Many mothers who have trouble conceiving a child or experience problem pregnancies know they have a friend in St. Gerard Majella, celebrated especially on his October 16 feast day. How did a lay brother with the Redemptorists become a patron of the unborn and expectant mothers?
To understand, you must first know a little something about this remarkable saint, who was born in Naples in 1726.
When Gerard was very young, his mother Benedetta would bring him and his siblings to the local Shrine of Our Lady of Graces. Young Gerard loved the statue of Mary and Jesus, which he called the “pretty lady with the baby.”
The little boy and the loaf
As he grew older, Gerard would go to visit the shrine himself. The first time this happened he returned with a loaf of bread, which he gave to his mother, telling her, “The little boy gave it to me.”
This continued for several days. One day his mother followed him to the shrine and witnessed a miracle:
What she saw stunned her because the statue of Our Lady of Graces apparently came to life and the Child she was holding scampered down to play with Gerard. She quickly left and, sure enough, when Gerard came home, he had another small loaf of bread with him.
Gerard joined the Redemptorists in 1749. Mostly he did simple, manual work for his community. His holiness shone through to everyone.
A handkerchief miracle
There were a large number of extraordinary miracles attributed to Brother Gerard, but one in particular continues to earn him devotion. Once when visiting a family, Gerard dropped his handkerchief. A girl saw it and tried to hand it back to him, but Brother Gerard told her to keep it. “One day it will be of service to you.”
Years later, following Gerard’s death, the woman was married and in the midst of a difficult labor that threatened her life. She remembered the handkerchief and Gerard’s words and had it brought to her. The woman clutched the handkerchief to her body. Immediately, she safely delivered the baby.
The story continues:
Afterwards, that handkerchief was passed from one mother to another of the town as each was about to give birth, and when the first fortunate woman died, she left the precious relic to her niece. As time passed, the handkerchief was cut into so many pieces that, when the process for Gerard’s canonization began, there remained only a shred of it.
A national shrine in Newark, New Jersey
Devotion to St. Gerard continued to grow over the next two centuries. In the United States, one particular shrine, at St. Lucy’s Church in Newark, attracted many expectant mothers and women who were childless and having trouble conceiving. In 1977, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops declared it to be the National Shrine of St. Gerard.
Aleteia visited St. Lucy’s as the parish celebrated the Feast of St. Gerard with food, song, and prayer. View the slideshow below to see the church that houses St. Gerard’s shrine.