Presentation by Redemptorist Father Jon Hansen on Bl. Gennaro Sarnelli,C.Ss.R. (1702-1744)
Blessed Gennaro Sarnelli
Gennaro Maria Sarnelli, the son of the Baron of Ciorani, was born in Naples on September 12, 1702.
At the age of 14 following the beatification of Francis Regis he
decided to become a Jesuit. Having been dissuaded by his father because
of his youth he began the study of jurisprudence and took his Doctorate
in ecclesiastical and civil law in 1722. He distinguished himself at
the Bar and was enrolled in the Congregation of the Knights of the
Legal and Medical Professions directed by the Pious Workers at St.
Nicholas of Toledo. Among the rules of this Association there was the
obligation of visiting the sick in the Hospital of the Incurables. It
was here he heard the call of the Lord to become a priest.
In September 1728 he became a seminarist and was incardinated by
Cardinal Pignatelli as a cleric in the parish of St. Anne di Palazzo.
On June 4, 1729 in order to study in more peaceful conditions he became
a boarder in the College of the Holy Family known as the Chinese
College, founded by Matthew Ripa. On April 8 of the following year he
left the Chinese College and on June 5 began his novitiate in the
Congregation of the Apostolic Missions.
On May 28 1731 he concluded his novitiate and on July 8 of the
following year he was raised to the Priesthood. During these years in
addition to his visits to the hospital he devoted himself to helping
young children forced to work and to teaching them the catechism. He
also visited the old people in the Hospice of St. Gennaro and those
condemned to the galleys who were ill in the hospital at the docks.
These were also the years when he developed a friendship with St.
Alphonsus de Liguori and his apostolate. Together they devoted
themselves to teaching the catechism to laypeople by organizing the
Following his ordination he was assigned by Cardinal Pignatelli as
Director of Religious Instruction in the parish of Sts. Francis and
Matthew in the Spanish quarter. Having become aware of the rampant
corruption of young girls he decided to direct all his energy against
prostitution. In the same period (1733) he tenaciously defended St.
Alphonsus against unjust criticism after he had founded the missionary
Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in Scala (SA) on November 9
1732. In June of the same year having gone to Scala to help his friend
during the mission at Ravello, he decided to become a Redemptorist
while at the same time continuing to be a member of the Apostolic
Missions. From his entrance into the Congregation in April 1736 he
committed himself unsparingly to parish missions and to writing in
defense of "young girls in danger". He also wrote on the spiritual life
and worked so hard that he was almost at death's door. With the consent
of St. Alphonsus he returned to Naples for treatment and there renewed
his apostolate for the rescue of prostitutes.
As well as taking part in the Redemptorist apostolate and that of
the Apostolic Missions he promoted meditation in common among the laity
by publishing "Il mondo santificato". He also campaigned against
blasphemy in another book. In 1741 he planned and took part with St.
Alphonsus in the great missions preached in the hamlets outside Naples
in preparation for the canonical visitation of Cardinal Spinelli.
Despite the permanently insecure state of his health he continued to
preach until the end of April 1744 when by now extremely ill he
returned to Naples where he died on June 30 at the age of 42. His body
lies at rest in Ciorani, the first Redemptorist Church.
Gennaro Maria Sarnelli has left us 30 works which treat of
meditation, mystical theology, spiritual direction, law, pedagogy,
moral and pastoral themes. By his social action in favour of women he
is considered one of the authors who treated this subject most fully in
the Europe of the first half of the eighteenth century.
On May 12 1996, Pope John Paul II beatified him in St. Peter's Square.