Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

St. Gerard Majella

St. Gerard Majella ("San Gerardo Maiella" in Italy), was born in a little town called Muro (now called Muro Lucano) in Basilicata, Italy, about an hour's drive southeast from Naples, on April 6, 1726. He was a very pious child, prone to extreme temperance and spending his time mimicking priests, playing at conducting holy rituals -- and when he did, miraculous things would happen. Once, while pretending to lead a procession, he attached a cross to a tree and asked his friends to venerate it. As they did, the cross began to glow with a divine light. He also played with the Child Jesus, and received Communion from Him and from Our Lady and St. Michael.

His father died when Gerard was young, and his impoverished mother apprenticed him to a tailor. One can get a sense of his spirit of humility by reading this, from "The Life, Virtues, and Miracles of St. Gerard of Majella":

His master loved him and was careful not to reprove him. Not so, however, the foreman. He looked upon such piety with a suspicious eye. One day, he dragged Gerard from the place in which he was praying, and began to beat him severely. "Strike, strike" said the holy apprentice, "you are right in doing so."

On an other occasion, the cruel man dealt him blows so violent that Gerard fell unconscious to the ground. Pannuto, appearing unexpectedly on the scene, indignantly demanded an explanation. The foreman, pointing to his victim, replied, "Let him say. He knows very well. "I fell from the table," said the youth gently.

Another time the brutal man gave him a rude blow on the ear, to which Gerard only responded by a quiet smile. "What! you are laughing!" exclaimed the barbarian in wrath, and seizing an iron instrument, he pitilessly struck the boy. The tender martyr, throwing himself at his feet, said in a tone full of sweetness: "I freely forgive you for the love of Jesus Christ."

One morning, Gerard happened to arrive a little late, which fact furnished a pretext to this madman to beat him with fury. A sweet smile was all that he drew from the child.  "What! you are laughing!" cried his infuriated assailant. "Tell me, why are you laughing." "It is because the hand of God has struck me," answered the angel of patience.

All during his work as a tailor's apprentice, Gerard wanted to be a religious. He first tried to become a Capuchin Friar, then a hermit, but was refused, being told that he was too physically frail 1 to endure the religious life. In the meanwhile, as he kept trying to gain acceptance by various religious orders, he spent his time serving the poor.

He was finally accepted as a lay brother by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. There, he was a model of obedience, and a man of such virtues and graces that he was granted many supernatural gifts, among them "infused knowledge of the highest order, ecstatsies, prophecy, discernment of spirits, and penetration of hearts, bilocation, and with what seemed an unlimited power over nature, sickness, and the devils," even predicting the day and hour of his death. 2 During his ecstasies, he would be seen levitating, buoyed by Divine Love.

His life, though, was marked by a grave injustice: a woman who'd joined a convent and found that the religious life wasn't for her made up a story to defend her leaving: she falsely accused Gerard of impropriety with the daughter of a family in whose house Gerard was often a guest during his missionary travels. Called before St. Alphonsus, the head of the Remptorists, to answer to the accusations, Gerard did nothing to defend himself, speaking not even a word to clear his name. He bore the injustice with perfect equanimity and charity, even when St. Alphonsus, having no other choice, disciplined him by confining him to a monastery and depriving him of Holy Communion. Later, when his accuser lay dying, she wrote to St. Alphonsus and told him she'd made the story up.

Not long before St. Gerard died, he paid a visit to a family and accidentally left his handkerchief behind. One of the young girls of the family ran after him to return it, but he told her to keep it because she might need it someday. That day came when, years later, long after Gerard's death, the girl was in severe pain and close to dying in childbirth. After she had St. Gerard's handkerchief brought to her and pressed it against her belly, her pain disappeared immediately and she bore a healthy child. Because of this and his patronage of pregnant women generally, many images of St. Gerard are labeled with the words Insignis parturientium protector” (notable protector of childbirth).

He died of tuberculosis on October 16, 1755, at the young age of twenty-nine. His relics can be venerated at the Sanctuary of San Gerardo Maiella in Materdomini -- a suburb of Caposele -- in the Province of Avellino, Campania, Italy. There, you'll find the "Room of Bows" -- a room filled with pink and blue ribbons and bows left by parents grateful for his intercession.

St. Gerard is the patron saint of mothers, childbirth, the unborn, the falsely accused, and good confessions.


Some Catholics will prepare for this feast by praying the Novena to St. Gerard starting on October 7 and ending on October 15, the eve of his feast. St. Joseph's Redemptorist Church, Dundalk, Ireland holds a great communal novena before his feast each year, and thousands of pilgrims -- especially women wanting children -- come from all over to attend.

For St. Gerard's feast itself, the Litany of St. Gerard would be nice to pray.

Because of his importance to childbirth, pregnant women, and women desiring to become pregnant, may make special devotions to St. Gerard today. Handkerchiefs touched to his relics are especially valued by women of childbearing age, and they can be acquired from his shrines in Materdomini, Italy and in Newark, New Jersey in the United States.

Because of his importance to Italians, you may find big celebrations taking place at Italian and Italian-American parishes. For ex., St. Lucy's Church in Newark, New Jersey,3 which houses the National Shrine of St. Gerard, has grand celebrations in his honor on or around his feast day, with Masses, processions, music, and, of course, food. This parish also offers a "St. Gerard Mass" each month for pregnant women, and for women who desire to become pregnant (the Mass is undoubtedly a Novus Ordo Mass, alas).

In parts of Italy, candles are lit outside windows and left to burn throughout the night on the eve of his feast. The tall glass votives one can find in most grocery stores would be good for the purpose. There's also a lovely but plaintive song that can be sung in his honor as well. An mp3 of this song, with lyrics below: 

Sono Pellegrino; Canto a San Gerardo Maiella
(I am a Pilgrim; I sing to St. Gerard Majella)
Sono pellegrino,
non risento del cammino
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Vengo alla tua chiesa,
l'alma mia d'incanto è presa;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Alla Madonnina
tu n'andavi ogni mattina;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Bianco il bel panino,
te lo dava il Dio bambino;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Scese l'angioletto,
ti portò Gesù diletto;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Stretto al Crocifisso
l'occhio avevi in alto fisso;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Tutto amor divino,
apparivi un serafino;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Fosti gambe santo
alla Vergine d'accanto.
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Nostro Protettore,
tu ci porti nel tuo cuore;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Tergi il nostro pianto,
tu l'ascolta il mesto canto;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Vispi fanciulletti,
Deh, li serba a Dio diletti;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Quanti derelitti
sono mille i cuori afflitti;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Dona tu Beato,
la salute all'ammalato;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Leggi nel mio cuore,
qui nascosto è il mio dolore;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Nostro gran tesoro
benedici ogni lavoro.
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Scendi dal tuo trono
ed impetraci il perdono.
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Dona il tuo sorriso,
gioia sei di Paradiso;
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

Torno alla mia casa,
l'alma mia di grazie è invasa.
San Gerardo mio, prega per me!

I am a pilgrim,
I am not bothered by the journey
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

I come to your church,
my soul is enchanted;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

To the Madonna
you went every morning;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

The beautiful white bread,
the Child God gave it to you;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

The little angel came down,
beloved Jesus brought to you;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

Close to the Crucifix
your eyes fixed high on it;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

All divine love,
appeared to you as a seraph;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

Your holy legs brought you
near to the Virgin.
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

Our Protector,
you carry us in your heart;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

Wipe away our tears,
listen to the sad song;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

Bright little children,
Oh, keep them beloved for God;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

How many derelicts
there are a thousand afflicted hearts;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

Give you Blessed,
health to the sick;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

Read in my heart,
hidden here is my pain;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

Our great treasure
bless all our labors.
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

Get off your throne
and ask that we be pardoned.
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

Give your smile,
joy you are from Heaven;
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

I go back to my house,
my soul filled with thanks.
My Saint Gerard, pray for me!

St. Gerard's hometown of Muro Lucano holds a two-week celebration in honor of him in late August.

Read more about the life of St. Gerard in "The Life, Virtues, and Miracles of St. Gerard of Majella" (pdf) from this site's Catholic library.


1 St. Gerard was a likely sufferer of Marfan Syndrome. From the Mayo Clinic:

Marfan syndrome is an inherited disorder that affects connective tissue — the fibers that support and anchor your organs and other structures in your body. Marfan syndrome most commonly affects the heart, eyes, blood vessels and skeleton.

People with Marfan syndrome are usually tall and thin with unusually long arms, legs, fingers and toes. The damage caused by Marfan syndrome can be mild or severe. If your aorta — the large blood vessel that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body — is affected, the condition can become life-threatening.

Dr. Jorge A. Brenes-Salazar, in an article in Volume 3, Issue 1 of Historia Medicinae, writes of the Saint that "Phenotypic examinations of contemporary portraits and scattered hagiographic clues such as the description of his pectus excavatum have raised our suspicion that he may have suffered Marfan syndrome; this however, remains as an intriguing speculation."

2 Catholic Encyclopedia. URL:

3 Those curious about the great St. Gerard's Day celebrations in the American East and what they mean to the Italian American people might be interested in reading "The Feast of St. Gerard Maiella, C.Ss.R. : A Century of Devotion at St. Lucy's, Newark" by Reverend Thomas D. Nicastro, The History Press (October 9, 2012).

Back to Seasonal Customs
Back to Being Catholic