St. Gabriel Possenti was a young man in training for the priesthood with the Passionists in Italy when he died from tuberculosis at age twenty-four, before he could be ordained. He is patron to youth, clergy, students, and the Province of Abruzzo, Italy, and his feast day is February 27. Here are some other facts you may not have known about this less-popular saint.
1. He was called a “ladies’ man” in his youth
It is said that he was once engaged to two girls at the same time! He was very popular and enjoyed public life very much. But he gave this all up to become a Passionist monk.
2. Our Lady had to help him keep his promise to pursue religious life
Twice, Gabriel (then Francis) fell extremely ill. Twice he promised that if he was cured he would become a religious. And twice after being healed, he forgot his promise! During a procession at church with a banner of Our Lady, Help of Christians, he heard, “Keep your promise.” After this event, he changed his life and joined the Passionists.
3. He was baptized in the same font as St. Francis of Assisi
He was the eleventh child of Sante and Agnes Possenti born on March 1, 1838 and then named for the saint whose baptismal font he also entered into Christian life in. When he entered the Passionists, which happened to be on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows that year, he was given the name Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother.
4. He initially wanted to join the Jesuits
Gabriel had been educated by the Jesuits, so when he initially decided to join a religious order, he applied to them first. For and unknown reason, he didn’t continue with them and instead applied to the Passionists, where he was accepted.
5. He was a forefather of the Little Way
Although he died shortly before St. Thérèse of Lisieux was even born, their approach to holiness is often compared. Gabriel did the smallest of tasks with great care and cheerfulness and never complained. He was never given any extraordinary spiritual gifts or experiences but strove for perfection nonetheless. He once wrote, “Our perfection does not consist of doing extraordinary things but of doing the ordinary well.” Sound familiar?
6. He once chased away a band of soldiers by himself
In 1860, Garibaldi’s soldiers burned and pillaged the village of Isola del Gran Sasso, where St. Gabriel and the Passionists were located. Gabriel, very ill with tuberculosis at the time, went out unarmed to confront the soldiers anyway. One of these, who was dragging off a young woman to rape her, started taunting the slim and sickly Gabriel. The future saint grabbed the man’s revolver and ordered the soldier to release the woman, which he did. Then other soldiers came to put a stop to Gabriel’s rebellion. A lizard scurried between all the men and, when it paused, Gabriel killed the lizard with one shot. Now taking aim at the soldiers, Gabriel commanded them to put out all the fires they had set and leave the town, never to return.
7. One of the miracles attributed to him after his death was the healing of St. Gemma Galgani
St. Gemma, while ill, had been given a biography of Gabriel (he was venerable at the time) and was so taken with him that she cultivated a close devotion to him. It was to his intercession she asked for healing and was then provided with it. Read more about their friendship here.
8. His spiritual director mocked his eagerness for mortification
St. Gabriel constantly asked his director for permission to mortify his flesh in his pursuit of holiness. Often, his director would refuse his requests. One time, Gabriel asked for permission to wear a spiked chain under his habit. This time, instead of just outright refusing the request, his director told him to wear the spiked chain outside of his habit, so that everyone could see “what a great mortifier [he was].” St. Gabriel, not wanting to draw attention to himself but also eager to obey, bore the humiliation and did as he was instructed.
9. He asked that all of his writings be destroyed after his death
St. Gabriel did not like drawing attention to himself so much (such a change from his youth!) that he asked for all of his writings to be destroyed upon his death, which was carried out. Only his letters and “Resolutions” survive, the latter of which map out his spiritual progress in the Passionists.