Photograph: Standing in front of the boarded-over broken window of their front door, Lindsey Levasseur, left, and Trevor Whitney tell the story of an early morning home invasion Wednesday at their apartment in Richmond, Maine. Trevor works as an armed security officer for an armored truck service company and served with the U.S. Marines in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“A Maine resident last week used a Sig Sauer .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun to protect life and limb in an incident reflecting the 1860 use of percussion revolvers by St. Gabriel Possenti in Italy to protect villagers from marauding renegades,” John M. Snyder, chairman of the St. Gabriel Possenti Society and advisory board member of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, noted today.
“Citizens use handguns defensively two to four million times a year in the United States, according to scholarly estimates,” Snyder added, who served as an editor with the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“As St. Gabriel Possenti and others have so clearly demonstrated in recent centuries,” Snyder stated, “people can and do use handguns to save lives and protect the innocent. Let the holy life of St. Gabriel Possenti be an example to all who use handguns for defense of the innocent and for other worthy purposes. Let Vatican pontificators designate St. Gabriel Possenti officially the Patron of Handgunners.”
In the recent Richmond, Maine incident, Trevor Whitney, 28, shot Shad Hembree, 48, as Hembree threatened Whitney and Whitney’s girlfriend, Lindsay Levasseur, 23, in a home invasion, according to Richmond Police Chief Scott MacMaster.
Whitney, who carries his handgun in connection with his security officer position with the Loomis Armored Truck Company. Whitney also served with the U.S. Marine Corps 2007-2013, completing combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When Hembree broke into the apartment, Whitney tried to get him to leave. Hembree persisted. Whitney said he first aimed at Hembree’s head, but did not want to kill Hembree. He then shot him in the shoulder. Whitney said, “I was aiming at his face, and I just really didn’t want to take his life – I just wanted to get him away from the situation…I’m glad I was right there, right next to my pistol to defend myself, because I don’t know what would have happened.”
Police Chief MacMaster said, “It was clearly a situation of self-defense,” the Kennebec Journal reported on March 8.
A century and a half earlier, in 1860, St. Gabriel Possenti used handguns to save villagers in Isola del Gran Sasso, Italy from a gang of marauders.
“The action of the Maine Marine veteran mirrors the action of St. Gabriel Possenti,” Snyder said. “Both actions show that people can and do use handguns to save lives.”
Snyder stated, “Last month, the international St. Gabriel Possenti Society, Inc. noted the February 27 feast day of St. Gabriel Possenti, a Catholic saint who used handguns to save the innocent from the wicked. The interdenominational Society commemorates its 29th anniversary this year.”
“The life of St. Gabriel Possenti shows that a holy person can use firearms to promote peace and justice,” Snyder commented. “Firearms possession and use are compatible with sanctity. Sometimes people need guns to defend life, truth and freedom. Catholic Church leaders and others should realize this. St. Gabriel Possenti, pray for us.”
In 1860, St. Gabriel Possenti rescued the villagers of Isola del Gran Sasso, Italy from a marauding gang of about 20 renegade soldiers with an outstanding display of handgun marksmanship.
St. Gabriel Possenti freed a young woman from would-be rapists by taking the rapists’ revolvers. He then confronted the onrushing brigands, pointing the revolvers at them. Possenti fired at a lizard that happened to be running across the road. He killed it with one shot. Having demonstrated his excellent handgun marksmanship, St. Gabriel Possenti took 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 devoted to Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother. Pope Benedict XV canonized him in 1920.
Snyder recalled that some dispute the historicity of the shooting and rescue incident. He stated that, “in response to lizard incident challenges, let me point out that the late 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, Fr. 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. To the best of my knowledge, it was not disputed or questioned. It was not until I began promoting St. Gabriel Possenti as a Patron of Handgunners in the late 1980s that there began a belated attempt to attack the account of the lizard incident.
“It appears there is such bigotry in some quarters against the very idea of a Catholic saint using force and handguns to defeat evil that there is a preference for anti-gun political correctness over historical accuracy.”
The St. Gabriel Possenti Society seeks official Vatican recognition of St. Gabriel Possenti as Patron of Handgunners. In a December 18, 2015 posting of its “Does Catholic Faith Dictate a Position on Gun Control?’ article, the National Catholic Register referred to St. Gabriel Possenti as “the patron saint of handgunners.”