"Our perfection does not consist of doing extraordinary things but doing the ordinary well.”
Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was an Italian Passionist who gave up a wealthy secular life to enter into a religious life. He is famous for his great devotion to the Sorrows of the Virgin Mary.
Born on March 1, 1838, in Assisi, Saint Garbriel's name was originally Francesco Possenti. He was baptized on the same day he was born and had the honor being baptized in the same Baptismal font that Saint Francis of Assisi had been baptized in. A few years later the family moved to Spoleto when his father was appointed legal assessor there. Tragedy though, would soon strike the family in Spoleto. Their baby girl Rosa died in 1841, seven year old Adele died in January of 1842, and Saint Gabriel's mother died in 1842. Though forever marked by these tragedies, Saint Gabriel was known to be a child of great charity and piety, well liked by his friends. As he matured, he became known as a bit of a ladies man and earned the nickname of "the dancer" for his involvement in the social scene of the town.
In 1851, Saint Gabriel fell seriously ill and as he laid on what potentially could have been his deathbed he promised to enter a religious life if he survived. When he recovered, he turned his back on his promise. Tragedy struck the young man again when his brother Lawrence committed suicide in 1853. That same year, Saint Gabriel found himself afflicted with a terrible throat abscess that left him bedridden and near death. Again he promised to enter the religious life if he survived, but this time, when he recovered, he went through with it and first applied to join the Jesuits. A terrible cholera epidemic soon his the town taking the life of his sister Mary Louisa. Towards the end of that epidemic, the clergy and authorities of Spoleto led a procession of the icon of the Virgin Mary in Spoleto's Cathedral. As the icon of Mary passed by him, Saint Gabriel heard a voice cry out to him, saying to him
"Keep your promise".
Immediately after the procession, he reached out to his local priest asking for advice. His priest recommended that he join the Passionists based on his personal devotion to the Passion of Christ. Saint Gabriel travelled with his brother Aloysius (who had become a Dominican Friar) to the novitiate of the Passionists at Morrovalle, arriving on September 19th, 1856. Two days after his arrival he received the habit and took the name "Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows" - just a year later he pronounced his vows. Soon he was known as an excellent student life and was making great, impressive strides in his personal life.
He followed the Passionist Rule exactly and cheerfully, always loving the poor, completing great bodily penances, and helping others in their prayer life. Soon though, Saint Gabriel began showing the first signs of tuberculosis. Though many would understandably treat this news with fear, Saint Gabriel embraced the approaching death with joy, asking only that it would be a slow death so that he could prepare himself spiritually. He did not change his routines and kept his cheerful demeanor and spiritual discipline. As his health continued to decline, there was hope by his superiors that he could be ordained a priest before his death. Unfortunately, this would not come to pass, as Saint Gabriel died on February 27th, 1862, in the retreat at Isola del Gran Sasso. Surrounded by his Passionist community, he held close an image of Our Lady of Sorrows and died peacefully. Witnesses wrote that at the hour of his death, he sat up in bed, and with a bright smile on his face reached out to an invisible figure in the room with them. Father Norbert believes he was reaching for the Virgin Mary.
The Blessed Bernard Mary of Jesus, companion of Saint Gabriel said of that day:
Tears come to my eyes and I am filled with shame for having been so far from the virtues that he attained in such a short time
Two miracles were attributed to Saint Gabriel in his cause for canonization. The first was the healing of Maria Mazzarella :
For three years Mary (20) had been living with her parents in Isola and had been suffering from complications in her lungs, stomach and spine. In January 1892, ulcers began to appear on her skin and she was having difficulty bearing even the smallest amounts of light in her room. Medicine was no longer helping. She began to reverently pray to the Virgin Mary for help and intercession, begging in prayer as the pain grew worse every day. In October of that year, she fell asleep and had a vision with a beautiful woman holding a small child in her arms telling Mary to go and pray at the tomb of Saint Gabriel in the monastery. Mary wrote:
”Towards the first dawn of the following day, Sunday, I told my sister to recite the Litany, and to join me in praying to the servant of God. While I was saying the litany there came upon me a quiet sleep, such as I had not had for a long time. After a while I awoke full of joy, feeling that I was cured completely cured. My strength had returned, the sores were closed, and one of them, which was very large and about to open, disappeared altogether. Filled with delight, I say to my sister, “Get up! I am cured! Confrater Gabriel has done this miracle for me!” For well-nigh eight months I had been unable to wait upon myself; my people had to assist me in everything. Now, that morning I got up at once, dressed myself in haste, and went down to the kitchen. My sister would not believe her eyes; she kept by my side, afraid lest it all might be a delusion. But I went downstairs, and stood before my parents and the servant-maid, who were all in the kitchen. My mother was astounded when she saw me, but I said to her: “Mamma, don t be afraid; Confrater Gabriel has performed the miracle for me”.
The second miracle involved Dominic Tiber. Dominic was suffering terribly from an inoperable hernia. When he and his family prayed for Saint Gabriel's intercession, he awoke to find his hernia completely gone and in perfect health. Saint Gemma Galgani attributes her miraculous healing of spiral meningitis to Saint Gabriel's intercession to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Pope Pius X formally beatified Saint Gabriel on May 31st, 1908, but his canonization was delayed due to the outbreak of the first world war. That canonization did come on May 13th, 1290 by Pope Benedict XV. During the canonization ceremony, Pope Benedict XV declared him a patron saint of Catholic youth, students and seminarians.
Today, in March of every year, high school students from Abruzzo and Marche visit Saint Gabriel's tomb 100 days before their graduation day and pray for his intercession in making good grades on their final exam. Saint Gabriel's shrine in Isola del Gran Sasso d'Italia (near Teramo) has an average of 2 million visitors each year, making it one of the 15 most visited sanctuaries in the world. His feast day is celebrated on February 27th.