St. Gemma (Italian for "gem") was born March 12th 1878 in Camigliano, a village near Lucca, Italy into a devout and prosperous Catholic family.
Her mother infused in little Gemma a love for God and a special love for Christ Crucified. While she was very young she developed and irresistible attraction to prayer and was very devout, reading at the age of five prayers from the Breviary as easily as a grown person.
When Gemma was still a child her mother fell gravely ill. While praying for her mother's recovery she heard in her heart a voice say, “Wilt thou give Me Mamma?"
“Yes," Gemma answered, "but provided Thou takest me also.”
“No," replied the voice, "give Me unreservedly thy mother. For the present thou hast to wait with thy father. I will take thee to Heaven later.”
Gemma simply replied, “Yes.”
This yes to God was to be repeated throughout her short life.
Following her beloved mother’s death, Gemma was sent by her father to a Catholic half-boarding school in Lucca run by the Sisters of St. Zita where she excelled in her studies.
Gemma longed to receive Jesus in the Eucharist sinch she was young. She was permitted at the age of nine to receive her first Holy Communion, which was earlier than was customary. She described this experience as thus:
“It is impossible to explain what then passed between Jesus and me. He made Himself felt, oh so strongly, in my soul.”
Gemma's father died in 1897. As a result of his over generousness, unscrupulous business contacts, and creditors, his children were left without anything and had not even the means of supporting life. Gemma was nineteen years old.
Soon after Gemma became very ill. Also, meningitis set in and left her deaf. Large abscesses formed on her head, her hair fell off, and finally her limbs became paralyzed. A doctor was called in and tried many remedies which all failed. She only grew worse. At the age of 20 she was seemingly on her deathbed.
She began a devotion to Venerable Gabriel, now St. Gabriel who was a member of the Passionist order, a religious order with a special devotion to the Passion of Jesus Christ.
At midnight on February 23rd, 1899, she heard the rattling of a rosary and realized that Venerable Gabriel was appearing to her. He spoke to Gemma:
“Do you wish to recover? Pray with faith every evening to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I will come to you until the Novena is ended, and will pray together to this Most Sacred Heart.”
On the first Friday of March the Novena ended. The grace was granted; Gemma was cured.
As she got up, those around her cried with joy. A miracle had taken place! Gemma had always aspired to be a nun but found that this wasn't God's will for her.
On the 8th of June 1899, at the age of 21, God let His servant know after receiving Holy Communion that the same evening He would give her a very great grace.
Gemma went home and prayed. She went into ecstasy and felt a great remorse for sin. The Virgin Mary appeared to her and told her that her Son desired to give her a great grace.
Here is how St. Gemma relates how she received the stigmata:
“At that moment Jesus appeared with all his wounds open, but from these wounds there no longer came forth blood, but flames of fire. In an instant these flames came to touch my hands, my feet and my heart. I felt as if I were dying, and should have fallen to the ground had not my mother held me up, while all the time I remained beneath her mantle. I had to remain several hours in that position. Finally she kissed my forehead, all vanished, and I found myself kneeling. But I still felt great pain in my hands, feet and heart. I rose to go to bed, and became aware that blood was flowing from those parts where I felt pain. I covered them as well as I could, and then helped by my Angel, I was able to go to bed …”
Gemma was chosen to share in the Passion of Jesus Christ in this particular way and suffer for the salvation of souls.
Like St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy, and her contemporary St. Padre Pio (also Italian),who were also stigmatists, Gemma could say "Let no man harm me, for I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body." (Galatians 6:17)
At the age of 21 Gemma was taken in by the Giannini’s, a generous Italian family with eleven children.
Cecilia Giannini, "adopted" mother of St. Gemma
and her closest confidant.
Gemma's gaurdian angel would reportedly appear to her often and pray with her.
In 1902, at the age of 24, being in perfect health since her miraculous cure, Gemma offered herself to God as a victim for the salvation of souls. She then fell dangerously ill. She also experienced aridity in prayer, recieving no consolation- a type of spiritual martyrdom. In addition the devil multiplied his attacks on her, trying to convince her that God abandoned her and even resorting to physical blows on her body which was weak from her illness.
Through all these trials she never complained. At the end she was skeletal but still beautiful in spite of her illness.
Her last words were:
“I seek for nothing more; I have made the sacrifice of everything and of everyone to God; now I prepare to die.” She gasped, “Now it is indeed true that nothing more remains to me, Jesus. I recommend my poor soul to Thee … Jesus!"
She smiled peacefully and let her head drop on one side, ceased to live.
A religious sister who was present at her death clothed her body in the Passionist habit, which was the order she always aspired to.
She died on Holy Saturday April 11th, 1903. She was 25 years old.
Gemma Galgani was canonized on May 2nd, 1940 by Pope Pius XII, only thirty-seven years after her death.
She's a patron saint of:
Students, pharmacists, tuberculosis patients, love, hope, spinal injury