Gemma Galgani was born 12th March 1878 near Lucca, in Italy. She was the fourth child in a family of eight. She was an intelligent, friendly child, cheerful and well liked. She was very thoughtful and even, when she was very young, spent time in prayer.
Her very happy childhood ended abruptly when her mother got tuberculosis, a disease that was very common at that time. As a result of this she was very weak and died when Gemma was only seven. Gemma was heartbroken, but she tried to be brave and comfort her brothers and sisters, saying 'Our mother has gone to heaven, she has suffered so much, but now she suffers no more".
When Gemma was about seventeen, her brother Eugene who was studying for the priesthood, got tuberculosis. He had to leave the seminary and return home. Gemma nursed him day and night until he died.
Her father was a pharmacist and had been prosperous but these deaths, and a prolonged sickness of others in the family took all his money. Soon the family was reduced to poverty. The situation got worse when her father got cancer of the throat. Gemma nursed him tenderly until his death in 1897.
So, before Gemma was twenty, when most young people enjoyed a happy, carefree social life with their friends, she experienced the sorrow of seeing both her parents and brother die. Because she was a very kind and sensitive person she suffered very much when they were in pain, particularly when she was unable to relieve their suffering. When they died she experienced great loneliness.
Gemma did not enjoy good health. When she was fifteen she developed a disease of the foot and had to undergo very painful surgery without an anaesthetic. A few years later she had severe problems with her spine. She had to have a very heavy iron brace day and night that left only her arms free. She did not feel sorry for herself, but tried to be cheerful and concerned for those who nursed her.
Gemma was a mystic and a visionary. This meant that she was a deeply spiritual person. She had a very close relationship with Jesus and desired to become a living image of him when he was crucified on the cross. There were times when wounds similar to those of Jesus appeared in her hands, feet and side.
When she was only 25 she became very ill and looked like a skeleton. She bore her sufferings with great courage and joy! She wanted to be a nun and to enter the Passionists Convent in Lucca. However, she was refused because her health was too frail. She was bitterly disappointed. Her spiritual director was a Passionist Father and he recalled how Gemma always united her sufferings to the sufferings of Jesus. He said that in her last agony she was in very close union with Jesus. She suffered throughout Good Friday and went to God on Holy Saturday, 11th April 1903. After her death she was clothed in a religious habit, and the Passionists Sign which she had so much desired to wear was place over her heart. Pope Benedict XV said of her "If not by habit and profession, undoubtedly by desire and affection, Gemma is rightly numbered among the religious children of St. Paul of the Cross". In 1923, Gemma's body was transferred to the shrine at the Passionists Convent in Lucca. On 2nd May 1940, Pius XII declared her life to be one of heroic virtue and proclaimed her a saint.
St. Gemma is the perfect model for those who have to care for sick people. To find out more about St. Gemma and St. Gemma's Hospice in Leeds go to web site http://www.st-gemma.co.uk/gemma.html
written by Sr. Marcellina Cooney, CP