The St. Gabriel Possenti Society commemorates the feast day of St. Gabriel Possenti on February 27, Society chairman John M. Snyder noted.
In 1860, St. Gabriel Possenti’s handgun marksmanship enabled him to rescue the villagers of Isola del Gran Sasso, Italy from a marauding gang of about 20 renegade soldiers.
After freeing a young woman from would-be rapists, St. Gabriel Possenti confronted the onrushing brigands waving revolvers. At that moment, Possenti fired at a lizard that happened to be running across the road and dispatched it with one shot. Thus having demonstrated his excellent handgun marksmanship, he was able to take command of the situation and ran the now-frightened brigands out of town.
St. Gabriel Possenti performed this feat of courage without causing physical harm to a single human being.
St. Gabriel Possenti died in 1862. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.
The St. Gabriel Possenti Society seeks official Vatican designation of St. Gabriel Possenti as Patron of Handgunners.
Snyder noted that certain individuals dispute the historicity of the shooting and rescue incident. He stated that, “in response to lizard incident challenges, let me point out that Rev. Godfrey Poage, C.P., who wrote about the incident was a Passionist, the same religious order as St. Gabriel Possenti.”
Snyder further noted that, “Fr. Poage was the author of ‘Son of the Passion, The Story of Gabriel Francis Possenti.’ It was published in 1962 by the Bruce Publishing Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and republished in 1977 by the Daughters of St. Paul. The book carried the nihil obstat of Frederick Sucher, C.P., S.T.D., Censor for the Congregation of the Passion, the imprimi potest of Walter Kaelin, C.P, Provincial of the Holy Cross Province (of the Passionists), dated February 27, 1962, the nihil obstat of John F. Murphy, S.T.D., Censor librorum, and the imprimatur of Most Reverend William E. Cousins, Archbishop of Milwaukee, dated April 13, 1962.
“The account of the lizard incident, Chapter 7, ‘The Savior of Isola,’ is one of the book’s eight chapters. In the book’s introduction, Fr. Poage explained that, ‘nothing was said that had not been quoted by eyewitnesses, at least in the third person.’”
“When challenged re the accuracy of his report of the lizard incident, Rev. Poage stood by its historicity,” Snyder stated. “Father Poage said that challenges to the accuracy of his writing came from people who didn’t have any evidence to the contrary. Father Poage said this to Mark Pattison of the Catholic News Service on February 10, 1992. The CNS report appeared in The Catholic Sun of Phoenix, Arizona on February 20, 1992. Pattison reported that, ‘Fr. Poage said the episode was witnessed by a ‘lay helper’ at the monastery. The documentation was uncovered during his research in Italy in 1947-48.’
“Fr. Poage, who had been a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, died June 25, 2001. The Passionist Family Circle Newsletter, in its Fall/Winter 2001 issue, stated that he was ‘a man of extraordinary talents and great kindness’ and ‘a trusted servant of God.’”
Snyder stated that, “The Poage account of the lizard incident remained non-controversial for over a quarter of a century. It wasn’t until I began promoting St. Gabriel Possenti as a Patron of Handgunners in the late 1980s that anti-gun bigots began a belated attempt to attack the account of the lizard incident. It seems they are more concerned with being politically correct than historically accurate.”