Archive for April, 2009

Cardinal Newman’s Miracle

April 30, 2009

From the Telegraph:

Cardinal John Newman poised for beatification after ruling

A panel of theological consultors agreed unanimously that the inexplicable healing of an American man who was “bent double” by a severe spinal disorder came as a result of praying to Newman for a miracle, according to sources. Their decision was the final hurdle before Pope Benedict XVI can declare him “Blessed”.

The Pope, who is known to be keen to make Newman a saint and who asks about the progress of his cause on a regular basis, was informed of the panel’s decision straight away.

(Read on.)

UPDATE: More on the American man, a deacon, who is the subject of the miracle, here.  A clip:

One night, watching television to escape his troubles, Sullivan happened on a show about Cardinal John Henry Newman. Born in London in 1801 and widely admired as a funny, brilliant thinker and writer on religion, Newman converted to Catholicism in his 40s after clashing with leaders of the Church of England over what he saw as a shift away from the church’s roots.

The television show described the current movement, based in England, supporting the cardinal’s beatification and appealed to viewers for news of miraculous happenings that might help make the case. Sullivan wrote down the address. And that night he asked Newman for help.

“I said, ‘Please, Cardinal Newman, help me so I can go back to classes and be ordained,’ ” Sullivan said. “The next morning I woke up, and there was no pain.”


St. Nuno Alvares Pereira: Hero of Portugal’s Independence

April 27, 2009

e-146-a_0001_1_p24-c-r0072The new saint that has gotten the most “press” among the group of five is Nuno de Santa Maria Álvares Pereira (1360-1431), because he played a significant role in the history of Portugal and is a “national hero” there.  

I don’t want to simply repeat what can already be found here, here, and here, for example, so for St. Nuno, just some fundamental “talking points”:

— He was the “illegitimate” son of a Portugese Hospitaller knight, whom I am assuming must also have been a monk, because the Vatican bio page identified his father with the title “Brother” and says he was a prior.

— Raised in an atmosphere of privilege, he was married at age 17 and had 3 children.

— As commander of the armies of Portugal, he was played a key role in the struggle for Portugese independence from Castille (particularly, the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385). 

— His wife died when he was 27, and he went on to spend most of his time in prayer and doing works of charity.

— He entered a Carmelite monastery in 1423 (at age 63 — another late vocation!), taking the name Brother Nuno of St. Mary.

— “Pope Pius XII was on the verge of canonizing him by decree in 1940, but was dissuaded by Salazar (the leader of Portugal at the time). Blessed Nuno’s cause then remained at a stalemate. ”  (source)

— The Blessed Nuno Society is an American organization dedicated to the careof orphaned and homeless children, which puts itself under his patronage because of his love for poor children. 

— Feast day is November 1November 6April 1?  (Help, anyone?)

St. Caterina Volpicelli: At the Intersection of Holiness

April 26, 2009

I’ve done a lot of reading and writing about saints and other holy people.  And one of the details I’m often pleased to find in the stories of figures who have been beatified or canonized by the Church is a connection with another saint or blessed.  Very often, in other words, saints attract saints to themselves.  They inspire, teach, encourage, and learn from one another.  This is evident in the story of St. Caterina Volpicelli (1839-1894), whose life intersects with not one but two other people already beatified by the Church.

Caterina was raised in Naples, Italy.  As a young teen being raised in an upper-middle class family, she through herself int200px-beata_caterina_volpicellio the pursuit of social refinement.  Her greatest thrill was attending plays, ballets, and dances, more for their social than their artistic value.   Her encounter at age 15 with another figure whose holiness has been recognizedby the Church, Blessed Ludovico of Casoria, made a huge impression on her and changed the course of her life. 

He taught her about the love of Christ expressed through the image of his Sacred Heart, and she begun to practive devotion to the Sacred Heart intensely.  Under Fr. Ludovico’s influence, she also became a third order Franciscan (someone who lives the spirit of St. Francis as a layperson).  During this time, Caterina often spent many hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

Five years later, Caterina joined a religious order, the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament.  When she had to leave the convent not long after because of her poor health, her spiritual director got her involved in the Apostleship of Prayer, an apostolate for laypeople based in France.  She gathered other laypeople in her home with her to pray, and also to raise money to help with the financial needs of poor parishes.  One of those who came to her house was Blessed Bartolo Longo, upon whom she had a profound affect. (Blessed Bartolo was featured by Pope John Paul II in his 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.)

In 1874, she founded a new religious community, the Servant of the Sacred Heart.  She said their purpose was “to revive love for Jesus Christ in hearts, in families, and in society.” The order took on the care of orphans and cholera victims.  She also was responsible for the building of a major shrine to the Sacred Heart in Naples. 

I should note that the Italian Wikipedia page for her makes some reference to the distrust and even hostility with which she was regarded by some in the Church hierarchy because of “the originality, the novelty of the form her institute took,” but it doesn’t seem to specify, and I could find any more about it elsewhere — though it is hinted at in the quotation from Pope John Paul II from his homily at her beatification Mass, posted here, which says she developed “new forms of consecrated life.” 

Today, “the Volpicelli Sisters” continue their ministry in Naples, and also live and minister in Brazil, Panama, and Indonesia.  Their website is here.

St. Caterina Volpicelli’s feast day is December 28.

St. Geltrude Comensoli: Making Room for God in Modern Life

April 25, 2009

geltrude_comensoli_600x450I haven’t seen anything that suggests that Geltrude Comensoli (1847-1903) knew or was personally familiar with Don Tadini, but it would not be surprising to find that they at least knew about each other’s work during their lives.  That’s because Comensoli was also from the Brescia region of Italy, doing very similar work at almost exactly the same time.  Tadini was only a year older than Comensoli.  As I noted below, he was very concerned about the situation of factory workers and  the impact of the Industrial Revolution on their lives, especially women, and he started an order in 1900 dedicated to ministering to them. 

Geltrude Comensoli had been a very pious kid, with a strong devotion to the Eucharist.  She joined a convent when she was 15 years old, only to have to leave soon afterwards because of illness.  She became a domestic servant to help support her family, all the while maintaining a very strong prayer life and involving herself in the religious education of the children in her parish. 

When she was 33 years old, she found herself in Rome, traveling with wealthy family for whom she worked as a servant, was present for an audience with Pope Leo XIII, and was actually able to speak to him.  She told the Pope that she wanted to start a religious community devoted to Eucharistic adoration.  Pope Leo suggested she consider that she include the education of young women who worked in factories as part of her community’s mission.  Her new order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (known as the Sacramentine Sisters), was born two years later. 

(If find this very interesting because a brief meeting with Pope Leo XIII changed the direction of the American St. Katherine Drexel’s life in a very similiar way.   Not only that, but Drexel chose the very same name for her own  new order she was founding in the United States at almost exactly the same time.  And careful — there’s also an unrelated order, founded in France much earlier, known as the Sacramentine Nuns that’s present in the United States.) 

Geltrude’s order worked hard to help people adjust to the newly industrialized society in a way that included making time for prayer, for God, in their lives.  In a Zenit news article, the postulator of the cause said, “The sisters committed themselves to seeing that careers would not be a risk to the salvation of the soul and would not lead to the abandonment and detriment of those supernatural values that belonged to the Christian and social fabric of Italy at that time.”

She died February 18, 1903. 

There’s a very interesting — even beautiful — Zenit article reporting the miracle played an important role in the cause of Mother Geltrude. 

The Sacramentine Sisters are present today in various countries of Europe, Africa, and South America.  Here’s the website of a boarding school in Turin, Italy, named after her and run by her sisters.

St. Bernardo Tolomei: A Late Vocation

April 25, 2009

 The case of Bernardo Tolomei (1272-1348)  is a good example of how slowly the Church’s wheels can sometimes move.  He died 660 years ago, and was beatified (one step before canonization) 375 years ago!

Bernardo grew up in Siena, Italy, before the time of that city’s most famous resident.  (In fact, at tbernard_tolomei-2850fhe time Bernardo died, the future St. Catherine was one year old.)   He wanted to be a monk early in his life, but his father prevented it.  So he went to school and became a lawyer, spent time serving in the army of feudal Germany (he was knighted by King Rudolph I), and also was involved in government.  At some point he was afflicted by blindness.  At age 41, he decided he was finally going to devote the rest of his life to God in prayer.  With two companions, he picked a secluded spot about ten miles outside of Siena and lived a life of silence, manual labor, and prayer.

He and the original two companions founded a monastery and a new order, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and following the rule of St. Benedict.  It was called the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Oliveto (or, the Olivetans).  Bernardo served as its abbot for 27 years. The Olivetans still maintain a beautiful monastery on the same site (website, with exterior photo here, photo of the monastery church here, more photos here).  They support the life of the community by producing wine, liquor, and olive oil, which they sell along with books and religious products in a monastery store.  (Want to support the monastery founded by St. Bernardo Tolomei?  Information on their products, along with an email address and phone number are here.)

In 1348, a plague ravaged Siena, and Bernardo, along with many other monks,  left their monastery to help the victims.  He caught the plague himself while tending to the sick and died of it on August 20 that year.  His body was included in a mass grave of plague victims, which has never been found.

In the United States, the Olivetans are at Holy Trinity Monastery, in St. David, Arizona.  (Looking for a good place to go on retreat?)  The order also has monasteries in Italy, France, England, Brazil, Guatamala, Israel, and South Korea.

St. Bernardo might be a good companion for people who found their “true calling” late in life, after other diversions along the way.

His feast day is August 20.

St. Arcangelo Tadini: A Saint for Working Women

April 24, 2009

Arcangelo Tadini (1846-1912) (yes, his first name was Archangel) was a parish priest in northern Italy.  The Industrial Revolution had begun moving at full swing, transforming a lot about European society, during the mid-1800’s.  Tadini put a lot of energy into helping his people understand the place of work in Christian life.  In particular, he ministered to women who found themselves working in factories (a new situation), often in degrading conditions.  tadini

As part of this ministry, Tadini founded a new religious order in 1900 called the Workers Sisters of the Holy House of Nazareth.  (The name refers to the time Jesus spent as a worker — that is, as a carpenter in Joseph’s carpentry shop.)   Their lives and ministry were remarkable, particularly for that time — the sisters took jobs in factories, working alongside other women, to encourage them and to teach by example that one could be a woman, work, and still live a life of faith and joy. 

(Note the date he founded the order, nine years after the publication of Pope Leo XIII’s blockbuster encyclical on the rights of workers.  In others words, Tadini and his sisters were working hard to implement the Church’s newly developing social teachings in a practical way, in the lives of real people.)

There’s an Italian website dedicated to Don Tadini here

The order he founded — which apparently has sisters today in Italy, Brazil, and Burundi — has a website here.  The site suggests they’re still very devoted to making known the Church’s social teaching.  And they’re obviously a vibrant bunch!  I love that main photo, with the sisters running towards the camera.  And then there’s this photo of the street sign, apparently where one of their houses is located.  The name of the street on the sign is literally “Happiness Lane.”  And someone has posted a hand-written sign below it that says, “It’s true!”

Someone has produced a little celebratory video here.  Not much to it, but I like the quotation from Tadini it features: “Holiness is in our hands.  If we want to posses it, we only have to do one thing: love God!

So thanks to God for this witness of the value of work and the holiness that we can reach in our work lives.  Thanks to for the sisters who are his spiritual daughters even today.  And prayers for them and their ministry. 

Seems like Fr. Tadini might serve as a fine patron to everyone who goes to work every day, and maybe especially for women who work.

His feast day is May 20.

5 new saints!

April 24, 2009

This Sunday the Pope canonizes five new saints! 

In some ways, there’s not a lot of variety in this group.  Four are founders of religious congregations, the other a member of one.  Four are Italian, the fifth Portugese.  Three of them lived at the end of the 19th and/or beginning of the 20th centuries; the other two lived in the Middle Ages.

Three are men, two are women.  They include 1 priest, 2 consecrated brothers (one of whom was previously married), and 2 consecrated sisters.

But something that is indeed common to all of that is that they shared a love of God and his people to a degree that elevated them to the heights of holiness.  All five of them are our elder brothers and sisters in the faith, walking with us as companions on our journey and standing as examples of how ordinary folks (which they were) can indeed live extraordinary lives for God. 

To acquaint you with these wonderful companions and heroes, I’ll be posting brief bios of each one in the next day or two.

Adventures in Interviewing

April 22, 2009

Today I finished up work on an article I’ve been preparing for Our Sunday Visitor, which marks the 800th anniversary of St. Francis receiving approval from the Pope for the new order he had founded. Quite a wonderful moment to give thanks, if you consider the enormous impact that Francis and his followers have made on Christian spirituality, theology, liturgy, charity, and the pursuit of social justice these past eight centuries!giotto20-20dream_of_innocent_iii1

It was in 1209 that a raggedy-looking Francis, accompanied by some less-than-impressive-looking companions, appeared before Pope Innocent III, asking for papal approval. The Pope might not even have received the filthy man, but for the dream he had recently had – the Lateran Basilica (Christendom’s mother church, and then the headquarters of the Pope) tipping dangerously to one side, about to fall, except for a man holding it up firmly against his shoulder. The Pope recognized Francis as the man from his dream, received him, and did approve of his new community.  (The image here is the great artist Giotto’s rendering of the dream.)

But all that, and more, is in the article, which will be appearing in OSV soon enough. I had an interesting time doing the research for the piece.

For one, I was fortunate enough to come upon Dr. Susan Pitchford, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Pitchford is a Third Order Franciscan and the author of Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone. Oh, and she’s Anglican.

No, she’s not an Anglican who decided to elbow her way into a Catholic order. The order itself is Anglican. I had to embarrassedly admit that I had no idea there was an Anglican Franciscan order (or, for that matter, any other orders within the Anglican Church).

Anyway, she was fascinating to talk to, offering far more insightful observations about St. Francis and what it means to take him as a teacher and guide to Christian living than I could ever fit into the 1,400 words assigned to me. I haven’t read her book (yet), but if my conversation with her is any indication, it’s worth a look.

On the other hand, there was my encounter with a Franciscan priest whose anonymity I’ll protect. Looking for a good resource, I was perusing the homepage of one of the prominent Franciscan provinces here in the United States. And on their list of contacts, he was identified as the Director of Communications. The guy whose job description includes talking to the press about Franciscan stuff.  Just the type of person I needed.

I dialed his office.

He answered: “Yeah?”

Had I dialed wrong, I wondered. “Um … is this Father [Name]?”

“Oh, yes.” Caught off guard. “That’s me.”

“Oh good.” I introduced myself and said I was preparing an article for OSV on the 800th anniversary of Francis founding the order.

“Okay, hold on juuuuuuust one second.” Pause. “Alright. Let me just close this up.” Pause.  “Favorites. Click that. Close that.” More pause, then more pause.

“Father, if there’s a better time I could call—“

“Oh, no no! What can I do for you?”

I told him again that I was preparing an article on the 800th anniversary of Francis founding the order.

“Oh, sure. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t there. But I can give you the names of a couple of guys who were.”

Wow!  He really is good at communications!  Actually, he obviously thought I was talking about the big meeting in Assisi and Rome last week.

“Um, no, Father—“

“I couldn’t make it.”

“No, Father, I’m talking about the founding of the order. Eight hundred years ago.”

“Oh! I see. Well, all of the information is available on the website.” He gave me the web address.

“Well, actually Father, I’m familiar with the history. I was hoping to get a few helpful insights about the importance and meaning of it all.”  (Quotes!  I needed interesting quotes for the article!  You quote a person, not a website.  And the Director of Communications should “get” that!)

“Oh, okay.”

“Could I ask you a few questions?”


“Great.” I usually start off with an easy one, get them warmed up. “Well, there was that moment when Francis was sitting in the church of San Damiano, and the crucifix spoke to him, ‘Rebuild my church.’ Could you tell me a little bit about the significance of that for Francis?”

“Um.” Big pause. “I’ll tell you what. I’m not really good at giving information off the cuff. Would you mind if you give me some time to think about this, and then I’ll call you back?”

“Oh, sure, Father, absolutely.” He asked for my number, and I gave it. Of the list of questions I actually had in front of me, I chose two other simple ones (obviously I couldn’t read the list out so he could think about them all) and mentioned them.

“Sure. I’ll call you right back. I promise.”

I never heard from him again. The Director of, you know, Communications.

Fortunately, I ended up getting in contact with Fr. Dominic Monti – through Jocelyn Thomas, the very helpful and professional Director of Communications of the Holy Name Province. Fr. Dominic is the author of the recent book Francis and His Brothers: A Popular History of the Franciscan Friars. Despite the fact that Fr. Dominic was out of town and in meetings all day, Ms. Thomas put me in touch with him and he cheerfully spoke to me for twenty minutes while waiting for a train at the end of a long day. He offered some very important information that I hadn’t yet come across.

I truly did enjoy preparing the article. Many thanks to Dr. Pitchford, Ms. Thomas, Fr. Dominic, and that other guy, the Director of, you know, Communications.

God’s grace at work

April 7, 2009

After a couple of months haitus, I was able to get back into my regular talks with Brian Patrick, on Sacred Heart Radio’s Son Rise Morning Show this morning.  The topic of our monthly visit is ongoing causes of people who may one day be recognized as saints by the Catholic Church.

The biggest deal in this department these days is Pope John Paul II.  The fourth anniversary of his death last Thursdaywas marked by much speculation about the possibility of this great Pope’s beatification one year from now.  And it wasn’t just anyone who was speculating.  Pope Benedict XVI, who marked the anniversary with a special Mass at the Vatican, said he is praying for John Paul’s beatification (which, let’s face it, is sort of like my wife saying she hopes we’ll be having tortellini for dinner some time this week, as she sits making our grocery list). 

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwicz, once Pope John Paul’s personal secretary of many decades and now the Archbishop of Krakow, did not hesitate to talk about the possibility publicly — or to talk about the reported miracle that happened at the Pope’s tomb last week!  (And that wasn’t the only JP2-related healing in the news.  Thanks to Sacred Heart’s Matt Swain for pointing this one out to me.)

Brian and I also talked about the opening of a new cause for beatification/canonization that happened in Spain recently.  Rebecca Rocamora Naadal died only 13 years ago, in 1996, at the age of 20.  She didn’t die for her faith or work any dramatic miracles during her life — she simply lived out her faith vibrantly, even heroically, and even when doing it was hard.  Rebecca had survived a brain tumor during her childhood, reportedly through the intercession of Mary.  But her teen years were normal and full of life and beauty.  She led her parish youth group and was involved in preparing kids for the first Communions.  When she was 20, she was diagnosed with cancer again, and this time it took her quickly.  It was her faith and fortitude in this situation which really gave testimony to her sanctity. 

Her fame has spread quickly in the few years since her death.  Announcing the opening of her cause last month was a major event in the diocese. 

Finally, we discussed the new list of up-and-comings just released by the Vatican a few days ago.  One approved miracle was attributed to the intercession of the Italian Giuseppina de Micheli (known in religious life as Sr. Maria Pierina).  That means her next step is beatification.  Giuseppina is known in Italy for fostering devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus.  She died in 1945.

In addition to that, the Vatican listed ten people whom the Pope had formally recognized as having led lives of heroic virtue.  Particularly notable among them is Sr. Irma Dulce, a Brazilian sister who died only 17 years ago.  Her Wikipedia entry reports that she is one of the most admired women in the history of Brazil today, and that she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, because of her care for the poor, before her death. 

The list also includes a lay Italian man, Giacomo Gaglioni, and a lay French woman, Benoite Rencurel, who reportedly experienced apparitions of Mary for half a century.

So much evidence of the work of the Spirit, the work of grace, in the Church!  Thanks be to God.

More Saints to Be

April 4, 2009

From Catholic News Service:

Pope advances sainthood causes of 11, including Italian nunBy Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service


VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI authorized the publication of a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of an Italian nun and of decrees recognizing that 10 other candidates for sainthood heroically lived the Christian virtues.

The recognition of the miracle in the cause of Immaculate Conception Sister Giuseppina De Micheli clears the way for her beatification. She was born in Milan in 1890 and died in Centonara d’Arto in 1945.

The other decrees approved by the pope April 3 signify that the church recognizes that the men and women lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way and that they are venerable. Recognition of a miracle attributed to each candidate’s intercession is needed for that person’s beatification.

The 10 are:

— Bishop Franz Joseph Rudigier of Linz, Austria, who lived 1811-1884.

— Father Johann Evangelist Wagner, a German priest, 1807-1886.

— Italian Father Innocenzo da Caltagirone Marcinno, a former minister general of the Capuchin order, 1589-1655.

— Sister Teresa Alvarez Calderon, the Peruvian founder of a religious order, 1875-1953.

— Sister Manuela de Jesus Arias Espinosa, the Mexican founder of the Poor Clare Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and of the Missionaries of Christ for the Universal Church; she was born in Mexico in 1904 and died in Rome in 1981.

— Sister Marie de la Ferre, the French co-founder of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, who was born about 1589 and died in 1652.

— Sister Felisa Perez de Iriarte Casado, a Spanish Dominican, 1904-1954.

— Brazilian Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes, a member of the Immaculate Conception Missionaries, 1914-1992.

— Giacomo Gaglione, an Italian layman paralyzed in his teens who went on to found the Apostolate of the Suffering; he was born in 1896 and died in 1962.

— Benoite Rencurel, a laywoman who claimed to have seen Mary beginning in 1664 and continuing over the course of 50 years in Laus, France; in 2008 the local bishop formally recognized the apparitions of the visionary, who lived 1647-1718.