The walled town of Lucca is not far from Rome. A three hour train journey from Rome takes you into Pisa where a transfer is made to a train going to Lucca, a short thirty-minute ride. The train runs across the Arno River. This is the Tuscany region of Italy, well-known for its Chianti wines and beautiful medieval Churches. Pisa, Siena, Florence, and Lucca are all situated in Tuscany. St. Gemma’s relics are found here, outside of the walled city not far from the railway station.
Gemma Galgani was born in 1878. The experience of trauma and death go back to Gemma’s childhood experience of her mother dying; she was seven years old when her mother Aurelia had died. Gemma was attached to her mother, and Gemma knew and felt her mother’s love being the eldest daughter. Gemma’s spiritual life was abruptly marked by the death of those whom she loved and strengthened her spiritually. When Gemma was sixteen years old she dealt with another death: that of her brother, Gino, a seminarian, only a few years older than her, barely eighteen years old. The death of her brother had a traumatic impact on Gemma because he was her brother and because of her spiritual affinity with Gino. She asked her father if she could discontinue her studies until she recovered from Gino’s death.
When Gemma was nineteen years old, her father Enrico died. The family was left with the father’s debits. Gemma and her siblings had no support whatsoever; they were left in the street when their home and the father’s pharmacy had been sequestered by authorities. Gemma was left to bring comfort to her brothers, sisters, and aunts. To support the family Gemma worked in a sewing school.
Gemma and her siblings moved to their paternal aunt’s home; during this time Gemma refused a series of marriage proposals responding that she had offered herself entirely to Jesus. On December 8, 1897, Gemma pronounced the Vow of Virginity.
In the early months of 1898 when Gemma was 20 years old, she experienced increased sufferings from an abscess in the lower back, ear infection, brain tumour, and paralysis of lower limbs. Gemma was miraculously healed by the intercession of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Gemma received several locutions and apparitions of the Passionist, St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows who called Gemma, “my sister.” The young St. Gabriel was made known to Gemma by the writings of the Father, Germano Ruoppolo.
Gemma spent time with the cloistered Visitation Sisters and other cloistered congregations: the nuns were doubtful, perplexed, and rejected her vocation. On the 8th of June, 1899, Gemma received the grace of the Stigmata. The stigmata did not last but the marks of Christ were reproduced on Gemma’s flesh for two years on Thursdays, 8pm into Fridays until 3pm.
For the first time Gemma met the Passionist Missionaries July 1899 in the Cathedral of St. Martin preaching the Jubilee Year of 1900. She desired to join the Passionist Congregation. Father Gaetano Guidi permitted Gemma to make private vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty until September 8, 1899.
Gemma offered herself as a victim to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the reparation of sin and conversion of sinners. She continued to offer herself for the foundation of a Passionist monastery of cloistered nuns in Lucca. Only after Gemma’s death was the Passionist monastery in Lucca approved. The first Passionist nuns arrived in March 1905.
Rescued by her Gaurdian Angel, Gemma’s mystical writings reveal her ongoing dialogue with Angels; fittingly, the Passionist monastery of cloistered nuns was approved on the memorial of the Gaurdian Angels, October 2nd.
Visiting this shrine in Lucca with the Passionist nuns praying and chanting behind the altar screen, the power intercessory presence of St. Gemma is overwhelming. One can only kneel -- in tears.
St. Gemma Galgani, pray for us.
Fr. David Bellusci, O.P.
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