St. Gerard Majella was a Redemptorist brother who became the patron of expectant mothers. He was born at Muro, Italy, in 1726 and joined the Redemptorists at the age of 23, becoming a professed lay brother in 1752. He served as sacristan, gardener, porter, infirmarian, and tailor. However, because of his great piety, extraordinary wisdom, and his gift of reading consciences, he was permitted to teach classes on the Trinity and to advise communities of religious women.
Gerard first met the Redemptorists in 1749, the year Pope Benedict XIV approved the Congregation. That year, 15 Redemptorists came to Muro, the little town in southern Italy where Gerard lived. Seeing the missionaries in action, Gerard knew at once that this was the life he wanted. He approached Fr Cafaro, the leader of the mission team, but Fr Cafaro turned him down. So persistent was the young man, however, that the missionaries advised his family to lock his door when they were leaving Muro, lest he try to follow them. The ever imaginative Gerard was unstoppable. He knotted the sheets of his bed, climbed out of the window and followed the band of missioners down the road. He ran for 12 miles to catch up with them, and amidst his puffing, cried out, “Take me on, give me a try, and then send me away if I’m no good.” Fr Cafaro could resist no longer.
St Gerard Majella went on to become a Redemptorist brother who never sought ordination. During his life, he was very close to the peasants and other outsiders who lived in the Neapolitan countryside. Gerard was able to touch people in the depths of their being – you might say in the secret recesses of their experience. He touched people in their consciences, guiding them to their own truth. He touched people in their hearts, revealing to them how boundless their own capacity for love was. He touched parents in their efforts to have a family and he did it in a way that they knew God and they were in this venture together. In Gerard’s touch, people knew that God was with them deep inside where no one else could reach, not even their loved ones.
If St Gerard was popular during his life he became even more popular in death. He remains well known and loved to the present. St Alphonsus entrusted him with the spiritual care of various groups of people.
He grew up understanding that God’s love was boundless. He knew this in his prayer, in his apostolate among the poor and in his work with the community, where, at different times, he was gardener, sacristan, tailor, porter, cook, carpenter, and clerk of works on new buildings. Gerard approached life in a simple and unfettered way. It left him free to be present to all persons, divine and human. His presence transformed others, so much so, that people experienced his actions as miraculous. He became ill with tuberculosis and died in 1755 at the age of twenty-nine. He was canonized by Pope Pius X in 1904.