Francesco Possenti was nicknamed “the dancer” before embracing the religious life.
St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows wasn’t always a saint. In fact, for many years he was quite the opposite.
Born Francesco Possenti in 1838, Possenti was baptized in the same font as Saint Francis of Assisi. During his early life Possenti had much in common with the “troubadour” of Assisi, and was a popular young man at parties.
While attending the Jesuit College at Spoleto, he embraced whatever kind of entertainment he could find. Later Possenti wrote in a letter, “I assure you that, if I had remained in the world, it seems certain to me that I would not have saved my soul. Tell me, could anyone have indulged in more amusements than I?”
He especially enjoyed the dancing scene and was nicknamed “the dancer.” His friends also called him il damerino (“the ladies’ man”) for his popularity among women.
Yet, God never stopped pursuing Possenti. Twice Possenti fell ill and was miraculously cured. Both times he promised God that he would enter religious life and both times quickly forgot about it. Then one day during a procession he looked up at a banner of Our Lady Help of Christians. He sensed Our Lady was looking right at him and heard the voice, “Keep your promise.”
This cut right through Possenti’s heart and he resolved to follow through and enter a religious order. He entered the Passionist Order on September 21, 1856, and was given the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Gabriel threw himself completely into a life of holiness and did whatever it took to draw closer to God. However, he wasn’t graced with any extraordinary spiritual gifts or experiences. He simply lived fully the life of a Passionist and strove for perfection. Gabriel is known for writing, “Our perfection does not consist of doing extraordinary things but of doing the ordinary well.”
His religious life was short-lived; he died of tuberculosis after six years, in 1862. He was 24 years old and his community highly regarded him for his sanctity. Gabriel was eventually beatified in 1908 and canonized in 1920. He is known as a special patron of young people.