Originally posted at Talk to Action.
A group led by a longtime gun lobbyist is petitioning the Vatican to make a nineteenth century Passionist seminarian “the patron saint for hand gunners.”
I am not making this up. But the lobbyist’s case for making an existing saint, Francesco Possenti also a patron for hand gunners, appears to be a fabrication.
Francesco Possenti (1838-1862) was a young man who lived in Central Italy in the mid-eighteenth century. He was known for both his intelligence and affinity for “la dolce vita” – parties and fancy dress. However, during an illness he promised that if he recuperated (he did) he would join a religious order as gesture of gratitude (he did not). Following several family deaths and a second illness, Possenti joined the Passionist order of priests as a seminarian.
He then changed his name to “Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.” The young noviciate became known for his devotion to the Virgin Mary and his deep spirituality. Almost simultaneously, he contracted a fatal case of tuberculosis, dying before he could take his priestly vows. During this time, however, Possenti remained highly spiritual and serene in the face of death. He passed away in February 1862.
In 1920 Gabriel Possenti was made a saint in the Catholic Church after two healing miracles were attributed to prayers of intercession made to him. Pope Benedict XV declared him to be the patron saint for of Catholic youth, of students, and of those studying for the priesthood. In 1959 Pope John XXIII also made him the patron for Italian province of Abruzzi where he lived out the last two years of his life.
Now an organization calling itself the St. Gabriel Possenti Society, Inc. wants to add a third patronage to his Sainthood: hand gunners.
Sporting a crest with the a drawing of the face of the venerated saint in the middle and flanked by a pistol and a lizard (explained below), the society describes its mission as promoting “the public recognition of St. Gabriel Possenti, including his Vatican designation as Patron Saint of Handgunners.” The site goes on to describe St. Gabriel as “a Catholic seminarian whose marksmanship and proficiency with handguns single-handedly saved the village of Isola, Italy from a band of 20 terrorists in 1860.”
Nowhere is there any mention of his devotion to Mary, his spirituality or the miracles attributed to him.
The driving force behind the society is a lay Catholic named John Michael Snyder. The society’s founder/president has, to no avail, approached the Vatican about his quest. CNSNews.com quotes Snyder on the Church’s non-interest as follows: “A lot of the Catholic bishops in the United States are out of line on this issue,” Snyder said. “They are pacifists up the wazoo. They don’t really understand their own faith. They don’t understand the religion of which they are officials.”
Snyder has even written a book about Possenti entitled Gun Saint that features cover art depicting the frail seminarian blasting away a lá Billy the Kid. The web site provides “coupons” that can be printed out, clipped and dropped into Sunday collection baskets as a sign of support for making St. Gabriel the patron saint for hand gunners.
And by what miracle should Saint Gabriel become a patron for hand gun enthusiasts? According to Snyder:
In 1860, a band of soldiers from the army of Garibaldi entered the mountain village of Isola, Italy. They began to burn and pillage the town, terrorizing its inhabitants.
Possenti, with his seminary rector’s permission, walked into the center of town, unarmed, to face the terrorists. One of the soldiers was dragging off a young woman he intended to rape when he saw Possenti and made a snickering remark about such a young monk being all alone.
Possenti quickly grabbed the soldier’s revolver from his belt and ordered the marauder to release the woman. The startled soldier complied, as Possenti grabbed the revolver of another soldier who came by. Hearing the commotion, the rest of the soldiers came running in Possenti’s direction, determined to overcome the rebellious monk.
At that moment a small lizard ran across the road between Possenti and the soldiers. When the lizard briefly paused, Possenti took careful aim and struck the lizard with one shot. Turning his two handguns on the approaching soldiers, Possenti commanded them to drop their weapons. Having seen his handiwork with a pistol, the soldiers complied. Possenti ordered them to put out the fires they had set, and upon finishing, marched the whole lot out of town, ordering them never to return. The grateful townspeople escorted Possenti in triumphant procession back to the seminary, thereafter referring to him as “the Savior of Isola”.
The web site St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, maintained by the Passionist Order, refutes Snyder’s fable:
A campaign is under way in the United States to have Saint Gabriel declared patron of hand-gunners. This is in reference to an apocryphal story which has the saint rescuing the town of Isola from marauding bandits, using the skills from hunting he had learnt as a boy. Whilst this story is mentioned in one biography of the saint,  the author admits that some of the accounts in his book were invented to “enliven” the story. No account of the alleged event is present in an other independently researched biography of the saint , in particular early sources of the saint’s life make no mention of it  making such an incident seem unlikely.
The Passionists also state, “Gabriel was in the later stages of tuberculosis making such a strenuous exercise impossible for one in such a condition” and conclude, “The author has been in contact with several biographers of Saint Gabriel and in private correspondence they have all expressed that the event did not take place.”
Why would Snyder create a movement based upon such flimsy evidence? His biography page at Human Events magazine contains a clue:
Mr. Snyder, former National Rifle Association magazine editor, is public affairs director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and a director of the Council for America.
So yes, John M. Snyder is a gun lobbyist, trying to enlist the Catholic Church to bless his advocacy.
Res ipsa loquitor, indeed!
Endnotes from Blockquote
1 Poage, G. “Son of the Passion”, page 93. Daughters of St. Paul, 1977
2 Poage, G. “Son of the Passion”, page 3. Daughters of St. Paul, 1977
3 Ward C.P., N. “Life of Venerable Gabriel C.P.”, Burns and Oates, 1904
4 Burke C.P., E., “Happy Was My Youth – Saint Gabriel – Passionist”, Gill and Son, 1961
5 Cingolani, C.P., G., “Saint Gabriel Possenti, Passionist: A Young Man in Love”, Alba House, 1997
6 Mead C.P., J. “St. Gabriel: A Youthful Gospel Portrait”, L’Eco di S. Gabriele, 1985
7 Memorie Storiche Sopra la Vita e le Virtù del Giovane Francesco Possenti, tra I Passionisti Confratel Gabriele dell’Addolorata”, Turin, 1868
8 Germano C.P., P. “Vita delle San Gabriele dell’Addolorata, Rome, 1924
9 P. Norberto “Memorie sulla Vita e Virtù di Confratel Gabriele dell’Addolorata (Francesco Possenti), San Gabriele, 1970 – the memoirs of St. Gabriel’s Spiritual Director