Born just nine years before the saint and mystic Padre Pio, Gemma Umberta Maria Galgani (1878–1903) was only twenty-five when she died of tuberculosis.
In those short twenty-five years, Gemma lived a life of heroic virtue, working against her own defects from childhood and seeking only to please Jesus and suffer in union with Him for the salvation of poor sinners.
The number of souls snatched from the Devil by this humble child will be known only in eternity.Fr. Germanus Ruoppolo, C.P., St. Gemma’s spiritual director
Gemma’s Extraordinary Graces
As early as age seven, Gemma received supernatural communication from heaven. Later she developed a close bond with her guardian angel, whom she could see. Gemma had an astonishing intimacy with Jesus and His Mother, whom she saw in frequent visions, and she experienced other extraordinary graces such as the stigmata.
Her love for Jesus was profound from a young age. She described what she experienced upon her First Holy Communion at nine years old, saying:
Jesus made himself felt very strongly by my poor soul. I understood at that moment that the delights of heaven are not like those of the earth. I felt myself overcome by the desire to render that union with my God continual. I felt weary of the world more and more, and more disposed to recollection.St. Gemma Galgani
She frequently saw her angel, whom she spoke to with reverence and familiarity:
[M]y Guardian Angel began to be my master and guide. He corrected me every time I did something wrong and he taught me to speak but little and that only when I was spoken to…He taught me many times how to act in the presence of God; that is, to adore him in his infinite goodness, his infinite majesty, his mercy and in all his attributes.St. Gemma Galgani
While we may wish that we had such consolations and joys, “to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Luke 12:48).
Gemma’s privileges went hand in hand with incredible suffering, the rejection and mockery of many people including certain family members, spiritual victimhood on behalf of those who offended God, and of course, total assault by Satan.
The enemy of souls began his attack upon her very early. Perhaps from her first steps along the road to sanctity the Devil guessed the shameful defeats he would suffer through her, and decided to lose no time.Fr. Amedeo C.P., Blessed Gemma Galgani
Gemma was called to be a warrior for Christ in a particular way—a special forces soldier in the spiritual realm—and she had been given her own spiritual boot camp in order to be prepared for it.
Satan’s Tactics Against St. Gemma
Like Padre Pio, Gemma had a rare calling to confront Satan in the struggle to save souls. Her pursuit of holiness, and the strength of her devotion, was a real threat to him.
The Devil was filled with rage at seeing so many souls snatched from his grasp. He warned her that if she continued to interest herself in souls she would pay dearly for it.Fr. Amedeo C.P., Blessed Gemma Galgani
In order to tempt her to give up praying for others and expiating their sins, Satan tried to make her anxious over her own sins, saying:
“You are laden with sins, and all the years of thy life would not suffice to bewail and expiate them, and yet you lose time about the sins of others? Do you not see that your own soul is in danger? A strange gain, that of thinking for others and neglecting thyself.”
Knowing the power of discouragement and despair, he tried to make her believe that God had rejected her:
“Don’t you see that Jesus no longer hears you and that He will no longer have anything to do with you?”
As he did with Pio, Satan appeared in horrible forms and sought to tempt Gemma against holy purity—but she remained perfectly chaste, despising these temptations most of all.
Just like Pio, she suffered physical altercations in which Satan knocked her down, dragged her about the room, and even grabbed her by the hair and ripped it out.
Her response—her true weapon and only recourse—was prayer. She turned to Jesus, to His Mother, to the saints, and with their help vanquished the demons’ attacks and temptations.
Knowing the power of Holy Communion, the devil made various attempts to keep her from it, including taking up a threatening stance beside the priest when she went up to receive.
Gemma asked [Sister Julia, a religious sister who was a confidant] whether she would have courage enough to receive Holy Communion when the Devil stood by the side of the priest with weapons in his hands. Sister Julia answered that it would be a beautiful thing to die thus with Jesus in one’s heart. Gemma…then confided to her friend that when receiving Communion she very often saw the Devil by the side of the priest, threatening her with death.Fr. Amedeo C.P., Blessed Gemma Galgani
The devil also worked hard to turn Gemma against Jesus by accusing Jesus of making her suffer and claiming—falsely, of course—that she would be happy if she served himself, the devil.
St. Gemma describes this encounter:
[T]hat beast returned, this time in the form of a young man who whispered into my ear: “What are you doing? You are indeed stupid to pray to a malefactor, One who desires to be revenged upon you. See what He has done to you, nailed you to a cross just the same as He is! See the harm He does to you! Trample upon Him; spit in His face, tell Him to leave you alone, and that I am going to be your guide.”St. Gemma Galgani
I kissed Jesus [on my crucifix] to spite the Devil and said: “O my Jesus, I thank Thee for all the graces You have given me, and I desire to love Thee with all my heart.” And all the while he (the Devil) was whispering in my ear: “How can you love a malefactor condemned to death; a man you do not know? Look at me! I am a fine young man who does no one any harm. That person, however, makes you suffer always; I on the contrary would make you always happy. If you obey me I shall free you from all the pain in your hands and feet. If you pay attention to me I shall make you happy and bring you with me.”
Having said all these things to me, he left me, and I began to make the Holy Hour…Scarcely had I knelt down when Jesus came and I conversed with Him for a little while. I asked Him where He had been. “I was near you,” He answered.
“This bitter and painful struggle lasted throughout the life of the Servant of God,” writes biographer Fr. Amedeo C.P. “But notwithstanding the astuteness of the enemy she was always victorious. He assailed her in every way. He attacked every virtue.”
But Satan failed, as he always will in the end. Gemma persevered in her duties and spiritual graces and died in the victorious peace of Christ in 1903.
St. Gemma’s Legacy
Gemma’s suffering is over, but her work has continued. In fact, she is known to come to the assistance of exorcists, who say that the demons fear her and have a derogatory nickname for her—“The one in black, the Jinx!” With her help, the exorcists have freed various victims of possession.
She is the patron saint of paratroopers and parachutists, students, those suffering back injury or spinal illness, those suffering from headaches or migraines, and more.
This article was taken from the fascinating series Spiritual Warfare, featuring video host U.S. Army Chaplain Colonel Matt Pawlikowski (RET). Subscribers have raved about the experience of this spiritual journey. You can join them by signing up here.