A Candidate for Canonization:
By Gabriel Francis Powers
A Magazine Devoted to the Honor of the Blessed Virgin
+ Henceforth All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed +
VOL. XLIX. NOTRE DAME, INDIANA SEPTEMBER 2, 1899 NO. 10
Being only a layman, and not a very good one at that, I feel that I ought to offer some apology for attempting to write anything even distantly resembling the life of a saint. But I hold that whenever a man thinks he has anything worth saying he should stand up and say it as best he can. It has seemed to me, too, that some slight knowledge of the beautiful personality, the beautiful life, which was thrust upon me (much against my will and under adverse circumstances), and which since I have learned to love, might, being thrust irksomely upon others, cause them also to love that life, and perhaps might do some good.
We happened, some three or four years ago, to be spending the summer in a castaway village on the Adriatic coast, and were, to say the least, inexpressibly bored. Blue sea, fishing smacks with sails of orange and purple, low hills thick with gorse and all manner of quaint picturesqueness, ought to have made the town very attractive. But the heat was torrid, the streets full of evil odors; and, after bathing in the morning, you had to shut yourself up in the baking, darkened house until the sun was set. And there were no books! It is a curious and unpleasant sensation to find yourself absolutely cut off from all reading matter. Finally, in despair, we turned to the parish priest.
My sister called upon him, and I remember my thrill of delight when she came back in to the darkened room heat‑flushed and book‑laden. "There!" she cried in triumph, flinging them down. "These are for me and this is for you." The stout, solid‑looking bound volumes were hers, and one miserable little paper booklet mine. The humor of the thing appealed to me. When I read the title, "Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows," my wrath broke forth.
"The life of a saint! What on earth d'you bring me that for? You know I'm drying up for want of amusement."
"I thought you'd like it," she pleaded. "I thought you liked little boy‑saints."
"Little boy‑saints indeed! D'you know what he was? Why, he was a dry-as-dust old lay‑brother in one of these new‑fangled congregations, and -‑ and at least seventy."
"Was he?" retorted my sister, with some indignation. "You're thinking of Blessed So‑and‑So. This blessed boy died when he was about twenty. Besides, he's not a saint: he's not canonized yet."
There was hope in this.
"Let's see the thing!" I said.
She opened it for me. There was an image lying loose in the first pages.
"Look! isn't he nice?" she asked, coaxingly. "I picked it out for you on purpose, because I was sure you'd like it."
In truth, I had not a word to say. The picture before me, the dry‑as‑dust old lay brother, was a boy of some eighteen years, dressed in the habit of a Passionist, the white badge showing on the heavy, austere folds of black; a crucifix and the image of Our Lady of Dolors upon the table beside him. The young, wan face was very beautiful. Dark‑circled eyes lowered upon the holy images; no aureola, only a dash of sunlight on the head; and the hands clasped ever so simply ‑‑ plain, boyish hands with knotty knuckles, just like those of any youth coming to manhood. It was a simple, natural sort of picture; pathetic, too, despite the cheap print and blurred color. So I thought I would read the book. I did not know at the time that it has been written of the boy Gabriel: "Plainly the finger of God is here; for even those who do but see his picture are attracted by it." I, besides being attracted, had nothing else to read.
The volume ("Memorie Storiche del Servo di Dio: Gabriele dell' Ad-dolorata") tells the story of a lad much like the lads we are accustomed to meet along the highways and byways of life. His chief characteristics seem to have been great brightness and attractiveness, culture and refinement of manner, and a marked tendency to vanity and worldliness; brief, fierce fits of anger, of which he repented immediately after, in keenest sorrow; and underling all a deep, quiet devotion to Our Lady. In his religious life none of his faults were apparent, but only his virtues. He led, in great innocence and joy, a life of extraordinary holiness; and his love for the Blessed Virgin, especially in her compassion, grew so intense, that, summing up all that may be said, he was nothing so much as that one thing -- Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
In the world he had been known as Francesco Possenti. He was one of several children, and was born in Assisi, where his father was civil governor, on the 1st of March, 1838. It was in honor of the great poet‑saint of the city that he received in baptism the name of Francis. His mother died quite young, and the chief care of the children and household seems to have devolved upon a devoted servant called Pacifica, -‑ one of those dear old peasant nurses of Italy who cherish their master's children as though they were their own. When Francesco was a child the family moved to Spoleto, and he frequented first the classes of the Christian Brothers, and later the lyceum held by the Jesuits, a most flourishing and popular school. He was undoubtedly a favorite, and showed a good intelligence and general aptitude. During the latter years of his school‑life, like many boys of his age, he developed a passion for dress, and all those small vanities and elegancies of fashion which appeal more, perhaps, to the Latin than to the Saxon races. An English‑speaking lad who should dare to perfume his hair would, I believe, be distinctly encouraged by his compeers to discontinue the practice.
Young Possenti began to frequent a few families to whom his father introduced him, and already he was much liked. To him dances and parties, and indeed all sorts of entertainments, were so agreeable that he harassed his father to be allowed to accompany him every time the magistrate went out at night. Francesco also took to novel‑reading and theatre‑going, -- two forms of amusement which later on he entreated his brothers "to leave for the love of God," on account of their insidious, honeyed danger, but which then fascinated him.
It is, perhaps, well to note here that Francesco never deviated far from the straight, clean life which any Catholic boy worthy the name is called upon to lead. Still, Bonaccia says of him at this period: "Had he kept on, the world had gained a fine conquest in him." That was precisely his ambition -- to become a graceful, accomplished, and very fashionable man of the world, having in him no deeper or nobler life than that. It would, perhaps, be over‑coloring to say that Francesco Possenti was a sensuous nature; rather was he inclined to be a frivolous one. Pleasure in any form appealed to him strongly; and, though he had no coarse tastes and no low tastes, he could hear around him the eternal songs of youth and fancy singing, and he dreamed all a young man's dreams.
He was not noted at this time for any special piety, only he belonged to a family where the traditions of strong Catholic life were, one might say, hereditary; and as Francesco grew up, the tenderness and reverence for the Blessed Mother instilled into him from the beginning increased with his own growth. In many lives, of coarser texture than his, some woman weaves in with the first warp this thread of silver that will glance on to the end. And verily I know no other lesson so well worth learning, no greater debt than this which we owe to the humble ones who surrounded our happy childhood. It may be our mother or she who took the place of our mother: the lisped Ave Maria then taught us we can never forget.
Francesco remembered his: he said it often; and now, about the sixteenth year of his age, some change stole over him. It was not very marked; still, in the midst of his pleasures and dissipation, at first lightly, as the breeze moves in an April forest, some imperceptible voice began to stir in his heart. It bade him leave all and go, and he bowed his head and listened. "Lord, I will come!" he said. But he came not. He threw himself back into the noisy company of youths of his own age, never missing one of their riotous merry‑makings, -- threw himself back into dancing and theatre‑going. And, though to us none of these things seem very guilty, in his later life, from the pure heights he had attained, he solemnly declared to his brother Michael that the `thought of them made him tremble for his salvation.'
Twice he fell very seriously ill; and, being frightened, also having had time for graver thought in those long sad hours sent to us at times in pure mercy, he resolved to abandon his frivolous life. Having recovered his health almost miraculously, he even presented himself to the superior of the Jesuits, begging admission to the Society. This was granted; but, strange to say, Francesco still held back. Two years had passed in these bickerings and uncertainties; he was now eighteen, a bright youth, keenly alive to all worldly things, with a mind conscious of its capacity -- as a lad's not unnaturally will be when he is talented and has tasted success, -- and a heart warm and open to every love. The Blessed Mother, whose protection had shielded him singularly all through his life, in answer, no doubt, to his own devotion, intended, however, that he should keep that heart for God.
There is something strange, I had almost said incomprehensible, in this thing that is going on around us and in our midst day by day. We call it the religious vocation quite coolly, as though the words meant very little out of the common. Yet here is a man like to you and me called aside out of the crowd and bidden from all earthly things. It may be the boy who sat beside you at school, the friend in whom you did not know this thought. The messenger you can not see touches him passing, and he rises and goes. You imagined that he was made of very much the same clay as you are: he could bat and bowl, and he stammered through his verbs; and behold he is called away from your youthful pursuits and your ambitions to the highest and most abstract of all loves! Whatsoever he be, however weak, he must rise when that call comes and say his Adsum. Grace will be given for all that is required. And the miracle is not only that he goes, but that he goes in absolute willingness, in absolute joyfulness; and that henceforth he will watch over his eyes and his heart that no other love than God may enter. Francesco Possenti, not commonly endowed as to personal charms, made, you would have thought, for social life and its pleasures, was called out irrevocably in his turn when God's day came.
It was the 22nd of August, 1856, the octave of Our Lady's Assumption. On that day, in quiet old green‑girded Spoleto there was an annual procession bearing the miraculous image of Mary through the city; and young Possenti, of course, went to see it. When there is a procession in any single spot of Italy the whole town turns out to see it; the streets are crowded with people in gala dress, and the church bells storm all the long, sunny afternoon. On the piazza, whence you can see lights gleaming in the dark about the altar, and hear, faintly, the organ pealing through the aisles, noisy vendors have their booths; and all the houses are hung with colored draperies, varying from the best bed-quilt to the century‑old damask of state.
Francesco came out, dressed, as usual, with great care and taste in the height of the fashion (he favored Paris and London). Probably he was in a very happy mood, and ten thousand miles from imagining what was going to happen that day. The procession was, we may be quite sure, one of those typical Italian pageants winding down the medieval streets: confraternities in red or blue capes over their flowing white; tiny children, winged as angels, scattering flowers; others dressed to represent various saints, priests and brass‑bands, banners and tapers; and the center some venerated image.
When the holy semblance came near him, borne aloft above the crowd, Francesco knelt and looked up lovingly into the Lady's face. It was a meeting swiftly over, but it held the one moment of his life. Whether the eyes really moved to meet his, as the biographer's words leave in doubt -‑ or, rather, seem almost to imply; or whether it was merely that, looking into the cherished face, God's light struck home, it is certain that in that fraction of time there were smitten into the boy's soul these words: "You are not made for the world. What are you doing in the world? Make haste: be a religious!" Francesco bowed his head, struck as Paul must have been struck on that road to Damascus. He rose to his feet, the world blurred and swimming around him; and there was in him no thought or desire save one mad impulse to get away from the noise and the crowd to some solitary spot where he might cry out his heart in peace.
So he was to be a religious, after all! There was no dallying now, no hesitation. It was no longer the faint stirring of spring breezes: the wind had blown upon him, -‑ that impetuous, irresistible breath of God that makes men go with haste." He was so certain of what he was to do that in one short fortnight's time he had won over his father, arranged everything for himself, prepared for his journey, and started for Morrovalle, in the Marches of Ancona, where the Passionists have a house. All in vain did his father beseech him to be a secular priest or to join some less austere order: the boy felt that he was called to be a Passionist. Even the Society which he had once thought of entering he knew now clearly was not the place for him.
Before leaving Spoleto, he appeared once more upon the college platform in a spirited, festive recitation. He was well gifted as a speaker, and added to his agreeable presence and figure a remarkable talent for declamation. His companions pressing round him, one of the most distinguished among them, could scarce credit the whispered rumor that this well‑dressed, pleasing youth, with his smiling face and courteous manners, a full‑fledged philosopher and so full of promise, could be starting on the morrow for the bleak, far‑away land of religious life. The Passionists, too! -- one of the dreariest places on the face of the earth: that heavy black habit, those feet bare save for the sandals!
As for the boy, he was in a fever to reach the novitiate. The journey, long for those days of coaches and saddlehorses, was pressed to the utmost possible speed. He paused only once, at his father's wish, to visit some relative, a Dominican monk, who tried hard to keep him in his own convent; but Francesco knew where he was to go.
The Passionist Fathers received their promising young guest with all kindness and affection, and here the great doors closed upon him and he began his higher life. On the 22nd of August he had learned, in storm and tears, what was required of him; one short month after on the 21st of September, the commemoration of Our Lady's Sorrows, he donned with "unspeakable joy" (to use his own words) the somber habit that was to be henceforth so dear to him.
To all appearances, he was exactly the same lad as before: simple, joyous, unaffected; bright because he could not help being so, and loved because that was the law wheresoever he went. But there was no trace in him of his former inclinations. He had taken up, with his whole heart and soul and strength, the work assigned him; and from the very beginning there was a depth and earnestness of endeavor that would surely be blessed. No doubt he still had enemies to fight and difficulties to overcome; but, nevertheless, there was a great serenity, a great peace, in his effort, as there is with all who fight under the Queen's white banner, to the old battle‑cry, "Saincte Marie!"
After a year's novitiate, Francesco made his vows. He took the name Gabriel, "because it seemed in someway to bring him nearer to Mary," says his biographer; and he added the title "of Our Lady of Sorrows" because he wished to consecrate himself specially to these. His outward life as a novice and student presents no very marked features; it contains no events of note, and is simply one of great regularity and hard work. His novitiate over, he was sent to Pievetorina to study, and put back for two years at his philosophy, though he had completed the course at Spoleto. This he was very happy to resume, as his amusements had interfered a good deal with his former studies; and he made rapid strides in learning. Indeed he studied now with a passion and assiduity that helped to impair his health. The religious exercises of the community he followed with great fervor; and in that quiet division of prayer and labor his days flowed by.
That which was working within him and which we can not follow was the advancing step by step, the ascending in renunciation and self‑denial; that "bringing forth of fruit in patience" of the Gospel, -‑ a word so wonderful, especially the "in patience." Seeing this life unfold its bud and flower without rent or struggle, we are half tempted to imagine that its perfection cost the boy nothing; yet I think rather that he bore all its pain and effort, only the love made it sweet. It is distinctly an austere life; and, however little the fact may meet our modern notions or be sympathetic to our tastes, we have to read in it -- as in the lives of all saints, for that matter, -‑ a good deal about penance and penitential practices. Yet, verily, I believe that the highest beauty and the noblest feature in it is its perfect love, and the sinlessness following the love, -‑ the one inevitable and beautiful form of self‑denial. Gabriel's joy has not left him: it breaks out on his radiant brow, in his serene eyes, on his laughing lips, -‑ a joy clear and innocent as a young child's, that breathes from him and circles him like light.
His devotion to his Mother Mary grows with every day that passes and every hour of the day. It is the splendor of the love of God in his heart, and will go on ever increasing to the last faint beat of life. In his meditations, whatever the subject -‑ and often, out of obedience, he does not go to her directly, -‑ she is ever present in the background of his mind as one too much loved to be for one moment put aside. Her name is to him as the fragrance of flowers and bird songs and music and sound of waters; and, strangely enough, this boy, whose very soul seems to be steeped in sunlight, is forever thinking of Mary in her pain. She had made a poet out of the schoolboy of Spoleto; she had also done for him other things than that.
I do not know whether Gabriel will ever be crowned with the saint's aureola;* but, even humanly speaking, how beautiful was this life! It had all the chivalry of knighthood about it; all the deep love of strong manhood in it; all the exquisite, tender sweetness of the little child. The battles he fought -- and every man must fight them, -‑ the sorrows of the way, the weariness and soul‑sickness which come to the most valiant, were fought or borne for Mary Immaculate. The innocence he desired so eagerly was but as white armor to grace him in her sight.
To his brother Michael, whom he appears to have loved more tenderly than the others, he was constantly suggesting that he give up some pleasure or innocent amusement for love of Mary in sorrow; and he insisted particularly -- the detail is quaint -‑ that whenever Michael had given up anything for Mary he should run immediately to visit her and make her the offering of whatever small pleasure it might be. Michael was also to say his rosary every day; and Gabriel warned him that one of his chief regrets in religion was that he, Gabriel, while at home used to say his "playing, sleeping, or doing something else." I myself can not help thinking of those words at times when I catch the writer of these lines whistling between two Ave Marias and swinging a pair of beads about to the tune of some popular song.
To return to Michael Possenti. He was never to go to bed without having done something in Mary's honor; he was to say the Angelus morning, noon, and evening, removing his hat if he were in the street; to read some book about Mary; to venerate in a special manner the statuette of the Mother of Sorrows which Gabriel left at home. In a word, these practices scattered throughout the familiar letters ought to have made Michael a very good man, which no doubt he is. It will be a happy day for him if he lives to see the young brother who wrote them raised to God's altars.
Gabriel never wearied of recommending charity to the poor, and always asked as a largess to himself that his father would give generously to the needy. Especially at Christmastide he insisted upon this. "Oh, how it would cry to Heaven," he wrote, "that that father who had a son living -‑ thanks be to God, in ease -‑ solely upon alms, should let the poor depart from his house without having properly helped them!"
Two years after Gabriel's entrance into religion his health gave preliminary signs of failing. At first they were only headaches, -- "little headaches," he called them; and, though it was evident that he was much weakened, nobody seemed to suspect that he was threatened with anything serious. Humanly speaking, the story was an easy enough one to read: A boy who had been twice at death's door with mortal illness in his adolescence, and had led a comfortable and pleasant life at home, starting at eighteen, with a healthy but delicate constitution, to lead the austere life of a Passionist, which he did not make lighter for himself; studying at the same time with uncommon ardor, and applying himself eagerly to all spiritual things. Yet there was nothing violent or abnormal in the life or in the illness. He sickens gently, suffers serenely, and dies in perfect peace. Perhaps it is well not to try to explain too much. Saints, because they are saints, are neither fools nor fanatics, and Our Lord knows by what ways He leads them. He saw, no doubt, that this boy had lived long enough. Gabriel, apparently in good health, troubled only with headaches, was sent in the summer of 1859 to Isola del Gran Sasso, in the Abruzzi.
There are very few sites in Italy so ruggedly, grandly beautiful as this. It is one of those primeval solitudes of which the land, overrun with tourists on its highways, has still kept the secret to itself. I believe there are more isolated fastnesses and unknown valleys in Italy than in any other land under the sun. Isola is not an island at all, but that scrap of soil upon which towers the Gran Sasso d'Italia, or Great Stone of Italy. On one side of the mountain there is only a miserable inn, where artists sometimes put up; on the other there is no hovel where one could lodge. In many hamlets of the Abruzzi a wedding is accompanied by a performance now purely representative, but still religiously preserved; feigning the barbaric capture of the bride by the groom, who bears her off from her father's house. It is considered proper that she resist him with frantic (simulated) sorrow. This will give an idea of how the archaic life and custom have clung to those old mountain crags.
Oh, the, mountains of Isola! There, wild and rocky, with overhanging, vertiginous cliffs; here, smoothed out at immense altitudes to table‑land, wind-blown as the sea. In spring the melting snow crashes and rolls down in great masses by the hermitage of Blessed Nicholas; and around the tiny white dwelling, cyclamens cover the ground. Down in the little valley is a beautiful, turbulent, cold stream ‑- a river they call it, -‑ full of boulders, roaring, foaming; bordered down to the very edge with orchards, where the birds are singing all day long. The air is pure and cool and healthful.
Immediately upon arriving, Gabriel wrote to his father: "The sight of so many fruit‑trees confirms me in what I told you -‑ that this climate is very mild." He was partly relieved of his headaches. He spent his time happily in study, religious exercises, and quiet walks along those pleasant, solitary country roads. Often he was appointed to make a discourse publicly in church; his talent for speaking singled him out among his companions for that office. His spare time was spent in decking and caring for Our Lady's altar or in cultivating flowers for her. He had grown to be Mary's apostle among his brothers in religion, and never failed to remind them of her least festivals, or to win them by his graceful ingenuities to a thousand special practices in her honor. They were willing enough; it was not hard to yield to him, on account of his angelic life, which was before them all; and his gentleness and sweetness, which made him so dear to them.
Two years of the peaceful, holy life at Isola were over; graver symptoms than headache had set in; and even as his young, manhood blossomed upon him, Gabriel began to lose his grip on life. He was two and twenty. It became clear that he was affected with tuberculosis, and he was destined to struggle on for almost two years more before the fell disease succeeded in stamping his young life out. He was in the sixth year of his religious life and the third year of his theology when the end came. He might have been ordained a priest but for some slight impediment, which deferred the ordination temporarily -- for him forever. "God wills it," he said; "I will it too." And he died like Aloysius Gonzaga, in the twenty‑fourth year of his age; like him, without ascending to the altar. In his life he more closely resembled Stanislaus Kostka, whom he loved exceedingly.
On the 30th of December, 1861, Gabriel wrote to his brother Michael for the last time. Indeed it was his last letter; and, though it is too long to be inserted here, parts of it are particularly interesting, as he was himself nearing that end of which he speaks. Having spoken of the inconstancy of earthly affections, and at great length of his fair Lady, he added in conclusion: "She goes with us in this short time of our travelling toward eternity; and then (ah! brother, this is most consoling), in that hour in which for those who have loved creatures, with unutterable bitterness all ends, and they must part from all and pass into that eternal room which they have built for themselves, -‑ in that hour, I say, true lovers of Mary take comfort, invite death, part peacefully from their relatives and the world; knowing that they are going to possess the reality of their pure loves, and that in that presence they will be forever happy."
It is good to see how serenely he looked upon death -‑ he who knew he was to meet it shortly, -‑ and to note how he looked forward without a shadow of doubt toward "that presence" he had loved so much. A very few days after writing this letter he took to his bed, and in less than two months the last pitiful struggle was over. He bore with cheerfulness his painful illness, and the hot, eager love that underlay it; no doubt considering, according to his own maxim, "all things whencesoever and from whomsoever they come as direct from God." "In the sweet joviality of his face," says his biographer, "was clearly manifest the great serenity of his conscience." His chief sorrow seems to have been the parting with his holy habit, which he kissed repeatedly as the infirmarian took it to relieve him from the weight. The crucifix and the image of Our Lady of Sorrows never left him. In the last night of his life he was half delirious, in great suffering, and molested with wearying imaginations; but as he neared the goal his calmness and lucidity returned to him perfectly, and his death was as beautiful as his life.
The day was the 27th of February, 1862. Gabriel had received the last sacraments, with what piety we may imagine; and the last failing breaths labored over his lips. The physical horrors of death were spared him; yet, feeling that his time was come, with both hands and all the strength left in him he pressed the crucifix and the picture of Mary to his heart. Then, with the images still upon his breast, he grew motionless, "like one ecstatic in the enjoyment and possession of ineffable good. . . . And in this state, without even the slightest motion of his figure, he ceased to breathe, and passed from this life as one who drifts into slumber; with his eyes fixed on that one spot, with smiling countenance, and hands tight pressed upon the gentle images."
Not one of those present seemed to have had the faintest doubt but that his Lady Mary came for him herself in answer to his cry of love: "O Mother mine, make haste!" They did not see her, but they all could and did see the boy's face as death had left it: it was "transformed in beauty and radiant with a hidden light." Thus ended the precious life, -‑ "consumed," says his epitaph, "more with heavenly love than with earthly sickness."
The first effect of Gabriel's death was that, owing to the brief sketch of his life circulated throughout the Passionist houses, there sprang up, especially among the young members of the congregation, a deep reverence for Confratel Gabriele, and a spirit of noble emulation stirred by the glorious innocence and holiness of his life. To express the boy's tender love for Mary, the biographer uses the word innamorato, which one would have thought too human, because it means not only to love, but to love with dreams, to love with passion -‑ to be steeped in love. He knew what he was saying, for so the boy did love; and it spurred his brothers in religion to love as he had loved, and to imitate him in that deep, marked, special devotion to Mary in her sorrows.
The second notable fact was that, twenty‑nine years after his death, the superiors of the Passionist congregation, taking into consideration the general feeling of affection and edification with which the boy Gabriel was remembered, and the holy example which his life had been, decided to introduce the cause of his beatification. They knew they had good grounds upon which to base the proceedings, otherwise they had never taken a step of so great importance. It was necessary in this event to make a canonical recognition of the body; and the vault having been opened for that purpose on the 18th of October, 1892, the date remains as a starting‑point whence we may follow a long series of uninterrupted -- we will not call them miracles until holy Church has decided, but still extraordinary things.
Gradually the humble resting‑place at Isola came to be frequented as a place of wonders. Cure followed cure, the list growing ever longer. A deaf and dumb child was brought to the church, fell asleep upon the tomb, and woke, hearing and speech restored. A driver of disorderly life who brought visitors to the same place, and blasphemed against God and His saints and the boy Gabriel because his wheels stuck in the mud, was struck dumb on the spot. He swallowed a little dust from the holy pavement, and not only regained his speech but his heart was changed and he amended his life. There are hundreds of similar cases reported.
The church at Isola has now become a favorite spot for pilgrimages, especially among the dwellers of the neighborhood and province. They come down from the mountains in groups as they do to go to Loreto, wakening the sleepers with their songs. It is very beautiful to hear these peasant‑pilgrims of Italy. In the starlight which precedes dawn you are startled with melody; it seems at first as though out in the night angelic choirs must be modulating Ave Maria. The dark figures are passing at a rapid pace, in bands. One voice intones the hymn, singing the couplet alone; then they all join in, the sonorous voices of the men and fluted voices of women and children blending or making distinct chords; and there is a rare, true musical quality in the elementary harmonics. Sung as they are more with the heart than with the lips, in the blue silence before dawn they are weirdly, strangely beautiful. And the biographer notes that in the pilgrimages to Isola it is not Gabriel who is sung, but she who was more to him than himself -- his Lady Mary. Deep into the hearts of those who invoke his intercession he seems to put her love, and the tender remembrance of her sorrows, and that true compassion for them which is the inevitable sign of a detachment from sin.
The little book is ended, I am sorry to say. But before I lay away my pen I must beg permission to translate the sketch of Gabriel written shortly after his death by his confessor:
"He had received of nature a very lively, suave, insinuating character, -‑ a character at once resolute and generous. And this was of great help to him in the exercise of virtue; for in his acting, even in times of spiritual aridity and repugnance, he invariably preserved such swing and fervor that whoever saw him without knowing his inner state, judged him to be in continual delight and spiritual enjoyment. Never, so far as I remember, did he shrink from a difficulty. His heart was most sensitive and full of affection. This trait, which in a youth is dangerous, especially if he be loved in return, Gabriel, on becoming a religious, turned wholly to good, to God, to virtue, to true charity toward his neighbor; so that his heart -‑ thanks to the custody and vigilance in which he held it -‑ was emptied of all other affection and turned wholly to God. He busied himself always with seeking if in himself there was anything, however small, which was not all God's, ready and resolute to tear it out at any cost.
"He was exceedingly attractive; he had pleasant ways, manners naturally cultured and graceful, and was gay and merry in dealing with others. In speech quick, to the point, keen, easy, and full of charm; so that whatever he said struck home and evoked attention. Agile and modest in every movement, well built, of fine color and pleasing form, in him were united so many and such happy gifts, internal and external, as rarely will be found collected in one individual. To complete all, he had a tongue exceedingly deft and ready, and a sonorous voice."
Bonaccia, one of Gabriel's schoolfellows at Spoleto, has also given us a tiny thumb‑nail drawing of him. "Besides the candor and natural ingenuousness of his temper, " he says, "even outwardly he was adorned with such rare endowments that he won everybody's liking. Gentle in dealing, charming in manner, of joyous speech, in behavior between modest and grave, his lips almost perpetually graced with laughter, he was of the most finished courtesy; delicate and refined in feeling, -‑ in one word, a nature born and made for the noblest affections."
As we have him in his picture, the head is singularly well shaped and proportioned, the brows handsome, the hair short and beautiful in its light and shadow; a finely outlined face; shadowy downcast eyes -‑ one thinks they must be very beautiful in glance if he would lift them, -- and closed lips, telling their tale of a sensitive, plastic nature, and strong, sweet soberness of thought.
Â St. Gabriel Possenti was beatified in 1908 and canonized in 1920. His Feast Day is February 27 and is a patron of clerics and youth.
* Since writing this I have learned that the Congregation of Sacred Rites in Rome has declared, with a decree confirmed by the Holy Father's placet, that there was no objection, and that the cause of beatification might be proceeded with.