By Gerry Moran
My name is Gerry – with a G, not Jerry with a J – and, as many of you Gerrys with a G know we are called after Saint Gerard Majella, the patron saint of safe births. I perfectly understand why I, the youngest of a family of five, was christened Gerard. My mother was all of 41 when she had me back in the Fifties when infant deaths were by no means uncommon. Hence her dedication to Saint Gerard Majella.
I like being called after Gerard Majella, a Redemptorist Lay Brother, who was born in Muro in Italy in 1726. His father, a tailor, died when he was 12 and, because he grew up in poverty, he frequently gave away his earnings, even his own food, to the needy. One particular miracle explains how Majella became known as the patron of expectant mothers and safe births.
Not long before his death, in his 30th year, the saintly lay brother visited a family and accidentally left his handkerchief behind. After he left the house the daughter found the handkerchief and ran after Gerard to return it to him. “Keep it,: he said. “You may need it someday.”
Years later the daughter, now a married woman, was on the verge of dying in childbirth; she remembered the words of the saintly Gerard Majella and asked for the handkerchief to be brought to her. The pain disappeared and she gave birth to a healthy child. Word of the miracle spread quickly and the mothers of Italy took Gerard to their hearts (as did my mother) and made him the Saint of Expectant Mothers and Happy Childbirths.
My mother, a very religious woman, had many favourite saints, another of whom was Saint Martin de Porres, a Dominican priest born in Lima, in Peru in 1579, after whom I received my Confirmation name. Or almost did. The Sacrament of Confirmation is (or used to be) a major milestone in the lives of many young Catholics.
For me, however, it was a major embarrassment. It all started in the Black Abbey, at the shrine to Blessed Martin de Porres as he was back then. My mother, a daily mass-goer, would visit various shrines after Mass, lighting a candle here and a candle there while praying for her various intentions.(and she had a lot of intentions back in the challenging 1950s) A shrine she visited regularly was the one to Blessed Martin de Porres. How my mother became so devoted to Martin de Porres I do not know but the upshot of it all was that Blessed Martin de Porres became a major religious figurehead in our household. So major, in fact, that when it came to choosing my Confirmation name, my mother had no hesitation in calling me Martin.
Now the first criterion for choosing a Confirmation name is that it should be the name of a recognised Catholic Saint. Martin de Porres, I’m afraid, was not as recognised as my mother thought. Furthermore he had yet to be canonised and was only Blessed at the time. My mother, however, was not deterred, after all the Dominicans held him in high esteem believing that he’d soon be canonised (he was in 1962) and so the name Martin was decided on for my big day.
Come the morning of my Confirmation I dutifully knelt before the bishop who looked long and hard at the little white card on which my Confirmation name was printed. I waited nervously for that little tap on the cheek. It didn’t come. Nothing happened. By now the bishop was whispering to the priest beside him. “Who’s this Martin?” I could hear the bishop ask of the priest as my face grew redder and redder. Suddenly it occurred to me that I might not be confirmed at all! I was absolutely embarrassed. Eventually the bishop turned to me – tapped me on the cheek and said: “I think we’ll call you Patrick instead.”
And Patrick I am. Except that other powerful religious figure in my life, my mother, decided to add on Martin as well. And so it came to pass that I have, not one, but two Confirmation names: Patrick, Martin. And I have the bishop, my mother and Saint Martin de Porres to thank for it. As for Peter, that’s after Saint Peter, the First Pope. For sure, the bishop heard of him!