Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was born March 1, 1838 in Assisi. He was the eleventh of thirteen children of the successful lawyer Sante Possenti and his wife Agnes Frisciotti Possenti. At his baptism, he was named Francis (or Francesco) Possenti after Saint Francis of Assisi.

The family was wealthy, and young Francis grew up quite vain and utterly devoted to worldly pleasures. His friends referred to him as il damerino ("the ladies' man"). Then, while he was attending school at the Jesuit college at Spoleto, he fell dangerously ill. He promised that if he recovered, he would enter religious life. Upon his recovery, however, he did not act immediately upon his promise.

One day he saw a picture of the Sorrowful Mother carried in a procession. To Francis, it seemed that she was looking straight at him. At the same time, he heard a voice in his heart telling him, "Francis, the world is not for you anymore."

A year or two later, when he fell ill again, he renewed his promise. Again he recovered. This time he fulfilled his vow, astonishing everyone when he announced that he was entering the Passionist Order immediately after his graduation in 1856. It was there that he took the name Gabriel.

Within the Passionist community, he spent his remaining years in prayer, study, and reflection. He was quite devoted to Mary, the Mother of God, because of his vision and also perhaps partly because he had lost his own mother at the age of four.

He died in 1862 of tuberculosis, just short of his twenty-fourth birthday. It is believed that his posthumous intercession miraculously cured Saint Gemma Galgani of a serious illness.

Another story about Gabriel involves a group of soldiers who were terrorizing the town of Isola. Friar Possenti approached them and asked them to leave. When they refused, he drew a pair of pistols from underneath his robes. Or maybe, as some sources say, he took the pistols from one of the bullies. Either way, they laughed at him, thinking that a priest was unlikely to be much of a marksman. Gabriel took aim at a lizard across the road, and cut it in half with a well-placed shot. Then he pointed out that he still had a shot left in his other pistol, and he asked which of the men wanted it. The men left. This story is used by some as an argument for his adoption as the patron saint of handgunners.

Gabriel was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. He is the patron saint of students, particularly those in colleges and seminaries, of the clergy, of the Abruzzi region of Italy, and of young people in general. His feast day is February 27.


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