Today, February 27th, the universal Church honors St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, a young, devoted and holy man.
Our saint was born on March 1, 1838, the 11th of 13 children; his name was Francesco Possenti. He was baptized at the same baptismal font where St. Francis of Assisi was baptized. His mother, Agnes, and his father, Sante, resided in Assisi, Italy, where Sante worked for the local government.
Shortly after Francis was born, Sante was transferred to Montalta, and thereafter to Spoleto, where in 1841, he was appointed the legal assessor. In 1841, the Possenti family suffered from the death of a baby girl Rosa, and in 1842, seven-year-old Adele died, and also Agnes, Francis’ mother died. One can only imagine how much this family grieved and suffered at this particular time.
As a child and young man, Francis was known for his holiness and piety. Yet, he took great care with his personal appearance when he went to parties, being involved in the social scene in Spoleto. He was given the nickname, “the dancer”. Francis also had a problem with bouts of anger.
He was educated by the Christian Brothers and then by the Jesuits in college, where he was an excellent student, especially in the language of Latin.
In 1851, Francis became very ill and promised Our Lord that he would enter the religious life if God healed him. This promise was set aside, wherein yet on another occasion, Francis dodged a bullet in a hunting expedition, again, making the same promise to God. Yet he still did not enter the religious life. However, on a third occasion, he had a throat abscess, which he recovered from. But this time, he actually started the process of entering the Jesuits, but for reasons unknown, he never proceeded to join the order.
After Francis’ sister died of cholera during the cholera epidemic, the priests of Spoleto organized a procession of the icon of the Virgin Mary in the cathedral. Francis attended that procession and heard an inner voice asking him why he was still in this world. After this spiritual event, Francis received advice from a priest and decided to enter the Passionist Congregation. His father and members of his family discouraged Francis from entering, but this did not deter Francis. On September 19, 1856, he entered the novitiate, received the habit of a Passionist, and was given the name, “Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.” After one year passed, he pronounced his vows.
He thereafter studied for the priesthood. Gabriel was an excellent student, also making great strides in his spiritual life. He was faithful in little things, and his spirit of prayer, love for the poor, his thoughtfulness and kindness, and his exact observance of the Passionist Rule, created a wonderful example to the Passionist community.
But whilst he was studying to become a priest, he became very ill with tuberculosis. He still was cheerful, enduring his suffering bravely and offering it to Our Lord. Gabriel was especially devoted to Our Lady and the suffering that she went through as the Mother of God.
Before he was ordained a priest, Gabriel died on February 27, 1862, in the retreat at Gran Sasso. Those individuals who were with Gabriel before he died, reported that at the moment of his death, he sat up in bed, with his face beaming, whilst he reached out to an invisible figure that was apparently entering the room or that was near him. His superior, Father Norbert, opined that Gabriel had seen the Blessed Mother at that moment.
Gabriel was beatified on May 31, 1908 by Pope Pius X, and on May 13, 1920, he was canonized by Pope Benedict XV.
Clearly, this wonderful young man ultimately found his holiness in the daily works of life, just like St. Therese of the Little Flower. He did small things with great love and did what he was supposed to do, when he was supposed to do it, and in the manner it was supposed to be done. St. Therese also saw the Blessed Mother. Gabriel, like St. Therese, suffered terribly, in great agony, from tuberculosis. But both saints offered their suffering to Our Lord as a great and powerful prayer. Let us follow the example of this intelligent and loving saint, performing our daily works with love, extending daily kindnesses to others and most of all, offering our prayers, works and joys to the Triune God.
St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!
With respect and love,
Sources: Vatican website; Franciscan media