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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli

June 20, 2017 saints No Comments


In the history of the Church saints have commonly lived at the same time and worked together for the Kingdom of God. Pope St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John of Avila (of the Cross) and St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori and Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli.
Blessed Gennaro was the son of noble parents, born on September 12, 1702, in Naples, Italy. The Baron of Salerno Angelo Sarnelli, and his wife, Caterina Scappo, lived in the Zapata palace on the Piazza Trieste e Trento when their fourth of eight children was born.
Gennaro received an education commensurate with his station in life. Like many saints, he was modest about his accomplishments — a studious child known for his self-sacrifice. His desire to be obedient was so strong that when he failed, he would apologize profusely, kissing his parents’ hands or throwing himself at their feet. His love of God was shown by his frequent visits to St. Francis Xavier Church in Naples.
In 1716 he followed the proceedings leading to the beatification of the Jesuit priest, St. John Francis Regis. This prompted him to seek his father’s permission to join the Jesuits, but his father refused his request and told him to study law instead. In a truly “Jesuitical” manner, Gennaro obediently went to law school and studied not only civil law, but also studied canon law. At the young age of 20, he earned doctorates in both civil and canon law.
As a lawyer, he worked for the Pious Workers of St. Nicholas as a member of the Knights of the Legal and Medical Professions. He followed their rules faithfully, which included serving the sick in the Hospital of the Incurables, especially those who were near death or in the hospital down at the docks. During this time he met St. Alphonsus Liguori.
His desire to become a priest only increased during this time. Thus in September 1728, he left the bar to study for the priesthood in the Diocese of Naples. Then, on June 4, 1729, he left home and moved to the Collegio della Santa Famiglia for better studying conditions. Almost a year later, he entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Apostolic Missions.
On May 28, 1731 he finished his probation period and was ordained on June 8, 1732 by Francesco Cardinal Pignatelli. He then began work as a catechist, being the director of religious education at Santa Anna di Palazzo and also taught at St. Francis and St. Matthew Churches.
Gennaro donated all his wealth to the poor, as he saw that he had no need for it. In addition, he joined the Propaganda of Naples, which was devoted to apostolic works.
In 1733 he joined St. Alphonsus de Liguori to help him in the Ravello mission. This was the time when St. Alphonsus had been deserted by his first companions after he had founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer on November 9, 1732.
After witnessing the success that Alphonsus had with preaching to the poor and those deprived of any spiritual assistance, Gennaro became convinced of the need for the new congregation and became a member.
Gennaro worked with Alphonsus side by side, giving missions along the Amalfi coast from 1735 to Easter of April 1736. In the spring of 1736, however, his health began to decline, necessitating his return to Naples.
Gennaro found lodging with a religious companion. He then began vigorously defending the new congregation and its founder, St. Alphonsus, against the brothers of the Apostolic Missions.
With the help of his father, Angelo, and his brother, Andrew, who had also become a priest, he founded the house for Redemptorists at Ciorani and assisted in the founding of the house at Villa Liberi.
Although Gennaro eventually returned to his home, he never hesitated in answering the summons of St. Alphonsus.
In Naples he wrote extensively, authoring more than 30 books. Between 1936 and 1941 he still ministered to the poor by rescuing prostitutes, opposing blasphemy, and promoting mental prayer among the laity. He also spent time in the formation of youth. When Giuseppe Cardinal Spinelli announced his visit to Naples, Gennaro went to the surrounding villages of Naples, preaching to the spiritual orphans.
When the cardinal arrived, Gennaro begged him to allow the Redemptorists to direct the missions to the poor and abandoned souls. Thus Gennaro and Alphonsus worked in the rural areas until the summer of 1742 when Alphonsus had to leave the missions and return to Ciorani.
Despite his weakened condition, Gennaro again answered the call to serve when Cardinal Spinelli asked him to replace Alphonsus. He worked lovingly and obediently without complaint until September 1743 when, weakened by ill health, he was replaced.
Although he was unable to continue traveling to do his work in the missions, he continued to preach locally until April in 1744. At that point he was so ill that he returned to Naples where he took to his bed, never to rise again. At the age of only 42, Gennaro passed away on June 30, 1744.
St. Alphonsus wrote a biography of Gennaro Sarnelli, focusing on the great contributions he made in the establishment and the growth of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. In that biography, he recorded the last works of Blessed Gennaro as he prayed:
“My Father in Heaven, behold, here I am. Now the creature returns to his Creator, the son to His Father. Lord, Most Holy Trinity, if it pleases you, allow me to come to you, to see you face to face. Still I do wish neither to die nor to live, I wish only what you want. You know well, all that I have done, all that I have thought, all was done for your greater glory!”
As death approached, Gennaro prepared his final bequests to the poor and arranged for his funeral. He left all of his books to the Redemptorists. At his death, Brother Francesco and Brother Tartaglione and a novice, Francisco Romito, tended him.
His body was buried on July 2 after two days of visitation by thousands, in Santa Maria Dell’Aiuto Church. In 1849, his body was transferred to the Redemptorists’ Church of Santi Alfonso e Antonio at Tarsia in Naples.
Finally, his remains were moved to the Redemptorist Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Ciorani, the motherhouse of the Redemptorist Congregation which had been built on the Sarnelli family estate.
Pope Pius X declared him venerable and Pope St. John Paul II beatified him on May 12, 1996. His feast is June 30.
Dear Blessed Gennaro, there are many spiritually abandoned persons in our world today. Guide us so that we will learn the best way to approach the lonely and hurting souls around us to bring them the merciful love of God that we all so desperately need. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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