Today is the feast of St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, patron saint of youth.
Gun nuts celebrate his feast day because he has been unofficially promoted as a patron of 'hand-gunners and marksmen'. To my knowledge this has not been approved either by the Congregation of Saints or the Passionists.
Born in Assisi, he was named after the town's patron, Francesco. In his teens, he became the center of attention amongst friends on account of his vivacious spirit - very much like his namesake, St. Francis. Frequenting parties, admired for his sense of fashion and dancing ability ... (what?) ... he was extremely popular. Yet in the midst of much temptation, he preserved a sense of devotion and remained singularly chaste. After completion of his studies, young Francesco revealed his intention to enter the Passionists, surprising his family, while leaving his friends dumbfounded.
Twice before his final decision to enter religious life, the young saint, who also suffered from poor health, promised Our Lady he would devote the rest of his life to God if she obtained his cure. Regaining his health, he twice forgot his promise. While attending a procession one day, he looked upon a banner bearing an image of Our Lady, the Madonna's eyes looked at him and he heard these words; "Keep your promise."
The saint wasted no time and entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Passion, taking the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. His life as a cleric was as ordinary as that of St. Therese of Lisieux, and like her, he died of consumption at the age of 24. He is truly another saint of the "little way".
St. Gabriel is also very popular in this country with Catholic gun nuts, since, as I mentioned, gun-nuts have proclaimed him to be the patron saint of hand-gunners. This is due to the fact, consistently disputed by hagiographers, that he supposedly once drove a group of mercenaries from the town his monastery was located, Isola, Italy. As the legend goes, St. Gabriel came to the defense of a young woman who was going to be sexually assaulted. Grabbing the soldier's gun, he held him at bay, shooting a lizard with one shot, the saint demonstrated his skilled marksmanship before the mockery of the insurgents. Stunned, the soldier let the girl go, while the other mercenaries were quickly persuaded to end the looting and extinguish the fires they had set. Afterwards, St. Gabriel drove them out of town, employing the guns he had confiscated from the soldiers. The townsfolk therefore hailed him as a hero... so the story goes.
The problem, according to Catholic authorities: Possenti never shot that lizard. He wasn’t much of a marksman at all. In fact, the entire incident never even happened. Officially, Possenti is St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother and, as designated by Pope Benedict XV, the patron saint of Catholic youth. According to the Rev. Arthur Carrillo, director of the Passionists’ Office of Mission Effectiveness [...] “We’re entirely opposed to it,” says Carrillo, who works for Possenti’s order. “The reluctance we have to see this go forward is because it’s taking a political agenda and leveraging religious devotion to serve that purpose.”
“As far as we can tell, it’s anecdotal,” Carrillo says of the Isola gunfight. “It appears in a particular biography written about 25 to 30 years ago, and it is not likely to be based in historical fact.” (A Passionist colleague told the Chicago Tribune in 1987 that the account of Posseti’s reptile rampage was “highly imaginative” and noted that no other biography of the saint referenced any such incident.) - Source
At the canonization of Saint Gabriel,
Pope Benedict XV declared him a patron saint of Catholic youth,
of students, and of those studying for the priesthood.