everywhere for it, but couldn't find it. Finally, after asking a thousand questions of my good aunt, I discovered that it was in Euphemia's room. I could hardly believe it. When I was sure no one was watching me, I ran to that room, took the picture, and hid it in the little parlor behind the sofa. Noone knew for an entire day that it was gone; but when they looked for it, they saw that it was missing. I was questioned. (Jesus helped me, Father, so that I did not lie about it.) 'Gemma,' they said, 'could you have taken it?'
''Why bother about it?' I answered. 'What would you want with it, anyway? Jesus does all things well. If this picture was a source of edification to you, He would certainly have allowed you to keep it. But the picture of a wretched and scandalous person whom you have known only too well - it is only fitting that when the body passes from sight, every recollection should go also.'
"Thus I passed it off when my aunt questioned me, which happened twice. I went to confession and with a great effort revealed absolutely everything. It is he, the Confessor, who has ordered me to write at once to find out what is to be done. Command me, Father; forgive me. I will put the picture back. In this matter, Father, I have no wish to displease God, nor you nor anyone else. You won't doubt this? Please write soon.
- I remain, Poor Gemma.’
All pranks and roguish impulses are strictly forbidden in Saints, it would seem. People complain that Saints don't laugh enough and are scandalized when they do. Gemma's happy letter met with a stony silence, for another followed:
‘Father, I have wanted to write to you for some time. But I have hesitated, because I cannot write without reminding you of all my bad and faulty conduct. The last displeasure I caused Jesus and you, Jesus has forgiven; but you, not yet! Why? Grant me this forgiveness. That famous picture which disappeared for several days is back where it belongs. Forgive me; it is the last time I will do such a thing. '
"Like a dove, Gemma flew above the perishable things of time, spurning them in her eagerness to return to the Heart of God. The contempt she felt for earth inspired her favorite form of petition - that of offering a certain number of the years of life for special favors. 'There are about seven years of life still before me,' she wrote to Father Germano. 'I would like to offer three of them for Seraphina," a friend who was very sick. 'I would like to be near you so that I could ask this favor on my knees.' Before receiving an answer to this, she had another case - Mrs. Giannini [the mother of the large Giannini family] became seriously ill and it was thought to be cancer of the stomach. Again a letter went off to Rome, in which Gemma pleaded for permission to show her gratitude for the lady's kindness. 'This morning I spoke to my Confessor [Monsignor Volpi] and said: 'I would like to offer my life for the poor mother.' His answer was an absolute No. Then I said: 'Could I give two years?' He gave in and said Yes, but only on condition that the Father approves also[Father Germanus]. . . . 'Father, you won't deny this to me, will you? Two for Seraphina and two for the mother and more if they are needed.' Both ladies recovered and, in the time specified as she had foreseen it, Gemma died. She went in the flower of youth - a victim to a childlike love of her neighbor and to the ardor of her longing for God. "Many waters cannot quench charity, neither can the floods drown it; if a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing." (Cant. 8, 7.)
Click here to go to Part 2 of the "Little stories in the life of St Gemma".
“I would rather become blind forever than to offend Jesus in the least against purity” –St Gemma Galgani