Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (1838 – 1862) was born in Assisi, Italy, given the name Francis, and was baptised in the same font where Saint Francis of Assisi was baptised six hundred years before. He was the eleventh of thirteen children of a wealthy, devout couple. His father was a successful attorney who at the young age of 20 was appointed governor of Umbria.
Before Saint Gabriel was four years old, he had already lost his mother and two brothers to various illnesses. Some years later, he lost three more siblings: a brother died in battle in the Italian war with Austria, another committed suicide and a sister died of cholera. In addition to these events, he himself almost lost his life three times, twice through illness and once through a stray bullet which pierced his coat during a hunting expedition.
After each of his near brushes with death, the saint promised God that he would enter the religious life. But each time he would delay the fulfilment of his promise. Until one day, when he was 18 years old, as he watched on the roadside during a procession, the image of Our Lady which was being carried by the faithful looked at him and he heard within his heart these words: “Why! Thou art not made for the world! What art thou doing in the world? Hasten, become a religious!”
Saint Gabriel then lost no time in entering the seminary. His father initially resisted the change, but after realising that his son was indeed called to the religious life, he piously resigned himself to it, repeating the words of Our Lord on the cross: “Thy will be done, Lord, not mine.” Saint Gabriel entered the Passionist novitiate in Morrovalle. At the seminary, he proved to be an excellent student and made quick strides in his spiritual development as well. He received his habit on the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows and was given the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. He is said to have been as proud of his habit, as a soldier is of his regalia.
At the age of twenty-four, Saint Gabriel contracted tuberculosis. Upon hearing the news, he did not become troubled but retained his customary peace. He had prayed for a slow death in order to have time to prepare himself spiritually, and he saw this as an answer to this request. He remained cheerful and kept up his usual practices during this last trial. He died on February 27, 1862. At the moment of death, surrounded by the community, he suddenly sat up in bed, stretched out his hand, and smiled as if someone he loved much had entered the room. He then leaned back and breathed his last peacefully, still with a smile on his lips.