In September, 2011 a group of a dozen or so Passionist Associates gathered around a table at Saint Paul of the Cross Monastery in Pittsburgh to discuss the sanctity of Saint Gabriel. Saint Gabriel was a young Passionist who died in 1862. One of the senior members of the group raised the question of the role of Sante Possenti, Gabriel’s father, in the formation of the sanctity of the young religious. As a widower who had also lost several children, he did not want his son to become a Passionist. He did everything to prohibit the boy’s progress toward the fulfillment of his desires and put many roadblocks in his way. Still Gabriel persevered and made his religious profession on September 22, 1857. The question arises: What were Sante Possenti’s motives?
From this distance of history, it is possible to find an answer. The elder Possenti was a high-ranking official of the Papal States under Blessed Pope Pius IX. He was aware of the revolutionary uprisings within Italy which were clamoring for the unification of the entire peninsula. The eldest of his sons joined the Masons in total defiance of his family’s traditions. Sante lived in fear that the revolutionaries would prevail. Further, he saw the Passionists as a weak religious community of relatively uneducated men who would eventually be swept away in a tidal wave of revolutionary chaos. Yet Gabriel persisted.
Saint Gabriel’s sanctity was disclosed in 1868, only six years after his death, by Don Paolo Bonaccia, his classmate from high school. Ironically the Community at Isola del Gran Sasso, where Gabriel died, was scattered. Stability would not return to the Passionist Community until 1880, but by then Gabriel had a stellar reputation for sanctity.
Components of his holiness are seen in his tranquil behavior in the face of his father’s rejection and his isolation from his family. He was also able to cope with the uncertainties of the times because of his willing acceptance of Divine Providence. Within a year of his religious profession, he developed tuberculosis and his health was always delicate. Despite all of this, he displayed an even temperament and an attractive personality. He loved his Passionist vocation. He patterned his daily mentality on the fervent devotion to the image of Mary standing with John at the foot of the Cross. He placed all his disappointments, professional insecurity and physical sufferings in the sorrows of Mary. In turn he enjoyed a mystical relationship with her. She had, apparently, come to him in 1856 while he was on his sick bed and said to him: “Your life is not your own.” From there on he committed himself to her through the medium of the Passionist way of life. Saint Gabriel was canonized on May 13, 1920, along with Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque.
- Father Jerome Vereb, C.P.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, crucified and risen, you taught Saint Gabriel to cling to you alone as Lord and Savior and to find in your Mother a refuge and companion along the Gospel Way. Through his prayers and example, may we too, who honor him, share in the marvelous joys of friendship with you and the Blessed Virgin and come to the Heavenly Father in eternal glory, where you live forever and ever. Amen.