Saints Someday?

I was talking with Brian Patrick again this morning, on his Son Rise morning show on Sacred Heart Radio.  We’re chatting on the first Tuesday of every month on the topic of up-and-coming sainthood causes — who’s on the road to sainthood, why, and how it’s going, that kind of thing.  Always an interesting topic. 

This morning, Brian and I talked about:

Narcisa de Jesus Martillo Moran (1832-1869), whose sainthood is about to become reality.  She will become one of the Church’s newest saints in just a few days, when she is canonized by Pope Benedict XVI this Sunday, October 12 (alongside three other new saints: Sr. Alphonsa Muttathupadathu, Verena Butler, and Gaetano Errico).  But for many people, especially in her native Ecuador, this only confirms what they already knew. 

Blessed Narcisa has long been venerated there, especially at her tomb, which is a popular pilgrimage site.  Especially notable is her apparent incorruptibility — her remains are still in remarkably good condition and visible to pilgrims daily. 

After the death of Narcisa’s parents when she was a child, she worked as a seamstress to support her siblings.  She lived her entire life as a single laywoman, conserating her virginity to Christ and devoting many hours to prayer.  She also engaged in a lot of the severe mortifications that were, at the time, seen as an admirable aspect of an intense Catholic spirituality.  Toward the end of her life, she moved to Lima, Peru, where she worked in a Dominican convent, and that’s where she died, of an illness (which I’ve yet to see identified), at the age of 37. 

Note: Vatican Television will be airing the canonizations on October 10 at 10:00 am Rome time, which is 4:00 am Eastern Time in the USA.  You should be able to watch it via the internet here.  It will also be aired live on EWTN.

Cardinal Terrence Cooke (1921-1983), who served as Archbishop of New York from 1968 (his appointment came, the New York Times reported at the time, as “a total surprise”) until his death in 1983.  Though he was an excellent adminstrator throughout his priestly career, which suited him in many important ways for one of the most prominent pastoral leadership positions in America, if not the entire Church, he is more remembered today for his personal holiness, which was expressed mainly through his wisdom, prudence, gentleness, defense of the sacredness of life, and his prayer life.  There’s a nice summary of his life and ministry here.

His cause for canonization was opened in the late 1980’s, with Fr. Benedict Groeschel heading the effort, and in 1992, the Vatican granted him the title “Servant of God”.

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Cardinal Cooke’s death, which came after a long, serene, and courageous battle with leukemia for several years. Cardinal Egan, present archbishop of New York, presided at a special Mass marking the occasion at St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 11:30 am yesterday.

To me, Cardinal Cooke’s holiness is a concrete reminder that sanctity does not come in one particular form — there is no one particular personality suited to it.  That’s because he was succeeded by a man who was also uniquely holy, and who may also one day be officially recognized as a saint: Cardinal John O’Connor.  But their personalities and leadership styles could not have been more different.  Cooke was quiet, humble, avoided the spotlight and hated conflict.  O’Connor, on the other hand, was gregarious, funny, comfortable in front of cameras, and sometimes seemed to think conflict could be good thing, appeared at moments even to welcome it.  Two very different men, two very different personalities and styles, two saints.  (By the way, on his recent visit to New York City, speaking at a Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Pope Benedict mentioned both of them by name, pointing to “the heroic witness to the Gospel of life borne by the late Cardinals Cooke and O’Connor.”  No question, they deserved the nod.) 

Audrey Santo (1983-2007) is another young woman whom some already consider a saint, and she’s an American.  Her story is a controversial one — it includes bleeding hosts, oil seeping from images, and even claims of telekenisis (!).     She died at the age of 24 in 2007, after a childhood of severe disability and some popular devotion.  I can’t claim to be able to make any kind of helpful judgment about this, except to say that it’s certainly out of the ordinary.  Make of this what you will; skeptics abound.  She is by no means a saint yet, or even on a clear path to canonization.

The news is that Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester (Santo’s home diocese) has officially recognized a group called the Little Audrey Santo Foundation as a “private association of the faithful.”  This group will be pursuing Santo’s cause for canonization.

I’m not a canon lawyer, but in my opinion, this is not necessarily a strong indicator of the cause’s stong chances of success.  Ordinarily, it’s the diocese in which the person lived (or the order of which he was a part) that officially backs the cause.  If the Little Audrey Santo Foundation is going to be the official supporters of this cause, that means her diocese is not.   Note, too, that this is not the official opening of the cause.  It is, rather, the official recognition of a private organization who wants to convince the diocese and/or the Vatican (my understanding is that the diocese must agree to it first, before the Vatican even considers it) to open the cause. 

Two other notes…

During our chat last month, we’d mentioned the fact that the exhumation of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s remains was eminent.  His tomb was opened last Thursday, October 2, but the surprise was that there wasn’t much to exhume.  The presumption that Newman has been buried in a lead-lined coffin was mistaken, it was only wooden, and so, while they did find “brass, wooden, and cloth artefacts,” there were “no remains.”

Finally, we mentioned this morning another American, Thomas Vander Woude, who died just a month ago tomorrow.  After a life of great faith and love, particularly in his roles as husband and father, Vander Woude died while trying to save his son from drowning in a septic tank.  The story was everywhere on the Catholic blogosphere for a while, and was even covered by the Washington Post.  Many people, including one bishop, spoke of Vander Woude’s obvious “saintliness,” and talked of praying to him as well as for him immediately following his death.  His funeral (presided by his son the priest, and concelebrated by Bishop Paul Loverde and 70 other priests) was standing-room-only in the 1200 seat parish where it was held.

A future American saint in the making?   Personally, I hope so.  We American men could use lessons in fatherhood such as that.


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