There is a funny term in the Catholic world for when a saint seems to be constantly interceding for you and a series of coincidences involving the saint seem to keep happening: Saint stalked. This is the incredible story of how St. Gemma, whom I did not know at the time, first made her intercession known, and continues to make known to this day. Yes, I can safely say I was happily “Saint stalked.”
The year was 2008 and I had just experienced an intense re-version to my faith and was confirmed by Bishop D’Arcy in South Bend, Indiana. Prior to this time I was essentially partying my life away with no real goals or direction; just living for the moment like a true hedonist. After my confirmation I acquired a peculiar habit of devouring books on the saints and found their example to be very edifying while I was still trying to figure out (and still am) how to become like Christ.
Admittedly, I still had some pretty bad habits and was struggling to leave my old ways behind. Around this time I also had a really bad fight with my father for pretty much the first time in my life. It was so bad that we didn’t speak for a month, and unfortunately never spoke again.
I was coming home on July 6th after a weekend of celebrating the 4th of July and my birthday on the 5th. On my way home I noticed that my Dad had tried to call me but because I had no service he left a voicemail. He wished me a happy birthday and was clearly calling to ‘bury the hatchet.’ I glanced at the clock and it was already 11:00 P.M. so I figured I’d just call him the next day. Unfortunately he suffered a massive heart attack and tried to drive himself to the hospital but crashed at the entrance. His time of death was listed at just after midnight. The regret of not calling him back less than an hour before his death has always been with me; I learned the hard way that day. I learned about the tragedy of holding grudges and refusing to overcome personal pride at the cost of never making amends. But this is when a seemingly obscure Italian mystic burst into my world.
The day of my Dad’s funeral I came home and feeling rather despondent, I tried to console myself by thumbing through some books on contemporary saints that I had. I came across a picture of a young girl who stopped me in my tracks. She was beautiful and mysterious with a piercing gaze. I felt absolutely moved to find out who this girl was so naturally I Googled her. Now it seemed as if I was the one doing the stalking. I clicked on the first article that came up and immediately I read that St. Gemma was patron of those who’ve lost a parent! I was amazed at this coincidence but in faith I believed that God had arranged this little rendezvous.
I began to have a devotion to St. Gemma, asking for her intercession in my life. I found the biography written by her spiritual director Ven. Fr. Germanus and read as much as I could the first day I received it. She was mysterious and I didn’t seem to have a lot in common with her. She was a mystic, stigmatic, did battle with demons, and had visions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. All of which was well above my pay-grade as a newly confirmed Catholic struggling to escape my vices. As time went on, Gemma made her intercession known in various strange ways.
A few years went by and I lapsed back into my hedonistic ways and stopped taking my faith seriously. That was until I had a seemingly random connection online with someone else who loved St. Gemma. I had never seen anyone own their faith like this particular person and they inspired me to finally “go all in.” But it gets even more intense.
I had moved for my job and was in Pennsylvania where I had not a single friend. I began to spend a great deal of time in prayer, reading spiritual books, and making miniature pilgrimages. During this time of living like a monk, I began to feel called to the seminary to discern the priesthood. I prayed even more intensely, asking for Gemma’s intercession. That’s when it got even weirder.
I went to Mass in Allentown where I lived and I saw this particular priest named Fr. James. I had never met Fr. James but I immediately knew that I needed to talk to this guy and had no clue as to why. After Mass I asked him if he had time to talk, to which he obliged. We had a great talk about the seminary and discernment. At the end of our meeting I briefly mentioned Gemma’s name which provoked a look from Fr. James like he just got hit by lightening. Fr. James said, “I think I have something for you, I’ll be right back.” Fr. James came back and handed me a first class relic of St. Gemma from the Vatican and told me it was mine. To say I was floored would not do it any justice. To me it was an immediate sense of God’s provision through this wondrous saint. I mean what are the odds of all the places I could go, that I would talk to a priest who would give me a first class relic of my mysterious patron from Italy!
The relic gave me the strength to quit my job and moved back to Indiana where I spent a year getting involved in the local Catholic community. Prior to this, I think I had but one serious Catholic friend. Getting plugged into a community of young adults was life changing for me. After a year, I went off to the seminary to discern the priesthood. Because I never had any formation in my Catholic faith aside from Sunday school classes as a kid, my time in the seminary was the most pivotal year of my life. The formation I received at Mount St. Mary’s set the foundation for my life. As providence would have it, Gemma was going to make her intercession known yet again.
On April 11th, Gemma’s feast day, I asked God for a special grace in honor of Gemma’s feast day. The following day I experienced a manifestation of grace that I cannot even begin to try and explain here, but it was the deepest and most personal experience of God’s love. The experience lasted nearly all day; I would describe it as if a flaming fire was lit and then slowly went out. After I explained everything in full to my spiritual director he explained/affirmed what happened and asked me: “Did you remember to thank Gemma?.”
Fast forward to 2018: I knew I wasn’t called to be a diocesan priest but also knew I was supposed to be in the seminary for that year. Shortly after realizing my call to marriage, in walked the woman who is now my wife and we were married in October of 2017. A few months ago my wife went to talk to some Sister’s of Life who were visiting. My wife asked one of the sisters to pray for us and our intention of having a child. This particular sister asked my wife, “Is there any particular saints you have a devotion to?” My wife told her that St. Gemma was dear to us. The sister replied “well I have her relic right here in my pocket, lets pray.” This was yet another experience that brought a great deal of comfort and joy to us.
On Gemma’s feast day this year I asked for a special grace from God in honor of Gemma’s feast day. God didn’t waste time. Last week we found out that we will be having our first child in January! Needless to say, if we have a girl, she will be named “Gemma.”
I’d encourage everyone who reads this to ask God for the protection and patronage of a special saint in your life if you don’t already have one. The communion of saints can be lived here and now!