Maria Sarnelli, the son of the Baron of Ciorani,
was born in Naples on September 12, 1702.
At the age of 14 following the beatification of
Francis Regis he decided to become a Jesuit. Having
been dissuaded by his father because of his youth
he began the study of jurisprudence and took his
Doctorate in ecclesiastical and civil law in 1722.
He distinguished himself at the Bar and was enrolled
in the Congregation of the Knights of the Legal
and Medical Professions directed by the Pious
Workers at St. Nicholas of Toledo. Among the rules
of this Association there was the obligation of
visiting the sick in the Hospital of the Incurables.
It was here he heard the call of the Lord to become
In September 1728 he became a seminarist and was
incardinated by Cardinal Pignatelli as a cleric
in the parish of St. Anne di Palazzo. On June
4, 1729 in order to study in more peaceful conditions
he became a boarder in the College of the Holy
Family known as the Chinese College, founded by
Matthew Ripa. On April 8 of the following year
he left the Chinese College and on June 5 began
his novitiate in the Congregation of the Apostolic
On May 28 1731 he concluded his novitiate and
on July 8 of the following year he was raised
to the Priesthood. During these years in addition
to his visits to the hospital he devoted himself
to helping young children forced to work and to
teaching them the catechism. He also visited the
old people in the Hospice of St. Gennaro and those
condemned to the galleys who were ill in the hospital
at the docks. These were also the years when he
developed a friendship with St. Alphonsus de Liguori
and his apostolate. Together they devoted themselves
to teaching the catechism to laypeople by organizing
the Evening Chapels.
Following his ordination he was assigned by Cardinal
Pignatelli as Director of Religious Instruction
in the parish of Sts. Francis and Matthew in the
Spanish quarter. Having become aware of the rampant
corruption of young girls he decided to direct
all his energy against prostitution. In the same
period (1733) he tenaciously defended St. Alphonsus
against unjust criticism after he had founded
the missionary Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
in Scala (SA) on November 9 1732. In June of the
same year having gone to Scala to help his friend
during the mission at Ravello, he decided to become
a Redemptorist while at the same time continuing
to be a member of the Apostolic Missions. From
his entrance into the Congregation in April 1736
he committed himself unsparingly to parish missions
and to writing in defense of "young girls in danger".
He also wrote on the spiritual life and worked
so hard that 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 by publishing
"Il mondo santificato". He also campaigned against
blasphemy in another book. In 1741 he planned
and took part with St. Alphonsus in the great
missions preached in the hamlets outside Naples
in preparation for the canonical visitation of
Cardinal Spinelli. Despite the permanently insecure
state of his health he continued to preach until
the end of April 1744 when by now extremely ill
he returned to Naples where he died on June 30
at the age of 42. His body lies at rest in Ciorani,
the first Redemptorist Church.
Gennaro Maria Sarnelli has left us 30 works which
treat of meditation, mystical theology, spiritual
direction, law, pedagogy, moral and pastoral themes.
By his social action in favour of women he is
considered one of the authors who treated this
subject most fully in the Europe of the first
half of the eighteenth century.
On May 12 1996, Pope John Paul II beatified him
in St. Peter's Square.