Gerard’s family life was fairly typical for the nearly Neapolitan families of Italy. That is, it wasfairly typical until his father died when Gerard was twelve. The family was plunged into poverty because of a lack of income and a lack of social power. As a widow, Gerard’s mother was often incapable of providing for her family because she was so easily overlooked. Like so many other widows, she was overlooked because her tragedy made others uncomfortable–almost as if they feared it was contagious. She did, however, realize that her son Gerard could be apprenticed to a tradesman and help provide for himself and for his family. So, Gerard was sent to his uncle (his mother’s brother) to learn the trade of a tailor.
He was an eager student if he was slightly weak and small for his age. He learned the trade under his uncle’s tutelage but Gerard’s uncle was very busy and not always around. Isolation and loneliness would have been preferred to what happened, however. Gerard’s uncle sent a man to help teach Gerard and watch over him as he continue to learn the trade that he had been apprenticed to. The man his uncle sent was abusive to Gerard and took advantage of him. For whatever reason, Gerard remained silent and did not share with his uncle what his hired man was doing in addition to teaching his trade. The uncle found out one day and confronted the man who immediately resigned and fled Gerard’s uncle.Damage had been done, however, and it’s hard to say what baggage Gerard carried with him as he pushed onward.
He longed to join the clerical professions and take vows at a nearby Capuchin monastery. He was rejected from the monastery–partially because of his ill health and weakness–and applied instead to a Redemptorist monastery known as the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. He was accepted as a lay brother and took on a variety of labor-intensive jobs that were of incredible service to the monastery. His work ethic was spoken of with glowing words. He was described as a model of Christian obedience because not only did he seek to do as he was told to do but to intuit why so that he might know what to do when not told specifically. In other words, Gerard wanted to do right because it was right and not because it gained him something. So, it came as a great surprise many years later when a young–obviously pregnant–woman came to the monastery.
She insisted that Gerard was the father of her child but he refused to fight her. Instead, he withdrew to silence and prayer. There was an outrage in the nearby villages and towns that one of the brothers of the monastery had broken his vows and, furthermore, had fathered a baby out of wedlock. As Gerard’s reputation was eviscerated and defiled, he remained silent and focused on prayer. Surely, his brothers must have doubted him and considered that the woman was telling the truth–after all, he offered nodefense. But, Gerard felt that the truth needed no defense and was confident that the Truth would set him free.Months later, she recanted her story and denied her previous accusation.
It was not Gerard’s desire to rage against injustice and pain. Instead, Gerard wanted to find God through pain and suffering.This was not masochistic pleasure but joy inspired through a willingness to lose everything if it meant following after his slaughtered savior. He had given every penny he didn’t need to barely survive to his mother or to the poor of the nearby cities. He knew obedience in a way that so few people can comprehend partly because he knew suffering intimately and deeply. About all this, though, he was known to say, “Consider the shortness of time, the length of eternity and reflect how everything here below comes to an end and passes by. Of what use is it to lean upon that which cannot give support?” He found no rest or solace from things of the world and, instead, endeavored to find his support in Jesus. When the brothers came to his cell and found him dead they noticed that obedient and quietly-faithful Gerard had left a small note on the cell of his door. This note fitly summarized Gerard’s outlook on life: “Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills.”