Archive for the ‘St. Jeanne Jugan’ Category

O God, we praise thee!

October 11, 2009

DamienIconSing a Te Deum (the traditional Catholic hymn of joy and thanksgiving) today, at least in spirit.  The Church has given us 5 new saints.  And even President Obama (who was born in Hawaii) has weighed in on the occasion. 

Here’s the President’s statement, as it appears at

I wish to express my deep admiration for the life of Blessed Damien de Veuster, who will be canonized on Sunday by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. I also want to convey my best wishes to the Kingdom of Belgium and its people, who are proud to count Fr. Damien among their great citizens.

Fr. Damien has also earned a special place in the hearts of Hawaiians. I recall many stories from my youth about his tireless work there to care for those suffering from leprosy who had been cast out. Following in the steps of Jesus’ ministry to the lepers, Fr. Damien challenged the stigmatizing effects of disease, giving voice to the voiceless and ultimately sacrificing his own life to bring dignity to so many.

In our own time as millions around the world suffer from disease, especially the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, we should draw on the example of Fr. Damien’s resolve in answering the urgent call to heal and care for the sick.

I offer my prayers as people of all faiths join the Holy Father and millions of Catholics around the world in celebrating Fr. Damien’s extraordinary life and witness.

I’ve written a few posts on both St. Damien of Molokia and St. Jeanne Jugan on this blog before, so I’d invite you to check them out — on Damien here and Jeanne here.

Note: I’ll be talking about the new saints with Gud Lloyd on his SIRIUS satellite radio show, “Seize the Day,” tomorrow at 8 am.

Here’s coverage worth a look:

The Associated Press article includes this great quotation from the homily: “Their perfection, in the logic of a faith that is humanly incomprehensible at times, consists in no longer placing themselves at the center, but choosing to go against the flow and live according to the Gospel.”

This is cool: A newly-formed parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit (a merger of three previous parishes) is being named St. Damien of Molokai parish.

Obama’s comment on the canonization has brought more attention to it.  For example, ABC News and U.S New and World Report noticed.

The governor of Hawaii issued a formal proclamation of Damien Day.

Hawaii Magazine has much more extensive coverage, including a slideshow of some of Damien personal effects. jeanne_jugan_300

Ann Rodgers, an excellent religion reporter in Pittsburgh (I’m a western PA native), focuses on Jeanne Jugan because her Little Sisters of the Poor have a home for the elderly there.  A snipet:

The sisters who beg are better known than the James P. Wall Memorial Home itself, which many people assume is for aging nuns. It’s not, and its residents don’t even have to be Catholic.

The sole requirements are to be older than age 60 — most residents arrive in their 80s — and in financial need. Residents pay what they can afford. There are long waiting lists for the apartments, assisted living and nursing units.

In the chapel is a stained glass window of St. Jeanne cradling an elderly woman in her arms. Beneath are her words, “The poor are our Lord.” The sisters teach all staff members and volunteers to treat residents as they would Jesus himself. When in doubt, they ask “What would Jeanne Jugan do?”

 Zenit’s bio of Jeanne is good, too.  It includes some of the dramatic details of her story:

The community elected her as its first superior, a post she held for only two weeks as Father Le Pailleur decided to revoke the election. Years later the priest ordered her to live a more retired life, involved only in domestic tasks, and removed from her benefactors, a decision she accepted without protest. She lived in this way for 27 years.
“She put into practice the dictum that ‘your left hand should not know what your right hand is doing,’ to the point of disappearing into the group of which she was really the founder,” said the postulator.
Blessed Marie de la Croix, as she was called after entering religious life, died in August 1879 when the congregation had some 2,488 women religious and 177 homes for the elderly. Months earlier, Pope Leo XIII had approved the congregation’s statutes.
The future saint was recognized as the official founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor only at the beginning of the 20th century, when members of the order decided to write the history of the community, said Father Vito.
“She never rebelled against her marginalization; on the contrary, she dedicated herself more intensely to her congregation,” the priest affirmed.

 UPDATE: St. Damien and his life’s work was the topic of the lead editorial in yesterday’s New York Times.


Holiness abounds!

October 9, 2009

Canonization day is upon us.  In two days, Mother Church will offer her children a dramatic a lesson in holiness, by presenting the world with five new saints, including two with American ties. 

Damien de Veuster was a Belgian-born priest who came to Hawaii to care for the lepers at the Kalaupapa colony and died  there among them.  Be sure to visit the Diocese of Honolulu’s website, this weekend.  It’s an excellent resource.  And consider getting a copy of my recent booklet, Saint Damien de Veuster: Missionary of Molokai.  It includes a brief biography of Fr. Damien and a newly composed novena to him. 

Jeanne Jugan was the founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor, dedicated to caring for the elderly poor, an order which has several homes for the elderly in the United States today. 

We also should not overlook the three other figures who are also set for Sunday’s canonization:

Rafael Arnáiz Barón (1911– 1938), a Trappist Cistercian Oblate of the Abbey of San Isidoro de Dueñas in Spain;

Francisco Coll Guitart (1812-1875), a Dominican priest; friend of St Anthony Mary Claret; parish priest; and founder of the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and

Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński (1822-1895), Archbishop of Warsaw and founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary. He spent 20 years in exile in Siberia.

We should also note that this Sunday’s canonization is just the most prominent of the rites being conducted in various parts of the Church this fall, all with the approval of the Pope, to formally acknolwedge the sanctity of some of her members.  Five other beatification ceremonies are also on the docket!  More on that here in the days ahead.

Jeanne Jugan website

June 18, 2009

Be sure to check out, as Blessed Jeanne Jugan’s canonization day approaches.  Sr. Constance Veit, LSP, tells me the site’s not new, but it has received a complete overhaul in preparation for the canonization.  It’s rich with interesting and helpful content and makes an excellent resource as the day approaches. 

Don’t miss, for example, the booklet length “WWJJD?  What Would Jeanne Jugan Do?” (this link takes you to the .pdf file), which explores both the basic biographical information about her and also reflects on the ongoing mission of her congregation today.  (And you must admit, it’s a darn clever format, with the whole WWJJD?, to present it all.)  You can’t read it without being convinced of how incredibly relevant, timely, and needed the ministry of these sisters is today.

Also cool is the point that is made about “what made Jeanne Jugan a saint” — important to understand when we talk about any of the saints of the Church.   A clip from the page:

Jeanne Jugan will not be canonized because she founded a religious congregation, because her work has spread all over the world, or even because the elderly need a friend today more than ever. She will be declared a saint because she practiced heroic virtue.

In speaking of the saints Pope Benedict XVI said that “heroic virtue does not mean that the saint performs a type of ‘gymnastics’ of holiness, something that normal people do not dare to do. It means rather that in the life of a person God’s presence is revealed….”

Heroic virtue means that “in one’s life there appear realities which the person has not done himself, because he has been transparent and ready for the work of God. “In other words,” the Pope said, “to be a saint is nothing other than to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend.”

(I made comments related to this in a post called “Walking the Walk” earlier this year.)

Thanks to Sr. Constance  for the link.

Blessed Jeanne’s American miracle

June 14, 2009

jeanne_jugan_300Blessed Jeanne Jugan, who will be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009,  already has strong connections to the Church in the United States.  Though she lived and worked in France in the 1800’s, founding the Little Sisters of the Poor, the order has a strong and very admirable presence here in the U.S

But her U.S. connections are even stronger now, with the miracle that was recently approved by the Vatican as a key part in her canonization cause.  The miracle was the healing of a man from Omaha, Nebraska, who had been suffering from cancer and given six months to live.  

Since Damien of Molokai will also be canonized on October 11, that makes the day a mighty big one for the Church in this country.

When I first heard, back in January, that the final miracle necessary in the Jugan canonization cause involved an American who was still alive, I did some searching around and quickly found that very little information was available.  I made some phone calls and even received a very promising lead out of the blue in some email.  But it seemed that very few people were willing to talk about who this person was or offer many details about the miracle.  I think that’s probably connected to some expectations of secrecy in the formal cause process, but I could be wrong. 

Anyway, the details are now being made public, and they tell an very interesting tale.  They involve Dr. Edward Gatz, whose advanced esophogeal cancer was healed by Blessed Jeanne’s intercession.

A helpful article appeared two weeks ago in the Omaha World-Herald (thanks to Omaha archdiocesan vice chancellor Fr. Ryan Lewis for pointing it out to me).  The article does not seem to be available on the World-Herald website any more, but it can be found in its entirety in a blog posted by an administrative employee of the archdiocese here.  A few snips:

The doctors told Gatz he had six months to live.

“Ed’s dead,” Dr. Donald Kerr, Gatz’s partner, told their colleagues at what then was Omaha’s Bergan Mercy Hospital, now Bergan Mercy Medical Center.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., removed the tumor. Gatz viewed the surgery as merely palliative. He was resigned to dying.


The late Pope John Paul II worried that the world increasingly would view the elderly – especially those without money – as useless and a drain on society. He saw that as potentially leading not only to mistreatment of the aged but to mercy killing and euthanasia. One way to fight the trend: Promote a saint who models how the church believes people should behave.

John Paul II “really wanted to canonize somebody who served the indigent elderly,” said Eileen Burke-Sullivan, an assistant professor of theology at Creighton University.

“The church chooses its heroes overtly, often to address a social, cultural or moral problem that’s being found in the world. They want a witness to the dignity of the human life of the indigent elderly. Mother Teresa is that kind of witness. So is Jeanne Jugan.”


Gatz still has a Polaroid picture from that scope. Instead of just the normal round hole, the photo shows the esophagus surrounded by bumps and lumps – an angry, pink bulbous storm cloud of doom.

“I saw the grim faces when the doctors called our son and me into one of those conference rooms,” Jeanne Gatz said. “I knew it was bad news, but I didn’t know it was that bad. They said it would be six months.”

The tumor occupied two-thirds of Gatz’s esophagus and half his stomach. Another growth, the size of a walnut, on the other side of his abdomen indicated that the cancer had metastasized. Gatz was diagnosed with Stage 3B esophageal cancer.


Gatz began seeing to his affairs. He sold two of the family’s three cars. He shifted investments into shorter-term holdings in his wife’s name. He asked medical school professors to look out for his son, who was about to enter the school.

Meanwhile, Jeanne turned to McGloin. A former Little Sisters of the Poor chaplain, McGloin urged her to pray a novena – a specific set of prayers – to Jeanne Jugan.

Jeanne Gatz began praying a novena – a specific set of prayers – every day. McGloin did, too.

A check three months later showed no cancer. At six months, again no cancer. Then nine months. Then one year.


It might have remained local lore if not for a casual dinner chat in Omaha with a priest in 2002. Gatz happened to mention his cure to the Rev. Charles Broderson. Broderson suggested the Gatzes inform the Little Sisters of the Poor. McGloin concurred.

Jeanne Gatz dialed up Mother Marguerite McCarthy at the Little Sisters of the Poor home in Kansas City. McCarthy immediately was intrigued, although two miracle claims already were being examined by Rome.

Those two fell through. The Gatzes forwarded their information to the Little Sisters. The story went to the Vatican.

Read the whole thing.

The National Catholic Register has also published an article on the miracle.  There is also an very interesting interview with Dr. Gatz and his wife and a brief report by Dr. Gatz himself posted on the Little Sisters of the Poor website.  Here’s a bit from the interview:

I had palliative surgery, which means it was not curative because it was a systemic disease. You just go after the tumors—the big ones—the size of my doubled-up fists in my chest, esophagus, stomach cavity… There was never any talk of it being curative. Afterwards the oncologists came by to offer chemotherapy. I said, “Why would I do that? Will you cure me?” They said, “Oh no, oh no.” “Well then, why would I have it?” I said. They said maybe they could extend my life. So I asked them if they could really extend my life, or if they might shorten it. “Well, we don’t know,” they said. So I replied, “Well if you can’t cure me and you can’t guarantee to extend my life why would I have it?” “I wouldn’t,” the oncologist replied. It was an honest answer from a physician to a physician—“I wouldn’t if were you. Why go through that?”

Thanks to God for this sign of his grace, and for the triumph of his grace in the life of Jeanne Jugan.

Blessed Jeanne Jugan, pray for us.

Blessed Jeanne Jugan, some deception, and a miracle

January 6, 2009

This morning on Sacred Heart Radio‘s Son Rise Morning Show, host Brian Patrick and I talked about Blessed Jeanne Jugan.  Last month, Pope Benedict approved recognition of a miracle attributed to her intercession.  This clears the way for her canonization. 

Many Americans are familiar with Blessed Jeanne through the extraordinary work of the order the founded, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who dedicate themselves to care for the elderly (a mission that’s certainly just as important and needed in the  twenty-first century as it was in Jeanne’s day).  Today they have homes for the elderly in 32 North American cities, including Philadelphia, Scranton, New Orleans, Mobile, Denver, Louisville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and many others.

What an interesting life story she has!  Besides her example of heroic humility and love for the poor, there’s also an intriguing aspect to her biography. 

It seems that several years after she founded the Little Sisters of the Poor, a priest whom she had turned to for support in her work tried to “revise history” by making it appear that he was the founder of the group, and that Jeanne was only the third woman to join him in his efforts.  At the time of her own death, most of the sisters (there were already 2,400 of them) didn’t know that she was their founder!  It was only a Vatican investigation that brought the truth to light, eleven years after she had died.

Pope John Paul II beatified Jeanne Jugan in 1982.  Her feast day is August 30.

Regarding the miracle approved last month by the Pope, specific information seems a little hard to come by.  But it seems to involve an American man who was dramatically healed of cancer of the esophagus back in the 1980’s. 

Brian and I also talked about two items recently highlighted here: the investigation into a miracle (the healing of an Ohio boy) that may be attributed to the intercession of Mother Maria Teresa Casini, and the recent publication of the complete diaries (10 volumes!) of Pope John XXIII.