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Leaning on the Saints

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

If you have been following my blogs for some time, you will know that I often write about the people that God has brought into my life for very specific reasons. Reasons for which I usually do not fully understand until later, and only with the grace of insight.

The people brought into my life are often quiet and unassuming, such as the wonderful Mrs. Martin who taught me an important lesson on the sin of omission. Or at least, that is how I have perceived them to be from the perspective of a busy working wife and mother, raising a family, and frequently “too busy” to take the time to get to know them outside of basic pleasantries and nodded hellos at a distance.

Despite this, I have been blessed with the love and concern of several caring women throughout my life. These women come from all walks of life, through connections at work, the local parish community and my husband’s extended family, including the greatest blessing of them all, my wonderful mother-in-law. Perhaps these women are drawn to me because they know that as a migrant who relocated for love at the cost of family connections, I am lacking in female bonds and support.

When I was expecting my third child, I was understandably anxious with the physically and emotionally traumatic birth of my second child still weighing heavily on my mind. My obstetrician did everything to allay my fears, telling me that every pregnancy is different, and as it had been almost 10 years since my last child was born, it was unlikely that I would encounter a similar experience. Still, I struggled to let go of the fear and emotional pain that plagued me.

One Sunday early in my pregnancy, I was sitting quietly in a pew waiting for Mass to begin, when the woman next to me gently asked, “Is everything alright, dear?” Her name was Mrs. Connellan, and although we usually sat behind her each week, on this particular day visitors, unfamiliar with the unspoken seating arrangements of the regular parishioners, had taken over our pew.

Her question startled me. Was my continence that disturbed that she could read my anxiety despite the plastered smile and overly cheery hello as we took our seats? I only managed a weak smile in reply before everyone stood for the entrance antiphon. When the service concluded, Mrs. Connellan placed a gentle hand on my arm and said, “I do hope everything is alright.”

“Yes, thank you,” I replied and proceeded to tell her of our baby news. “Oh,” she said, eyes softening. “How wonderful!” When she saw that I was about to cry, she held my arm a little tighter, saying nothing, giving me the space to open up. Thankfully, my husband was busy speaking to another acquaintance and the children were already running around the presbytery gardens with their friends.

Somehow, I managed to relay, in not so many words, that although I was very happy with the news and that this pregnancy was a long time coming and an answer to my prayers, fear of the possible risks had begun to enter my heart due to my past history. A knowing look of mutual understanding crossed her kind eyes. “I will pray for you,” she promised.

The following week, we were again too late to grab our usual spot and once again found ourselves sitting next to Mrs. Connellan. After Mass, she pulled me aside and handed me a small envelope. Inside was a prayer card and a small gold safety pin secured to a fabric medallion with a delicate lace border and impression of a saint pressed to its center.

“St. Gerard,” she told me. “I wore this during each of my seven pregnancies. He has always looked out for me. When one baby was in trouble, I prayed constantly and even promised to name the child after him if everything went ok. My son, Gerard.”

Up to that point, I was pretty naïve regarding our wonderful saints, their lives and histories. Though I wasn’t quite sure who this St Gerard character was, I graciously accepted the gift, later pinning the sacramental to my underclothes close to my heart.

Unfortunately, the prayer card was brief with only the suggested novena written upon it, so I searched the internet until I felt like I knew who St Gerard was and how he might possibly intercede for me. Not that I fully understood intersession at all at the time, except for running to St Anthony on the odd occasion when I’d lost something.

Turns out, St Gerard Majella was the patron saint of mothers, mothers-to-be, and those longing to be mothers. Born in Italy in 1726, Gerard lived a life of poverty from the age of twelve following the death of his father. Originally denied access to join the Capuchin order due to ill health, with persistence Gerard eventually was accepted into the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, serving as a gardener, tailor and spiritual advisor, among other duties. There are many tales of miracles performed throughout his life, including the ability to see into hearts and read souls. After a life of great devotion to prayer and perfect obedience to the Will of God, he died of tuberculosis at the age of 29.

Gerard’s powerful intercession first gained notice when a young Italian woman, the daughter of friends of the deceased saint-to-be, was in danger of dying in childbirth. When she was a young girl, Gerard had gifted a handkerchief to her, declaring that it will be useful to her one day. In the middle of her difficult labour, the woman remembered his prophetic words and begged for the handkerchief to be placed upon her. Immediately the danger passed, and she safely delivered her child.

I wore his medallion every day of my pregnancy, saying the Rosary and the prayer to St Gerard each morning. Over time, a calmness came over me and I was able to let go and lay all my fears relating to the impending labour at the foot of the Cross. It was the most wonderful pregnancy experience. No morning sickness. No cramping. No cravings. Minimal weight gain. Lots of energy. Not to mention the most peaceful and beautiful natural birth without drugs or any medical intervention. After just eight hours of a moderately intense labour, my daughter was born, placed on my chest, eyes wide, looking alert, directly at me.

And, no, I didn’t name her Gerard, though now that I think of it, Majella would have been a fine name for a girl. I wonder if that was Mrs. Connellan’s alternative had her child been a girl? I wish I had thought to ask her that at the time. Unfortunately, she passed away some years ago, so I will never know.

Now, whenever someone I know is expecting, I give them a St Gerard prayer card and medal. Some accept it gratefully, while others don’t quite know what to do with it. Regardless, I pray to him for them, having fully experienced the grace of his intercession. I will always be indebted to Mrs. Connellan, whose first name just happened to be the same as my own mother’s.

At a time when the distance from my family, especially my mother, was felt the greatest, this kind, compassionate woman showered me with the love and support I so desperately needed and was a mother to me. I will always be grateful to Mrs. Connellan for teaching me about the importance of leaning on the saints in our hour of need, and to St Gerard for reading my heart and releasing the fear and anxiety resting there.

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