Stories from "Blessed Gemma Galgani"
Thanks to holy card and medal purchases and donations to this website I was able to acquire from a used bookseller in Great Britain a very rare book entitled “Blessed Gemma Galgani” by Father Amedeo, C.P., 1935, published by Burns, Oates and Washbourne, and translated by Father Osmund Thorpe C.P. This book was quite popular in Italian, but the English translation is very rare, so I was delighted to be able to find a copy after several years of searching. And, I am delighted so far with the additional information in this book about Gemma that is not on this website and that I have not read elsewhere. So, God willing, I am hoping to add a few new articles to this website from this book, but for now here below are a few interesting stories about Gemma’s childhood from the beginning section of this book.
At the beginning of the book we read “The child (Gemma) was baptized the day after her birth by Don (Father) Peter Quilici, parish priest of Camigliano. There had been a disagreement in the family about the name she should be given. A paternal uncle, a captain of the army medical staff, wished her to be called Gemma. Her mother objected. The parish priest of Gragano, Don Olivo Dinelli, was asked to settle the question. Aurelia explained to him why she was reluctant to agree to her brother-in-law's suggestion. 'How can the child get to heaven,' she asked, 'if there is no saint of the name of Gemma?' 'But,' replied the priest, 'there are gems in heaven, and let us hope that she may become a gem of Paradise.' So it was agreed to give the child the auspicious name of Gemma, to which were added Maria Umberta Pia.
Next, in the “Early Education” section we read:
“A month after Gemma's birth the family moved to Lucca with a view to living there permanently. Guido, the eldest child, explained that his father made this change of residence in order that he might the better attend to the education and training of his children. The story of Gemma's first years is best told by her aunt, Elisa Galgani, who figured prominently in her life, and who became a most important witness during the processes for her Beatification:
'Gemma passed her childhood and youth in her own home under the watchful eye of her parents. At three years of age Gemma, together with her sisters and her very young brothers, was sent to a private school conducted by some sisters named Vallini. No complaints were ever made regarding Gemma, and her parents were assured that she was good and obedient. There she learnt to say her prayers and to do very simple knitting. She was removed from this school after her mother's death when she was seven. At this time she was always obedient and respectful to everyone and was never wayward. She was plump and good-natured, so much so that she used to amuse my brother.'
'When she was about four she came to our home at Porcari for a few days to enjoy the country air. My mother, in whose room Gemma slept in a little bed by herself, found her there one day on her knees, with hands joined, before a picture of the Heart of Mary. She called my brother, the army doctor, saying: "Come and see how Gemma prays," and together they watched her. "What are you doing, Gemma?" asked my brother. Gemma answered: "Go away, please; I am saying the Hail Mary." As they left my brother said: "If I had a camera I would have taken her photograph!"
Gemma's mother said morning and evening prayers daily with her children, and also taught the older ones to make little meditations. On Sundays she took them to Mass and to the evening devotions in the parish church. The children also went with her to the catechetical instructions for adults but she did not allow them to attend the catechetical instruction for children, preferring to instruct them herself or to bring a teacher into the house for that purpose. One of these teachers, Isabella Bastiani, made the following deposition for the Canonisation processes:
'The Galgani’s wanted someone to look after the sick and take charge of the children. My stepmother, Maddalena, was chosen. In this way I came to know the family and Gemma. My stepmother asked me if I would undertake to teach the children their prayers and catechism. I then began to teach Gemma and her brother Tonino (Anthony) the catechism, after which I used to bring Gemma to the Church to visit the Blessed Sacrament and say the Rosary and the other prayers I knew. Nothing seemed as pleasing to Gemma as to go to the Church to say her prayers. She never grew tired. When she had said an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father in honour of her Angel Guardian, she used to turn to me and say, "To whom should I pray now?" If I told her a pious story she always wanted another one and said repeatedly, "Tell me more, tell me more." Although so very young, when she was in the Church she always remained kneeling with her hands joined, and she was quite recollected.'
The evidence of the Vallini sisters completes the picture of Gemma and her family, given by Elisa Galgani and Isabella Bastiani.
“Our family had a villa and some property in the neighbourhood of Porcari about six miles from Lucca, and in consequence we formed a close friendship with Carlo Galgani, the district doctor. On the Feast of St. Michael to whom our Church was dedicated, he and his wife and children used to dine with us, and we returned the visits. In the course of time Carlo Galgani's son, Enrico, came to live at Lucca, and knowing that we kept a school there, with his wife's consent willingly entrusted to us his five little children, the second of whom was Gemma, then not more than three years of age. At this tender age Gemma had reached the use of reason and her intellect was prematurely developed. We could teach her prayers that lasted twenty-five minutes without her ever growing tired. At five she could read the Breviary like an experienced person. She was assiduous at her work and learned all that was taught to her. She was loved by all her companions for these good qualities. All the time she was with us, we had no occasion to punish her; a word of reproof was enough for the defects inseparable from her age. Her two brothers and two sisters were with her at school, but never once was she known to be angry with them. She allowed them to select the best fruit, and at dinner she was always contented, whatever she had, the smile that played on her lips being the only sign that she was pleased or displeased.'
Next, under the section entitled “You belong to Jesus” we read:
“…she was always opposing her own will and nature. What was pleasing to her she refused, what she disliked she welcomed. Nevertheless, her first steps in the way of perfection were not accomplished with ease. Her demeanour suggested that she was watching over her conduct with effort and excessive attention, and this made her appear serious-minded, unsociable and too silent for her age. Her motives could not be known to all nor could they be always understood. That is why she was said to be unintelligent, blunt in speech, off-hand and even rude in manner. Some said she was proud and disdainful, others, more kind-hearted, that she was shy; a few declared that she was stupid. Compliments never came Gemma's way, at any time. She certainly never sought them. 'Oh!' she used to say, ' How can I please people? I am stupid, and what does it matter if I am taken for what I am ?'
As the years rolled by, however, Gemma made such progress in virtue that even before she left school she had acquired almost complete self-mastery. Whatever was artificial or forced in her manners or conduct disappeared, and virtue seemed to become a second nature.
Whatever the attitude of others, Sister Julia Sestini was Gemma's friend. But even Sister Julia often said: 'Gemma, Gemma, if I did not read you in your eyes, I would judge you as the others do.' She understood the soul-struggles of this holy girl and did her best to keep her on the right path. Her predecessor, Sister Catherine Vagliensi, had often said to Gemma: 'Gemma, you belong to Jesus and you must give yourself entirely to Him. He is pleased with you, but you are in need of great assistance from Him. Your greatest pleasure ought to be to meditate on His Sacred Passion and death.'
So well did she know her pupil that Gemma wrote in her Autobiography: 'This good teacher had guessed what was in my mind.' Sister Julia Sestini's influence was not less efficacious. 'Under her direction,' wrote Gemma,' I began to have a greater desire for prayer. Every evening after school, I went home and shut myself in a room where I recited the whole Rosary on my knees. Often at night, I got up for a quarter of an hour to recommend my poor soul to Jesus.'
It was also at this time that she began to long to practise penance, and this desire burst into flame whenever she meditated upon the Sacred Passion. 'Every day,' she wrote, 'I had a part of the Passion explained to me. Often when reflecting on my sins and on my ingratitude towards Jesus we began to weep together.'
'During these four years this good teacher also taught me to practise some little penance for love of Jesus. The first was to wear a cord around my waist ... but so far as I was able I obtained permission from my confessor. Then she taught me to mortify my eyes and my tongue, and I succeeded in becoming better, but it was hard work.'
Her spirit of piety in these years was well remembered by Sister Julia Sestini:
'We were accustomed, especially during Lent, to explain the Passion of our Divine Lord. Gemma listened most attentively, and never grew tired of it. I have seen her weep sometimes. One day she and another child stood up, and Gemma asked: "What is the book out of which you read these things, because we should like to get one in order to study and meditate upon them better?" I advised the children to make five minutes of meditation in the morning, and to devote a few minutes every evening to an examination of conscience. I happened to turn toward Gemma and I saw her smile. When I questioned her I found that she had already the habit of making meditation and that she spent much more than five minutes at it.'
With a heart already so united to God, it is not surprising that Gemma was remarkable for the way in which she attended to the altars in the Chapel and classrooms, devoting her time to keeping them clean and becomingly decorated, nor is it surprising to know that she had no interest in the amusements which delight other children.
'She had no inclination or desire for games,' said Sister Julia Sestini, 'and when obedience compelled her to take part in school plays or concerts her demeanour was always edifying and serious. In the daily recreations she preferred to be alone or with the teacher.... When her companions invited her to accompany them I used to advise her to do so, saying: "Go along, Gemma, and don't be singular." Then she went gladly and quite willingly.'
Elisa Galgani's recollections of Gemma's piety at this time are more detailed:
'She had a deep love for the Blessed Virgin and prayed to Her with great fervour and devotion, often repeating: "Holy Mary, make me a saint." She had also a very special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Whom she ardently loved and to Whom she prayed with extraordinary fervour. I remember that when she was a child at school, she used to pray for success in her examinations so that her father especially might be pleased. She not only prayed, but carried on her person little pictures of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Once I saw her dip her finger in the oil of the lamp that was burning before the Blessed Sacrament, then touch her tongue with it in order that she might be able to answer the questions on her examinations well.... She often read books about the Blessed Virgin, which were given to her by Monsignor Volpi or by the parish priest of St. Leonard's. Sometimes she read them aloud to her brothers and sisters and even to her aunts. Every day she said the Rosary with the family .... She made triduums or novenas for every feast of the Blessed Virgin and not only attended the special devotions held in Our Lady's honour during the months of May and October in the Church, but also repeated them at home with her brothers and sisters.'
Next, under the section entitled “The Queen of Virtues” we read:
Among the virtues that adorned Gemma's soul, the queen virtue shone conspicuously. And indeed charity or love for her neighbour for God's sake was one of her most outstanding characteristics even as a girl. Her brother Guido speaks of her' special charity towards the poor.' If she met a beggar on her way to or from school she would be sure to part with whatever money she had, and found more pleasure in its loss than she would have found in anything it could have purchased. It was this charity united to a profound humility which made Gemma keep silent under unmerited reproof, thus protecting the actual offenders. 'Why don't you tell your teacher and let her know that you are not guilty? ' said Sister Julia Sestini, who did not like to see Gemma unjustly accused. 'Oh let the matter rest,' Gemma answered, 'it is better this way.'
But already in these early years Gemma's zeal for the spiritual welfare of her neighbour was noticeable. She listened with particular interest when the Sister read to the pupils in school the Annals of the Foreign Missions.
‘Gemma was filled with a great desire for the reign of Christ,' deposed Sister Julia Sestini, 'and she worked for the conversion of infidels not only by prayer, but also by contributing whatever money she had.' The pupils of the Sisters of St. Zita were all enrolled in the Associations called Propagation of the Faith and Holy Childhood, and Gemma paid her subscription regularly.'
God was pleased with her zeal for the salvation of souls, and seems to have given proof of His pleasure on an occasion which was recalled by Sister Julia Sestini: 'It was during the Carnival,' she said, 'and we were rehearsing for our Concert when the Mother Superior entered the Hall and asked for prayers for a dying man who had refused to receive the last Sacraments. We stopped the rehearsal and said some prayers. When they were over Gemma came up to me and whispered in my ear: "Our prayers are answered." That same evening I heard of the man's sincere conversion and that he had died with all the comforts of religion.'
And under the section entitled “A Model Pupil” we read:
“Gemma was, as we have seen, her father's joy, and her return every evening from school with a smile on her lips helped not a little to assuage the troubles of the day. He anticipated great things for her and watched with pleasure her progress not only in virtue, but also in her studies. Elisa Galgani had distinct recollections of Gemma at this time:
‘Once she had to confess to me that she had passed very well in all subjects in her class, and in French had secured very high marks. Some of her companions having failed were sad and sore about it. She said to me: "I am sorry that some of my companions did not pass. I should have liked for everyone to pass, for then I should have been happier myself." She did not like amusements or games, not even those suited to her age, and did not play with dolls. I remember that on one occasion her father wanted her to go to hear the city band which was to play in the Piazza. "Gemma," he said, "take your sister this evening to hear the band." But she answered: "No, Daddy, let us go to the Walls; there we shall enjoy ourselves better." The people of Lucca being gathered round the band the path on top of the walls was deserted. They would also be able to go along in good time to the evening devotions in the parish church. Unlike other children Gemma never went alone into the City.'
Although Gemma did not enter for the public examinations, because it was not customary at her school, she did well at the examinations which were held by a visiting professor. According to her teacher, she attained a high degree of proficiency in literature, science and mathematics. But it was in the knowledge of her religion, the catechism, the Bible and ecclesiastical history, that she shone conspicuously. In a competition amongst the children of the city she won the gold medal for Christian Doctrine. This success elated her father, who thought of sending her later on to the University. But Gemma's answer to the suggestion was “No daddy, the University is not for me.” And so it is that man proposes, but God disposes.
-St Gemma, pray for us!
"Each day I had a part of the Passion explained to me. Often when reflecting on my sins and on my ingratitude towards Jesus we began to weep together." -St Gemma Galgani