The Life of Saint Gemma Galgani
Gemma Galgani was born on March 12, 1878, in a small Italian town near Lucca. At a very young age, Gemma developed a love for prayer. As a student at the school run by the Sisters of St. Zita, Gemma was loved by her teachers and her fellow pupils. Although quiet and reserved, she always had a smile for everyone. Although she was a good student, she had to quit school due to chronic ill health.
Throughout her life, Gemma was to be favored with many mystical experiences and special graces. These were often misunderstood by others, causing ridicule. Gemma suffered these heartaches in reparation, remembering that Our Lord Himself had been misunderstood and ridiculed.
Gemma had an immense love for the poor, and helped them in any way she could. After her father's death, the nineteen year old Gemma became the mother of her seven brothers and sisters. Two young men proposed marriage to her, but Gemma wanted silence and desired to pray and speak only to God.
Gemma soon became very ill with meningitis. Throughout this illness, her one regret was the trouble she caused her relatives who took care of her. Feeling herself tempted by the devil, Gemma prayed for help to the Venerable Passionist, Gabriel Possenti, who was later canonized. (St. Gabriel was a Catholic seminarian whose marksmanship and proficiency with handguns single-handedly saved the village of Isola, Italy from a band of 20 terrorists in 1860). Through his intercession, Gemma was miraculously cured.
Gemma wished to become a nun, but her poor health prevented her from being accepted. She offered this disappointment to God as a sacrifice. Today, Gemma's mortal remains are still treasured at the Passionist monastery in Lucca.
On June 8, 1899, Gemma received the marks of the stigmata. Each Thursday evening, Gemma would fall into rapture and the marks would appear for a few days. The stigmata would continue to appear until the last three years of her life, when her confessor forbade her to accept the grace. Through her prayers, this phenomenon ceased, but the whitish marks remained on her skin until her death. During the apostolic investigations into her life, all witnesses testified that there was no artfulness in Gemma's manner. Most of her severe penances and sacrifices were hidden from most who knew her.
In January of 1903, Gemma was diagnosed as having tuberculosis. She died quietly in the company of the parish priest, on April 11 at age twenty-five. He said, "She died with a smile which remained upon her lips, so that I could not convince myself that she was really dead." She was beatified in 1933 and canonized on May 2, 1940, only thirty-seven years after her death.
Gemma's Redemptive Suffering
In one of her personal letters we read: "Jesus spoke these words to me: 'My child, I have need of victims, and strong victims, who by their sufferings, tribulations, and difficulties, make amends for sinners and for their ingratitude.'" Saint Gemma offered herself as a victim soul for the salvation of sinners. Upon learning about a person who was deeply caught up in sin, she prayed to our Lord: "Jesus, give me this soul. In exchange I will give you three years of my life." And another time she said "....I am willing to give the last drop of my blood to satisfy the Heart of Jesus to prevent the offenses of sinners."
Saint Gemma knew that her time on earth was to be spent praying and suffering for others, and she looked forward to heaven more than anything: "I greatly rejoice that time flies so quickly, because that means so much less time to spend in this world, where there is nothing to attract me. My heart goes incessantly in search of a Treasure, an immense Treasure that I do not find in creatures; a Treasure that will satisfy me and console me, and give me rest."
Gemma has now found that Treasure in heaven, and is in the position to intercede for all who call upon her aid.