I woke up on the late side this morning and so I decided to grab my breakfast in the high school cafeteria during first period. As I waited my turn, an older woman slowly walked back and forth behind the counter, serving hungry teenagers, answering their questions, pouring their coffee. She was woefully outnumbered and it was clear the cafeteria was understaffed.
Finally, my turn came, just as two more cafeteria workers joined her behind the counter. As she prepared my eggs and sausage, I noticed a medallion pinned to her bright blue apron. When I asked her, she told me it was St. Gerard. “Is he your patron saint?” “Yes,” she said. “That is beautiful,” I told her.
Pressing further I asked: “Why is he your patron saint?”
“When I was a child I was sick and my mother gave this to me,” she answered, pouring my coffee and putting my breakfast on a tray. After I paid her, she added “He is the patron saint of mothers, too.”
I never knew anything about the short, often sad life of Saint Gerard Majella until today. “Saint Gerard Majella is known as a Thaumaturge, a Saint who works miracles not just occasionally, but as a matter of course.” Born 50 miles south of Naples during the 18th century, he became a lay Redemptorist brother at age 23. He was falsely accused by a pregnant woman of being the father of her child. He refused to defend himself. Later, the woman admitted she had lied. St. Gerard died of tuberculosis at age 29.
As I sat at a cafeteria table eating my breakfast, I contemplated how the patient woman behind the counter has spent years asking St. Gerard to pray for her. In her role as a cafeteria worker and in mine as a teacher, we both share a kind of maternal responsibility for the dozens of children in front of us each day. I hope to God I can learn to bear the challenge as calmly as she does.