St. Gabriel Possenti, whose feastday is today, was born on March 1, 1838, the 11th child of Agnes and Sante Possenti, governor of Assisi, Italy. Gabriel was baptized Francis after that city’s famous patron. He had everything a privileged child could hope for.
In 1841, the Possentis moved to Spoleto and Gabriel fell under the spell of that city’s bright social world. Spoleto was influenced by the Enlightenment, a movement that preferred what’s new to what’s old.
Lively, headstrong, intelligent, he was educated by the Christian Brothers and the Jesuits. Popular, usually head of his class, he embraced the city’s latest fashions, plays, dances and sporting events. Gabriel was charmed by it all.
Yet, something else kept calling him. A year after moving to Spoleto his mother Agnes died. Her death and the death of two brothers and three sisters made him think seriously about life. A couple of times he almost died himself. He heard Jesus calling him to give up everything and follow him, but then the call seemed to fade away.
In the spring of 1856, a fierce cholera epidemic struck Spoleto and Gabriel’s favorite sister died in the plague. Overwhelmed by the tragedy, the people of the city processed through the streets with an ancient image of Mary, praying that she intercede to stop the plague and help them bear their heavy cross.
It was a transforming experience for Gabriel, who was drawn into the presence of Mary, the Sorrowful Mother. Passing the familiar mansions where he partied many nights, the theater and opera that entertained him so often, he realized what little wisdom they offered now. He took his place at Mary’s side and at her urging joined the Passionist Congregation.
In a letter home, Gabriel described his new life as a Passionist to his father: “ I would not trade even fifteen minutes here for a year or any amount of time filled with shows and other pastimes of Spoleto. Indeed my life is filled with happiness.”
Gabriel died on February 27, 1862 and was canonized in 1920. He’s a saint for young people looking for the pearl of great price, but sometimes in the wrong place. May St. Gabriel help them find it in the right place. Interested in becoming a Passionist?
you hide your gifts “ from the learned and clever,
but reveal them to the merest children.”
Show your love to the young of today,
and call them to follow you.
Give them the grace you gave St.Gabriel,
grace to know you as good.
grace to judge life wisely,
grace to be joyful of heart.
It was indeed extraordinary, supernatural Grace that saved St Gabriel from the bitterness and hopelessness that can overwhelm a young person after losing his mother and five siblings. As you pray, may the love of God manifest Itself in the hearts of young people in places like Ukraine and Syria, even here in internet-drowned America.
Gabriel died at age 24. That is the same age as my two grandnephews who celebrated Birthdays this month. They are just beginning their career paths in fields studied: sports management and bio-engineering. The future holds open doors for them.
God set Gabriel on a path which was short but overflowing with grace. To those who moan “What can I do to make change?” I say, “Bloom where you are planted, for however long you live.”