Francesco Possenti proved that even a young man can be a role model for others.
He was born in Assisi, the 11th child of Sante Possenti and Agnes Frisciotti. His mother was unable to care for him and he was placed for a year in the care of a nursemaid.
In 1841, the family moved to Spoleto where Sante had been appointed a magistrate. There, the family was struck by a series of tragedies. The youngest Possenti child died at 6 months old. Francis’ 9-year-old sister, Adele, soon followed. Just days later, his heartbroken mother also died. Francis was just 4 years old. In 1846 Francis’ brother Paul was killed in the Italian war with Austria. Another brother, Lawrence, later took his own life.
Youth is resilient and despite his troubles Francis proved to be lively, intelligent and popular at the school of the Christian brothers and then the Jesuit college in Spoleto. At 16, he incurred a life-threatening illness. Praying for a cure, Francis promised to become a religious. With recovery, however, Francis quickly forgot his promise. Sometime later, however, he reheard that call and drew his attention toward the Congregation of the Passionists.
Against his father’s objections, after completion of his schooling, Francesco left for the Passionist novitiate in Morrovalle. Francis received the Passionist habit on Sept. 21, 1856, which that year was the Feast of the Sorrowful Mother. He was given the name Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother. A year later he took his vows. His monastic life preparing for the priesthood made Gabriel a secluded, non-public figure. His writings reflect his close relationship with God and His mother.
It was a terrible time in Italy. The movement for unification put the country in upheaval: shedding the yolk of foreign powers, regionalism and even pitting the state against the temporal power of the church. The new Passionist province of Pieta, to which Gabriel belonged, was in the center of this chaos. By 1860, the Passionists had ceased apostolic work due to the growing threats surrounding the community. During this period various Italian provinces were overrun by soldiers who robbed and terrorized the towns with little mercy.
Struck with tuberculosis at the age of 24, Gabriel died on Feb. 27, 1862, before his ordination to the priesthood. His fidelity to prayer, joyfulness of spirit and habitual mortifications stand out in his otherwise ordinary life. Pope Benedict XV canonized Gabriel in 1920 and declared him a patron of Catholic youth. His patronage also is invoked by the Church for students, seminarians, novices, and clerics. Thousands of divine favors are attributed to his intercession.
Adapted by A. J. Valentini from: St. Gabriel Possenti. (n.d.). The Passionists of Holy Cross Province. Retrieved Feb. 17, 2021, from https://passionist.org/st-gabriel-possenti/