Gemma Galgani was born on March 12, 1878, in a small Italian town near Lucca. At a very young age, Gemma developed a love for prayer. She made her First Communion on June 17, 1887. As a pupil at the school run by the Sisters of St. Zita, Gemma was loved by her teachers and her fellow pupils. Although quiet and reserved, she always had a smile for everyone. Although a good student, she had to quit school due to chronic ill health before completing the course of study.
Throughout her life, Gemma was to be favored with many mystical experiences and special graces. These were often misunderstood by others, causing ridicule. Gemma suffered these heartaches in reparation, remembering that Our Lord Himself had been misunderstood and ridiculed.
Gemma had an immense love for the poor, and helped them in any way she could. After her father's death, the nineteen year old Gemma became the mother of her seven brothers and sisters. When some were old enough to share this responsibility, she lived briefly with a married aunt. At this time, two young men proposed marriage to her. Gemma however, wanted silence and retirement, and more that ever, she desired to pray and speak only to God.
Gemma returned home and almost immediately became very ill with meningitis. Throughout this illness, her one regret was the trouble she caused her relatives who took care of her. Feeling herself tempted by the devil, Gemma prayed for help to the Venerable Passionist, Gabriel Possenti. (Gabriel was later canonized) Through his intercession, Gemma was miraculously cured.
Gemma wished to become a nun, but her poor health prevented her from being accepted. She offered this disappointment to God as a sacrifice.
Gemma predicted that the Passionists would establish a monastery at Lucca; this came to pass two years after her death. Today, Gemma's mortal remains are still treasured at the Passionist monastery in Lucca.
On June 8, 1899, Gemma had an interior warning that some unusual grace was to be granted to her. She had pain in her hands, feet and heart and blood was coming from the places where she had pain. These were the marks of the stigmata. Each Thursday evening, Gemma would fall into rapture and the marks would appear. The stigmata remained until Friday afternoon or Saturday morning when the bleeding would stop, the wounds would close, and only white marks would remain in place of the deep gashes. Gemma's stigmata would continue to appear until the last three years of her life, when her confessor forbade her to accept them. Through her prayers, this phenomenon ceased, but the whitish marks remained on her skin until her death.
Through the help of her confessor, Gemma went to live with a family named Giannini, where she was allowed more freedom than at home for her spiritual life. She had many ecstacies and her words spoken during these raptures, were recorded by her confessor and a relative of her adoptive family. At the end of her ecstacies, she returned to normal and went quietly and serenely about the family life. Gemma often saw her guardian angel, with whom she was on familiar terms. She often sent her guardian angel on errands, usually to deliver a letter or oral message to her confessor in Rome.
During the apostolic investigations into her life, all witnesses testified that there was no artfulness in Gemma's manner. Most of her severe penances and sacrifices were hidden from most who knew her.
In January of 1903, Gemma was diagnosed as having tuberculosis. She died quietly in the company of the parish priest, on April 11 at age twenty-five. He said, "She died with a smile which remained upon her lips, so that I could not convince myself that she was really dead." She was beatified in 1933 and canonized on May 2, 1940, only thirty-seven years after her death.
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By F. K. Bartels
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