The Catholic Defender: Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows
Francesco Possenti 1 March 1838 – 27 February 1862) was an Italian Passionist clerical student.
Born in Italy into a large family and baptized Francis, Saint Gabriel lost his mother when he was only four years old. He was educated by the Jesuits and, having been cured twice of serious illnesses, came to believe that God was calling him to the religious life.
Possenti was baptised on the day of his birth in the same font in which Francis of Assisi had been baptised.
He was very tall in stature (around 1.7 meters), and had “ a good voice, was agile and well-formed
Young Francis wished to join the Jesuits but was turned down, probably because of his age, not yet 17. Following the death of a sister to cholera, his resolve to enter religious life became even stronger and he was accepted by the Passionists. Upon entering the novitiate he was given the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
In 1851 Possenti became desperately ill and promised to enter religious life if he recovered. Once he had recovered, his promise was soon forgotten. The same thing happened when he narrowly escaped a stray bullet during a hunting expedition with friends.
Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.
Saint Gabriel is remarkable because he went so quickly and perfectly from a life of excess, devoted to the pleasures of this world, to becoming inextricably linked to the Passion of Our Lord. He shows us that we can all fall in love with Our Lord.
His superiors had great expectations of Gabriel as he prepared for the priesthood, but after only four years of religious life symptoms of tuberculosis appeared. Ever obedient, he patiently bore the painful effects of the disease and the restrictions it required, seeking no special notice. He died peacefully on February 27, 1862, at age 24, having been an example to both young and old.
Saint Gabriel was known in the world as Francis Possenti, son of a professional and respected family. He grew up in a household where devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows was a hallmark of family life. Francis grew up, living the life of a typical teenager, he danced, he hunted, he went out with girls, but he still felt something was lacking. He turned to Jesus and His Sorrowful Mother and felt an inner calling from Our Lady to become a Passionist. This he did after many trials. As a Passionist he grew daily in love with Our Lord and Mary, the Virgin of Sorrows and soon came to the perfection of Christian virtue. He died from tuberculosis at the young age of 24.
The people of Isola would always remember him as “their Gabriel.” Struck with tuberculosis at the age of 24, Gabriel died on February 27, 1862, before his ordination to the priesthood. His fidelity to prayer, joyfulness of spirit and habitual mortifications stand out in his otherwise ordinary life. Pope Benedict XV canonized Gabriel in 1920 and declared him a patron of Catholic youth. His patronage is also invoked by the Church for students, seminarians, novices and clerics. Thousands of divine favors are attributed to his intercession with Christ Crucified and the Sorrowful Mother Mary.
On August 22, 1856, while attending the procession of the “Holy Icon”, a Marian image venerated in Spoleto, the Virgin Mary spoke to his heart in order to in invite him with urgency, “You are not called to follow the ways of the world. What are you doing, then, in it? Enter the religious life” (Fuentes, p. 208). On September 10, 1856, he entered the Passionist novitiate in Morrovalle (Macerata) and took the religious name Gabriel. He was 18 years old. His surrender was with his whole heart, and the religious life made him happy: “The happiness and joy that I enjoy within these walls is unimaginable” (Writings, p. 185). His greatest loves were Jesus Crucified, the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary.
Death In the convent of Isola when the first rays of sun were entering his cell on the morning of February 27, 1862, Gabriel was consumed in an ecstasy of love and surrounded by the religious that were crying by his bed, he abandoned the earth and went to heaven, invited by the Virgin Mary. Thirty years later, on October 17, 1892, the process was begun to recognize him as a Saint, as there was already a devotion to him among the faithful and many miracles had occurred.
Two miracles were presented as evidence of Gabriel's blessedness: the unexplained healings of Mary Mazzarella, a young woman from Isola who recovered from an incurable case of tuberculosis, and Dominic Tiberi, who was cured of an inoperable hernia.
Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was canonized in 1920.
“By the shining example of St. Gabriel, you, dear young people, draw the courage to be faithful disciples of Christ”
St. John Paul II
“whose example helps you, dear young people, to be enthusiastic disciples of Jesus, who inspires you, dear sick people, to offer your suffering in union with those of Christ; and stimulates you, dear newly-weds, to make the Gospel the fundamental rule of your married life”
Pope Francis, Feb. 26th 2014