Sacred Heart Church, Manville NJ
The Redemptorists-Sacred Heart Church in Manville, NJ
Blessed Gennaro Sarnelli (1702-1744)

Gennaro Maria Sarnelli, the son of the baron of Ciorani, was born in Naples on September 12, 1702. At the age of 14, he decided to become a Jesuit, but his father dissuaded him because of his youth. So he began the study of law and received a doctorate in ecclesiastical and civil law in 1722. He distinguished himself in the courts. He enrolled in a religious confraternity for members of the legal and medical professions. Among the rules of this association there was the practice of visiting the terminally The Redemptorists-Sacred Heart Church in Manville, NJsick 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 seminarian and in the following year decided to join a society of missionary preachers, the Congregation of the Apostolic Missions.

During these years, he was known for his care of the poor, not only in the hospital, but also by devoting himself to catechizing and helping young children forced into child labor. He visited the elderly in a nursing home and the galley slaves in the hospital at the docks. During these years he developed a friendship with St. Alphonsus Liguori and joined his apostolate of organizing spiritual communities led by lay people in the poor sections of Naples. In July 1732 he was ordained a priest.

Following his ordination he was assigned as director of religious instruction in a parish in one of the poorer quarters. There he became aware of the rampant evil of forcing young girls into a life of prostitution. He decided to direct all his energy against the conditions that made this prostitution an economic necessity. In the same period he tenaciously defended St. Alphonsus against unjust criticism after he had founded the missionary Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer outside Naples on November 9, 1732. In June of the same year, Gennaro went to help his friend during a mission and decided to become a Redemptorist, while continuing to be a member of the Apostolic Missions.

After his entrance into the Congregation in April 1736, he committed himself unsparingly to parish missions and to writing and lobbying in defense of "young girls in danger." He also wrote on the spiritual life and worked so hard 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. In 1741 he planned and took part with St. Alphonsus in a vast preaching program in the environs of Naples led by Cardinal Spinelli, the Archbishop, and eventually took over leadership of the project. Despite his poor health, he continued the project until the end of April 1744, when he was forced to retire to Naples where he died at the age of 42 on June 30.

Sarnelli has left us thirty works on meditation, mystical theology, spiritual direction, law, pedagogy, and other moral and pastoral themes. By his social action in favor of women he was ahead of his time and is considered one of the pioneers on this subject in Europe in the first half of the eighteenth century. In May 1996, Pope John Paul II beatified him.
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