Sarnelli, Gennaro Maria, Bl.
SARNELLI, GENNARO MARIA, BL.
Januarius; lawyer, ascetical writer, Redemptorist priest; b. Sept. 12, 1702, Naples, Italy; d. there, June 30, 1744.
The fourth son of Baron Angelo Sarnelli of Ciorani, Gennaro was inspired at age 14 by the beatification of John Francis regis to become a Jesuit himself. His father persuaded him instead to study canon and civil law, in which he earned a doctorate (1722). He succeeded admirably in the legal profession, while daily Mass, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and attendance on the sick in the hospital of incurables filled his free time.
He abandoned the bar at age 26, entered the seminary in 1728, and was assigned to catechize children at St. Anne di Palazzo parish. In 1730 he entered the novitiate in the Congregation of the Apostolic Missions, a society of secular missionary preachers. Throughout his seminary training he continued his catechetical work with children, visited the elderly in the Hospice of San Gennaro, and ministered to sick sailors. During this period he and Alphonsus ligouri became friends and together organized the Evening Chapels (cappelle serotine ), an association of workers and artisans formed for the purpose of mutual assistance, religious instruction, and works of apostolic zeal.
After his ordination in 1732, he served as director of religious education at a poor parish in the Spanish quarter of Naples, where he found employment for poor women to keep them out of prostitution. The year after Alphonsus's founding of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Nov. 9, 1732), Sarnelli defended his friend against unjust criticism and in June of that year joined him in Salerno. They gave missions together along the coast of Amalfi until Sarnelli's health failed. In April 1736, he officially entered the Redemptorists in Naples. Once his health improved he began a successful written crusade in defense of young girls in danger, again undertook missions, and promoted meditation in common among the laity until his precarious health forced him into retirement in April 1744.
Sarnelli composed 30 major works on various legal, pedagogical, and theological topics, including Il Mondo santificato, 2 v. (Naples 1738); Il Mondo riformato (Naples 1739); Le gloriee grandezze della divina Madre (Naples 1739); Il Cristiano santificato (Naples 1739); L'Anima illuminata, 3 v. (Naples 1740); L'Anima desolata (Naples 1740); Discrezione degli spiriti (Naples 1741); L'Ecclesiastico santificato (Naples 1741). In his spiritual works he insists that meditation is essential for perseverance and within reach of all Christians. His writings in this area occasioned Benedict XIV's granting an indulgence for meditation (Dec. 16, 1746).
Sarnelli died at age 42 in the presence of his friend St. Alphonsus Ligouri, who reported that Sarnelli's body exuded the odor of sanctity that "remained in the room long after his interment." An urn containing his relics can be found in the Redemptorist church at Ciorani, S. Antonio a Tarsia. Sarnelli was beatified, May 12, 1996, by Pope John Paul II.
Feast: June 30 (Redemptorists).
Bibliography: Riproduzione di tutte le opere, 14 v. (Naples 1848–55). a. m. de' liguori, Compendio della vita del servo di Dio G. M. S. (Naples 1752). Neapolit. beatificationis et canonizationisp. J. M. S. positio (Rome 1889). Acta Apostolicae Sedis, no.12 (1996): 551–53. L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, no. 11 (1996): 1–2. r. giovine, Vita del gran servo di Dio p. G. M. S. (Naples 1858). f. dumortier, Le vénérable serviteur de Dieu, le p. J. M. S. (Paris 1886). m. de meulemeester, Bibliographie générale des écrivains rédemptoristes, v. 2 (Löwen 1935), 373–377; v. 3 (Löwen 1939), 379. g. sparano, Memorie istoriche per illustrare… gli atti della Congregazione delle Apostoliche Missioni (Naples 1768), 2:345ff. h. f.g. swanston, Saint Alphonsus and His Brothers: A Study of the Lives and Works of Seven Redemptorists (Liguori, Missouri 2000).
[k. i. rabenstein]