No Quarantining for this Priest. He walked straight into the deadly Pandemic to minister to his people. It cost him his life.

Fr. Patrick J. Ryan      public domain

By Larry Peterson

Patrick Ryan had been born in 1845, and he was never aware of the hard times his mom and dad endured during his first few years. It was during the time of Ireland’s  Great Potato Famine when his family was evicted from their farm. After selling whatever they could, they managed to make their way to New York City. It was here young Patrick would grow up and eventually answer God’s call to serve.

Patrick was an average student and had to study hard to make acceptable grades. When he was 21, he was able to enroll in St. Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Patrick was ordained in 1869 at the Cathedral in Nashville by Bishop P. A. Feehan. Ironically, the Feehan and Ryan families were close neighbors in Ireland, and this may be the reason Patrick joined the Nashville Diocese.

Father Patrick took charge of the Chattanooga area on July 10, 1872. He had to take care of not only the city but also of the southeastern part of the state. The baptismal register included towns such as Tracy City, Winchester, Cleveland, and others as places where Father Patrick had traveled to perform baptisms and administer the other sacraments. Father also was keenly aware that the need for a Catholic school was a prime requirement for the growing population.

The parish had always maintained a school for children. It operated under the supervision of the priest in charge, but all the grades were either taught by one man or one woman in the basement of the church. Father Patrick had different ideas. He was bound and determined to have a first-class school in his parish and the area. He also wanted nuns to be in charge. He headed to Nashville and pleaded with the Dominican Sisters of the St. Cecilia Congregation to establish new roots in Chattanooga. The Sisters had been in Nashville for sixteen years, and the timing was right for them to expand.

On January 6, 1876, four Dominican Sisters arrived in  Chattanooga and began the establishment of the Catholic faith in the area. The first thing they did was open the Notre Dame de Lourdes Academy. This school was located in the former rectory, which would also house the sisters. The regular school remained in the basement until a better facilty could be constructed. But the school had a “new life” about it. This was brought in by the nuns who immediately gave the school a level of excellence unseen until that they took charge.

The future of the parish seemed to be filled with hope and unbounded possibilities. Father Patrick was a happy man. But as is the way of things, sometimes things do not follow the way we think they will. A series of disastrous fires had consumed the business district. Then a cholera epidemic threatened the entire population. In 1875 a massive flood had struck. And now, unexpectedly, a little more than two years later, the school had to be converted into a hospital and an orphanage. The flooding created a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and Yellow Fever spread like wildfire.

The people of Chattanooga had escaped other plagues and considered themselves protected by the nearby mountains. It offered its hospitality to those in neighboring towns as a haven. But people coming into Chattanooga brought the disease with them.  Within a few days, the disease was declared an “epidemic,” and 80% of the population fled. One person who did not flee was Father Patrick Ryan. This was his home and these were his people. He would never leave them.

Witnesses said  Father Ryan was going from home to home in the worst infected sections of the city. His duty was to help the sick and dying and he was going to do that until he dropped. He came down with Yellow Fever on September 26. He was much sicker on the morning of the 27th and his newly ordained younger brother, Michael, administered Extreme Unction to his big brother. Father Patrick died on the morning of July  28, 1878. He was 33 years old.

Father Patrick Ryan was fully aware of the danger of yellow fever but chose to tend to his parishioners. He died, giving his life for others. On November 16, 2016,  the U. S. Bishops, at their General Assembly meeting in Baltimore, declared that Father Patrick Ryan is a Servant of God and his cause for sainthood has been forwarded to Rome.

We ask Servant of God Patrick Ryan to pray for us all, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


The French Revolution stifled Elizabeth Bichier; Then she met Father Andrew Fournet and everything changed—She founded the Sisters of the Cross

Joan Elizabeth Bichier des Ages                public domain

By Larry Peterson

Elizabeth Bichier (full name; Jeanne-Elisabeth-Lucie Bichier des Agnes) was born on July 5,  1773, in the Chateau des Ages, in the village of Le Blanc, which was located in the Central Loire Valley in the center of France. Elizabeth was one of four children, and she was baptized the same day she was born at the Church of Saint-Genitour du Blanc. Elizabeth’s mom, a devout Catholic, taught all of her children how to pray and ensured that they knew the basic tenets of the Catholic faith. Elizabeth, a willing student, was drawn to a life of prayer even as a child.

The French Revolution erupted in 1789. A predominantly Catholic country, the French Catholics were shocked at the restrictions placed upon the practice of their faith. As the Revolution progressed, more and more uprisings took place.  The War in the Vendee is probably the best known because government forces eventually massacred thousands upon thousands of Catholics.

To avoid the high chance of being killed, Elizabeth’s older brother, Laurent, fled France and settled in England. Shortly after, on January 16, 1792, their father died. Elizabeth and her mom were left to deal with the ever-changing “laws” put in place by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the National Constituent Assembly.

These agencies had decreed that church property, which included that owned by Catholics such as Laurent, was subject to confiscation. Elizabeth and her mother moved to a small house in the village. Once there, they were harassed every day by the Revolutionary Surveillance Committee. After a short time, authorities discovered an old gun owned by Elizabeth’s dead father, and she and her mother were put in prison. Fortunately, Elizabeth’s other brother, who had joined the forces of the Revolution, had the influence and connections to obtain their release.

In 1796, Elizabeth and her mother were able to move to the family’s country home in Bethines. It was lonely here, and Elizabeth began to feel the loss of the Holy Eucharist deeply. That was because the local church was served by a government-approved “priest,” The masses being said were not valid and were rejected by most people. As a child, Elizabeth had consecrated herself to the Blessed Mother.  Filled with love of Our Lady, she began to gather people to pray together for the return of their religious freedom.

Elizabeth’s grief was lifted when, toward the end of 1796, a former servant came to her and told her of a secret Mass being offered at a farm ten miles away. Elizabeth rode a donkey for more than three hours to reach the farm. After Mass, the priest, Father Andrew Fournet, began to hear confessions. Elizabeth was last in a very long line. Confessions lasted all night long, and when Elizabeth’s turn came to confess, the sun was rising.

She and Father Andrew had an immediate connection. Their spiritualities combined, and the priest became Elizabeth’s spiritual director. He asked her to consider devoting her life to the sick, needy, aged and to establish schools for children in the rural areas of their diocese. Devoted to the Virgin Mary, she immediately responded to Father Fournet’s ideas.

Father Fournet put Elizabeth in charge of a group of women who also were dedicated to Catholic education and the care of the poor and sick. Elizabeth then founded the order known as The Sisters of the Cross, The Sisters of St. Andrew. The year was 1807. When she died in 1838, there were over 100 communities with hundreds of sisters working to help those in need. By the turn of the 20th century, over 3100 sisters were serving around the world. Today, the Sister’s of the Cross still has more than 600 sisters working on four continents in fourteen different countries, helping others.

Father Andrew Fournet was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI on June 4, 1933. Sister Joan Elizabeth Bichier des Ages was canonized a saint of June 6. 1947 by Pope Pius XII.

We ask both of these saints to pray for us.

Copyright©Larry Peterson 2020

 


Meet Mother Maria Felix Torres who said to Jesus, “I am yours fully and consciously forever.”

Venerable Mother Maria Felix Torres

By Larry Peterson

Maria Felix Torres was born on August 25, 1907, in the village of Albelda (Huesca), Spain. This was the beginning of the 20th century, and technological breakthroughs, economic changes, combined with religious tensions among the traditional type religious faiths, were beginning to affect most people’s thoughts. The new existentialist believed that individuals knew what was best for themselves. This philosophy was rapidly permeating the behavior and thinking of many average citizens. It eliminated God from their lives.

The family was crucial for society’s ability to maintaining a stable and respectful populace. Most people realized that that genetic makeup was not nearly as important as parental example, parental love, and quality education. Maria Felix’s parents were very aware of these conditions and would have a profound influence on their daughter’s life.

Maria’s dad, Ramon Surigue, was a man of simple beginnings who earned his engineering degree by taking correspondence courses at Cervera College in Valencia. He also made sure to read quality books to round out his personality and his confidence. He began a career as a civil engineer and this is where he met his wife, Florentina Torres Fumas. She was the youngest daughter of one of the richest families in the province of Huesca. Younger than Ramon, she loved traditional values and knew what her role in the family should be. This husband and wife team made for a perfect balance between them to raise a family.

Maria was their only girl, and she also became the sole survivor among the four children. Maria’s dad had always believed that the best legacy he could leave his children was a solid academic and humanitarian education, and he would send his daughter to the best schools he could find.  Maria quickly displayed her high level of intelligence, and she read everything she could get her hands on. It was not long before a mathematics professor recommended to her father that he send his daughter to Lerida to go to its well regarded high school.

Maria became a resident student at the Company of Mary Our Lady School in Lerida. She became the youngest girl in her class and also proved to be the most intelligent. In addition to her intelligence, Mother Maria had natural leadership skills, and her sensitivity to religious matters was obvious to all who knew her. When she was fourteen she experienced the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola. These readings affected her deeply and she felt God’s love and a call deeply within herself. In her diary, she would write,  “I am His, totally and consciously His forever.”

She knew her calling was to the religious life, but her parents objected. She honored their wishes by going to the University of Zaragoza, earning a degree in Chemistry in 1930. But she knew that Jesus wanted her for His own. While teaching in school, she began doing apostolic work among college students. On August 15, 1934, she and a friend, Carmen Aige, started their ministry, dedicated to saving souls and in service to the Church. It was not long before young college students were joining her way of life. It was called the Congregation of the Savior.

In 1940, Maria’s Order received canonical permission to live as a religious community, and, in 1952, they gained admission into the Church as a Religious Congregation of Diocesan Right. This means the Order is under the authority of the local bishop. It was not until 1986 that the Order was approved as a Pontifical Right, meaning it was now under the jurisdiction of the Pope.

Once the Pontifical Right was assigned to the Order it spread throughout Spain, across the sea to South America, and to the United States. Mother Maria also established the schools known as the Mater Salvatoris Schools. These schools were dedicated citing faithful adhesion to the Pope, tender love for our Blessed Mother, and to give young people the basis to evangelize, leading society to Christ.

Mother Maria Felix served as Superior General of the Congregation for eighteen years. She was a truly humble woman, and although she was the “soul and mother” of the Congregation she fulfilled her duties without ever acknowledging her position or seeking any praise or thanks. When she died on January 12, 2001, only a few people knew that she was the Foundress of the Order.

Mother Mary Felix was declared a Servant of God in 2009. On July 11, 2020, Pope Francis declared her a woman of “heroic virtue” and she now bears the title of Venerable Maria Felix Torres.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020

 


Mariantonia Sama, bedridden for 57 years with her legs bent as if crucified; to be proclaimed Blessed by the Church

Mariantonia Sama

By Larry Peterson

Mariantonia Sama was born on March 2, 1875, in the Catanzaro, located in the southeastern section of Italy. Her father died a few months before her birth, and her mom was on her own in caring for her new baby. She was quite poor, and she and her child lived in a tiny home located on a street that was only about five feet wide. The dwellings surrounding the little house were all larger, and besides being small, their place was never exposed to pure daylight.

Mariantonia was baptized on March 3 in the local parish, and her paternal grandmother and maternal great-uncle stood in as her Godparents. Mariantonia received her First Holy Communion and her Confirmation sometime during 1882.

Mariantonia and her mom became very close, as all they had was each other. Mariantonia’s mom was illiterate, and so it was for her daughter. Together, using a borrowed mule, they would load it with wheat and take it to the mill. They would exchange it for flour, which they brought back to town. The flour was traded for bread and other food to eat.

Sometime during the year 1886, Mariantonia, her mom, and some relatives walked to the Saturo River to wash clothing. There was a mill along the riverbank, and it provided a semblance of running water to use in clothes washing. On the way, Mariantonia, who was very thirsty, stopped at a large puddle and bent down and drank the water from it. It seemed clean, but unfortunately, it was contaminated.

When Mariantonia and her mom arrived home, the child curled up, screaming in pain. Her unexplained and frightening behavior continued for more than a month, and during this time, she would not only shake, but her body would seem to vibrate, and she would babble sounds that made no sense. People began suggesting that the girl was the victim of diabolical possession. Her behavior transformed from docile to hostile, and she would scream terrible words. This situation went on for eight years. Some doctors thought it neurological, others emotional, and still others, gastrointestinal. Many thought it was time to give this over to God.

In 1894, when Mariantonia was twenty years old,  a well-known woman in the area known as the Baroness Enrichetta Scoppa,  took it upon herself to intervene in an attempt  to help Mariantonia and her mom. She organized a trip to the Carthusian convent of San Bruno, where the monks would pray over her, and an exorcism would be conducted. Mariontonia was carried inside a box for eight hours to get to the convent.

Once inside the convent, a silver bust of St. Bruno holding his skull and bones was shown to Mariantonia. It took five hours of exorcism in front of the bust and crucifix before the devil abandoned Mariantonia’s body. People heard a growling voice say, “I leave her alive, but I leave her crippled.”

Mariantonia believed that the bust of St. Bruno was smiling at her. She also seemingly felt much better and was able to get up. Her recovery was attributed to the intercession of St. Bruno. She was taken home and seemed better for a short time. But before long, she was once again bedridden. This time with her legs bent at the knees. For the next 57 years, she would remain in that position, crippled by arthritis. Her legs were bent as if she had been crucified.

People began coming to see Mariantonia looking for advice, to obtain grace, spirituality, and even a miracle. Baroness Scoppa had allowed the Sisters of the Sacred Heart to settle in her vacant palace, and they made Mariantonia an honorary “sister,” even covering her head with a black veil. She became known as the “Nun of San Bruno,” and she was never a nun at all.

Mariantonia died on May 27, 1953. She was 78 years old. Even after she died, they could not straighten her legs, and she was buried that way. She had been holy in life, and even after her death, miracles were attributed to her. On December 18, 2017, she was declared Venerable.

Vittoria C. from Sant’Andrea was the miracle case validated for Mariantonia’s beatification. Between December 12 and 13 in 2004, she was cured overnight of a degenerative osteoarthritis. She invoked Mariantonia during the night to help with the pain, and it vanished and never returned. This miracle was approved by Pope Francis on July 10, 2020. The Beatification will take place in 2021.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


The Unfailing Way to get out of Purgatory—Turn to Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Pope St. John Paul II said, “Over time this rich Marian heritage of Carmel has become, through the spread of the Holy Scapular devotion, a treasure for the whole Church.”

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel                                                                                                       public domain

By Larry Peterson

There is a place near where e prophet Elija lived, and it is one of the most biblical places on earth. It is 1,742 feet above sea level and hovers high over the coast of the Mediterranean. It was here where Elija prayed to God, asking Him to save Israel from the onslaught of an ongoing drought.

He prayed and prayed and would ask his servant to go up the mountain and look for signs of rain. On the seventh try, Elijah’s servant returned, exclaiming, “Behold, a little cloud that looked like a man’s foot rose from the sea.” Soon after, torrential rains fell upon the parched land. The crops grew, the animals thrived,  and the people were saved. The place was called Mount Carmel.

Elijah saw the cloud as the symbol mentioned in the prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14) Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the Virgin shall be with Child, and bear a Son and name Him Emanuel.”

Many hermits lived on Mount Carmel, and following Elijah’s example would continually pray for the advent of the much-awaited Virgin who would become the mother of the Messiah. The very beginnings of the Carmelite Order can be traced back to Elijah and the hermits of Mount Carmel. Many consider these hermits as the first Carmelites.

These hermits lived on Mount Carmel during the 12th and 13th centuries. In the midst of their hermitages, they built a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, whom they called the Lady of the Place. In the 13th century, Simon Stock was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He had been elected as the 6th superior-general of the Carmelites.

He joined a group of hermits on Mount Carmel. On Sunday, July 16, 1251, Simon Stock was kneeling in prayer when Our Lady appeared to him. The Blessed Mother said to Simon, “Hoc erit tibi et cunctis Carmelitis privilegium, in hochabitu moriens salvabitur.” (This shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone dying in the habit shall be saved.”

It is said that the Blessed Mother gave the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (also known as the Brown Scapular) to Simon Stock. Six months later, on January 13, 1252, the order received a letter of protection from Pope Innocent IV, defending them from any harassment or denial of this event.

Most of us know of the Sabbatine Privilege. This is attached to the wearing of the Brown Scapular. The name, Sabbatine Privilege, comes from a papal bull issued by Pope John XXII on March 3, 1322. According to the Holy Father, the Blessed Virgin gave him the following message in a vision which was directed to all those who wear the Brown Scapular. “I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday (Sabbath) after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free, so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting.”

Based on Church tradition, three conditions must be fulfilled to obtain the benfeits of this Privilege and the Scapular:  1) wear the Brown Scapular; 2) Observe chastity according to one’s state in life; 3) pray the Rosary. Also, to receive the spiritual blessings associated with the Scapular, it is necessary to be formally be enrolled in the Brown Scapular by either a priest or a layperson who has been given the authority to do so. Once enrolled, no other scapular needs to be blessed before wearing. The blessing and imposition are attached to the enrolled person for life.

The feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is July 16, the same day she appeared to Simon  Stock. Interestingly, Simon Stock was never officially canonized. He has been venerated by the Carmeilites since 1564. And with Vatican approval, he has been given the feasr day of May 16. He is also called Saint Simon Stock and churches and schools have been named after him,

On the 750th anniversary of the bestowal of the Brown Scapular, Pope St. John Paul II said, “Over time this rich Marian heritage of Carmel has become, through the spread of the Holy Scapular devotion, a treasure for the whole Church.”

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


The Great Saint Benedict of Nursia–His Legacy includes being Father of all Western monks and the Benedictine Order Order

St. Benedict  (Eastern Icon)_ public domain

By Larry Peterson

Pope St. Gregory the Great, considered one of the greatest popes, is famous for writing the books known as the Dialogues of St. Gregory. The Dialogues are presented in four volumes where everything from the lives of the saints, to miracles, and even discussion on the eternity of the soul take place.

But Volume Two of the Dialogues is dedicated to just one person. That man is none other than Benedict of Nursia. Volume Two is spread out into thirty-eight chapters. It is the only recognized authority on Benedict’s life, a life that has left an indelible mark on the Catholic faith. Included in his legacy is what is known as the Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule is used in convents and monasteries around the world to this very day. Let’s meet St. Benedict.

St. Gregory details many signs and wonders in his Dialogues. However, when it comes to Benedict, and without using dates, his writing becomes historical. It begins with Benedict being born sometime around the year 480 A.D and having a twin sister, named Scholastica. They were born of good parents, and their father was a Roman noble of Nursia. Benedict was sent to Roman schools while Scholastica, being a woman, would stay at home until ready for marriage.

Gregory writes that Benedict left school sometime around the year 500. He had mastered a solid background of moral principle and decency. Combined with a solid understanding of what it meant for those who chose to lead corrupt and immoral lives, he knew his life would always point toward godliness.  It was during this time frame when Benedict fell deeply in love with a woman. The couple did break up, and this deeply affected him. It was after this part of his life that he left Rome. His purpose was to become a hermit.

Benedict settled down about forty miles from Rome, finding a suitable cave in the Simbruini Mountains. After a short while, Benedict met a monk named Romanus of Subiaco. Romanus wanted to know why Benedict had come to the area. Upon explanation by Benedict, Romanus, who had a monastery on the top of the mountain, gave Benedict the monk’s habit and then approved of him being a hermit for the next three years.

During this period, Romanus would bring Benedict food, which he lowered down by rope. At the same time, Benedict matured both in mind and character. His life of discipline and solitude also won him the respect of local Christians. When the abbot of a nearby monastery died, the monks came to him and asked him to be their new abbot.

Benedict knew of their lax discipline and rejected their offer. They pleaded with him, and he finally agreed. But Benedict’s strict rules angered the insubordinate monks, and they tried to poison him. He prayed over the cup holding the poison, and it shattered.  Benedict promptly returned to his cave.

During his years of solitude, Benedict grew in wisdom and understanding, especially of people in general. He became highly respected and began the construction of thirteen monasteries. In the first twelve,  he placed a superior with twelve monks. Benedict moved into the thirteenth monastery and lived with a smaller number of monks. He was their abbot as well as head abbot for the other twelve. It was from this time that miracles attributed to Benedict became more and more frequent.

Benedict’s prophetic powers became legendary. He predicted the death of the King of the Goths and foretold that the Lombards would close one of his monasteries.  He also was given knowledge of the sins of the monks and nuns under his care. Legend has it that when a child was crushed to death by a collapsing wall, Benedict raised him from the dead, healed his body, and sent him back to work.

Benedict spent the last years of his life putting together his famous Rule, known as the Rule of St. Benedict. His primary purpose was to create unity and formalize discipline. The Rule is comprised of 73 short chapters and presents both spiritual guidance on how to live a life on earth centered on Jesus Christ and also has directives on administrative guidelines on how to run a monastery.

The Rule of St. Benedict was adopted by the majority of monasteries in western Christendom, and The Middle Ages became known as the Benedictine Centuries. Pope Benedict XVI said, “With his life and work, St. Benedict—–helped Europe emerge from the “dark night of history” that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.

St. Benedict died on March 21, 547, 40 days after his twin sister Scholastica. The brother and sister are buried together at Monte Cassino, south of Rome. This is the site of the first Benedictine Abbey.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


Known as Henry the Emperor and Henry the Exuberant his greatest title is that of Saint Henry

Henry the Emperor                                  public domain

By Larry Peterson

There are many saints named Henry, but the greatest of them all may well be King  Henry II. Besides being a faithful and just king, Henry was one of the great supporters of the Benedictine Order. He had wanted to be a Benedictine but his destiny was to become king. As king, he built numerous monasteries and restored others during his reign. More than a thousand years later, Pope St. Pius X declared Henry the patron saint of all the Oblates of the Benedictine Order. So who was St. Henry II, aka  Henry the Exuberant; Henry the Emperor, Henry the Good, and Henry the Pious?

Henry was born in 972 and would be the oldest of four children. His father, the Duke of Bavaria, (also known as Henry the Quarrelsome), had a bit of a temper and had revolted against two previous emperors. This caused him to spend a lot of time in exile. Consequently, young Henry was raised by St. Wolfgang, the bishop of Ratisbon (Regensburg). The bishop baptized him and dedicated himself to Henry’s upbringing, instilling virtue and discipline into the young man he knew would one day be king. Wolfgang sent Henry to the cathedral school at Hildesheim, where he seriously considered becoming a priest. That would not happen.

In 995, Henry’s father died, and he succeeded him as  Duke of Bavaria. Soon after, he met and married Cunegundes, a holy woman who he knew God had sent his way. Henry and Cunegundes observed perfect chastity throughout their married lives, and their combined love and devotion to their subjects were unparalleled.

Then in January of 1002, his cousin Otto III, who had become a Holy Roman Emperor, died in Rome. Henry, who was on his way to Rome to help Otto regain control of Italy, managed to get control of the insignia of Otto’s office and, with some help from friends in high places, secured his election and was crowned King of Germany.

Henry was indeed a church reformer. Using the bishops to secure his position as king, he was determined to rule for God’s greater glory. Trained with respect and a healthy fear of God, he proved that a good king could be a heavenly gift. Henry prayed often, meditated upon the law of God, and never allowed himself to become a prisoner of the grandeur that came with being the king.

Henry turned again to reclaiming Italy. He drove out the anti-pope who had claimed the papacy and brought Benedict VIII back to Rome. Two years later, he claimed the title, King of Italy. In 1014, Henry was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Benedict VIII in St. Peter’s Basilica

Henry’s custom when he arrived in any town was to find a church dedicated to Our Lady and spend the night there. The church he stayed in was Saint Mary Major. Henry said that he saw the “Sovereign and Eternal Priest-Child Jesus” enter the sanctuary to say Mass. He said St. Lawrence and St. Vincent assisted Him.

Henry continued that countless saints filled the church and that after the Gospel an angel was sent by Our Lady to give Henry the scared book to kiss. The angel touched Henry lightly on his thigh and said, “Accept this sign of God’s love for your chastity and your justice.” From that moment on, King Henry always walked with a limp.

Henry’s support for moral reforms began with what was known as the Cluniac Reforms. These reforms affected not only monastic life but the life of the entire church. It helped the church fight simony (the buying of church goods and positions) and promoted clerical celibacy. In 1022 he and Pope Benedict VIII presided over the Council of Pavia, and published seven canons against clerical concubinage. He restored episcopal sees and founded the diocese of Bamburg. He also was instrumental in having the Creed introduced to Sunday Mass.

In 1024 Henry lay on his death bed with his wife and her elderly parents by his side. Henry lifted her hand toward her parents and said, “a virgin still, as a virgin, he had received her from Christ.” He gave St. Cunegundes back to her parents. Then he closed his eyes and died.

St. Henry II was canonized by Pope Eugene III in 1146. He is the patron saint of  the Benedictine Oblates, and his feast day is on July 13.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


When World War II ended the nightmare for others began: Meet the Thirty-Eight Martyrs of Albania

Stained Glass honoring 38 Matyrs of Albania

Stained Glass honoring 38 martyrs of Albania    public domain

By Larry Peterson

When the Nazis fled Albania at the end of WW II, the communists took control of the small country. From 1945 through 1974, they ruled Albania with an iron hand banning religion, especially Catholicism. Many Catholics were brutally tortured and murdered during this period. What follows is about the 38 Martyrs of Albania who were beatified on November 5, 2016.

Father Ernest Simoni had just finished saying Christmas Mass in 1963. Suddenly and unexpectedly he was surrounded by police and arrested. He was shackled and charged with the crime of  “saying Masses for John F. Kennedy,” the American president who had been assassinated the previous month in Dallas, Texas. His next stop would be in prison, where he would endure torture and forced labor for the next 18 years.

We move ahead to April of 2016. Pope Francis was holding a ceremony recognizing 38 people who had died in the dark, dank, and disgusting prisons of Albania. The group included mostly Albanians, some Italians, and one German.  Included among them were two bishops, 21 diocesan priests, three Jesuits, seven Friars Minor, a Franciscan novice-nun, three Catholic laymen, and one seminarian. Most of them died between 1945 and 1950.

The only woman among them, Maria Tucci, was arrested on August 10, 1949.  She refused to answer her captor’s questions and was tortured over and over until August 1950. She had been so brutalized over the previous year that she required hospitalization. She died from her injuries on October 24, 1950. She was 22 years old.

Not included among them was Father Simoni. He was standing before the Holy Father. He was  88 years old and holding a box which contained the bones of ten of his countrymen. They, too, had been imprisoned in Albania. Unlike Father Simoni, they had all been executed.

Pope Francis, was honoring  Father Simoni’s faithfulness to Jesus and the faith by elevating him to the rank of Cardinal. The Pope wept as he hugged the new Cardinal saying, “Today I touched martyrs.”

Those who were present that day heard how the Albanian martyrs were tortured to death and then executed or just tortured over and over and sent to forced labor camps. The one constant among all these holy martyrs was that they were always praying to God and asking Him to forgive their killers.

Here are brief bios of the three Jesuits who were among the martyred:

  • Giovanni Fausti: He was the oldest of twelve children born in Brescia, Italy, on October 19, 1899. He began his religious studies at the age of ten and was a classmate of Giovanni Montini, the future Pope St. Paul VI. After studying at the Pontifical Lombard College in Rome, he was ordained a priest on July 9, 1922. He entered the Society of Jesus on October 30, 1924. After serving in the Italian army, he entered the Pontifical Gregorian University and became a philosophy professor. He had been in Albania twice and was sent back in 1942. He was arrested by the communists on December 31, 1945. After being held for two months and tortured almost every day, he was shot dead on March 4, 1946.

 

  • Daniel Dajani: Daniel was born in 1906, and, by the time he was twelve, he felt the calling to the priesthood. He studied hard and began his novitiate with the Jesuits on July 8, 1926. He received his teaching credentials and made his solemn profession of vows on February 2, 1942. Similar to Father Fausti, Father Daniel was arrested on December 31, 1945. He also was held for two months having to endure constant torture. And, just like Father Fausti, Father Dajani was executed on March 4, 1946.

 

 

  • Gjon Pantalia: Gjon was born in Serbia in 1887 and was related to St. Teresa of Calcutta. He did not want to be a priest, so he joined the Jesuits as a Brother. He became a teacher specializing in chorus, theater, and socio-cultural activities. He also was a writer, composer, and a spiritual director to many of his students. He was called “Brother Cornerstone” of the College of Shkodra. He was arrested in 1946 and brutally tortured. He tried to escape from prison but broke his legs jumping from a window. He was captured and thrown back in his cell. Lack of treatment and constant, unbearable pain, took its toll. He died on October 31, 1947.

 

We ask all the Martyrs of Albania to pray for us.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


When Jesus Rose from the Dead where was the Blessed Mother? Ask Pope St. John Paul II

Jesus and His Mom                                            wikipedia.commons.org

By Larry Peterson

When Easter morning arrived, someone was missing. That someone is the very lynchpin of the Salvation story. That someone is the Blessed Virgin, Mary. She is nowhere to be seen or heard. Where was she?

We will hear from the gospel of John 20:1-9 how —“Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciples He loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they have put Him.”

So where was Our Lady when Jesus rose from the dead?  She was His mother. She was nearby throughout the passion and watched Him carry His cross. She watched as they drove the nails through His hands and his feet.  She stood agonizingly and helplessly by as He was raised on the cross. For three hours she stood there watching every drop of blood leave her boy’s body. She was at the foot of the cross when He died.

The following week, on the Second Sunday of Easter ( Divine Mercy Sunday), the gospel is once again from John, this time 20: 19-31. This is when, with the doors locked,  Jesus appears to all of them (except “doubting”  Thomas). Once again, the Mother of our Savior is never mentioned.  Why is that?

No Mom should ever have to witness such cruelty heaped upon her own child. Who could have loved him more than she? Doesn’t it seem absolutely unquestionable that the first person who Jesus appeared to after He rose was His Mother? Yet there is not a single mention of the Blessed Virgin in the Resurrection narratives.

In the year 431 A.D, the Council of Ephesus affirmed the Dogma of the Divine Maternity. This explains to us that the greatness and majesty that was bestowed on Our Lady was wrapped into a bundle of pure Love from God.  He was the Father of her child. She was the Mom. Every drop of Jesus’s DNA comes from His Mom. The Father and Son are God. Jesus Christ is truly Human and Divine, separate yet one. Yet she is not mentioned in the Resurrection gospel readings.

From the CCC 496: Mary’s Virginity:

From the first formulations of her faith, the Church has confessed that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, affirming also the corporeal aspect of this event: Jesus was conceived “by the Holy Spirit without human seed.” The Fathers see in the virginal conception the sign that it truly was the Son of God who came in a humanity like our own…

Back to the question; Where was our Blessed Mother, the Mother of the Risen Christ, Her only Child, on Easter Sunday? We can turn this question over to none other than Pope St. John Paul the Great. The Holy Father, speaking from Vatican City on May 21, 1997, said:

“The unique and special nature of the presence of the Virgin at Calvary, and her perfect union with the Son in his suffering on the Cross, seem to postulate a very particular participation on her part in the mystery of the Resurrection.”

“The Blessed Virgin, who was present at Calvary and at the Cenacle, “was probably also a privileged witness to the Resurrection of Christ, in this way completing her participation in all the essential moments of the paschal mystery. Embracing the risen Jesus, Mary is, in addition, a sign and anticipation of humanity, which hopes to reach its fulfillment in the resurrection of the dead.”

If Pope St. John Paul II says she was there; She was there—AMEN.

Copyright©2019 Larry Peterson


Did you know that the first ordained, African-American Priest was born a Slave?

Meet Venerable Father Augustus Tolton

Father Augustus Tolton                                                    public domain

By Larry Peterson

This is about a man who was born a slave in Missouri and became the first African-American ordained a Catholic priest in the United States. I wish that not only the people of Missouri but folks all across America would learn about him. He was a man whose goodness shined like a brilliant star inspiring others by his gentle and caring example. Say “Hello” to Augustus Tolton.

On April 1, 1854, Peter Tolton paced nearby as his wife, Martha Jane, gave birth to her second son. They named him Augustus (after his uncle), and the baby was baptized soon after in St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Brush Creek, Missouri.  Mrs. Savilla Elliot stood as Augustus’ godmother.

It was a situation a bit out of the ordinary at the time.  That was because Mrs. Elliot was married to Stephen Elliot, who happened to be the “owner” of Augustus’ mom and dad.  The Tolton family was slaves, and their three children, Charley, Augustus, and Anne, were born into slavery.  Slave owners and their slaves, all Catholic. It was quite uncommon, especially in the mostly Protestant south.

Augustus was seven years old when the Civil War began.  Stephen Elliot permitted Peter Tolton to head north, and he supposedly was able to join the Union Army.  A bit later, Elliot gave Martha and her children their freedom too.  They headed north, and with the help of Union Soldiers crossed the Mississippi River and entered Illinois, which was a “free” state.  They settled in the town of Quincy.

Martha and her oldest boy, Charley, were able to get jobs at the Harris Tobacco Company, which made cigars.  Augustus looked after his little sister, Anne.  He also began spending a lot of time standing across the street from St. Peter’s Church, which was not far from the rooms where they lived.  Augustus Tolton’s life was about to change.

The pastor of St. Peter’s was an Irish American priest, Father Peter McGirr.  Father McGirr had noticed a shabbily dressed African-American boy spending an excessive amount of time near the church.  After several days had gone by, Father walked across the street and introduced himself to the boy. After a brief conversation, Father asked him, ” Well, now lad, do you go to school?”

“No, sir.”

“Would you like to go to school?”

Augustus jumped into the air and yelled, “YES Sir, YES!”

Father McGirr and Augustus headed to St. Peter’s.  The priest’s move was very controversial, and most of the white parishioners did not want a black student studying along with their children.  Father McGirr held firm and insisted that Augustus study at St. Peter’s.  He got permission from Augustus’ mom, who was shocked that this had happened to her son.  Augustus Tolton’s life had been placed on the road to his destiny.

The Holy Spirit may have moved Father McGirr because he saw something in Augustus that others did not.  Within one month, the boy had moved on to the ” second reader.”  Father approached Augustus and asked him if he would like to receive his First Holy Communion.  He did, and by the summer Augustus was the altar boy for the 5 a.m. Mass.

After several years Father McGirr asked Augustus if he would like to become a priest.  He told him it would take about 12 years of hard study and dedication.  Augustus said, “Let us go to the church and pray for my success.”

After graduation and with the unwavering support of Father McGirr, Augustus attempted to get into a seminary.  It was the 1870’s, and prejudice was almost taken for granted.  Augustus was rejected by every American seminary to which he applied.  But the young man did not despair, lose hope, or begin to get bitter.  On the contrary, he continued to pray, and his prayers, combined with the fearless determination of Father McGirr, enabled him to gain admission to St. Francis Solanus College (now Quincy College) in Quincy, Ill.

Augustus proved to be a brilliant student and, upon graduation, was accepted into the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.  Founded by Pope Urban VIII in the 17th century, this was a training ground for missionaries.  It was here that Augustus became fluent in Italian as well as studying Greek and Latin.  In 1886, at the age of 32, Augustus Tolton was ordained to the priesthood in Rome.  He was the first black Roman Catholic priest in the United States.

Newspapers from across the country told the story of the former slave now ordained as a Catholic priest.  When Father Tolton arrived back in Quincy, he was greeted as a hero.  A brass band played, and Negro spirituals were sung as thousands of people, both white and black, sang together, lined the streets together, and held hands together as they waited to catch a glimpse of the former slave boy who had grown up to be a Catholic priest.

Father Tolton walked down the avenue dressed in his cassock and wearing the biretta.  When he arrived at St. Boniface Church, hundreds were crowded inside, wanting to receive his blessing.  His very first blessing went to Father McGirr, who was still by his side. The next day Father Tolton said his first Mass at the packed church, while thousands of others stood outside. For these few days, prejudices in Quincy, Illinois, were non-existent.  They had been replaced by love of God instead.

Father Tolton remained at St. Boniface’s for five years.  He did meet with stiff resistance as prejudice once again reared its ugly head.  But Father persevered and managed to start St. Joseph’s Parish in Quincy.  In 1892  he was transferred to Chicago and headed a mission group that met in the basement of St. Mary’s Church.  The work at St. Mary’s led him to develop the Negro National Parish of St. Monica’s Catholic Church.

He was such a kind, caring man that he came to be known as “Good Father Gus.”  The church grew quickly and soon had over 600 parishioners.  His next plan was to oversee new construction at St. Monica’s, which had begun to accommodate the swelling numbers of parishioners.  He would not live to see it.

Father Tolton had been ill for quite some time and had never told anyone.  On a hot July day in 1897, with the temperature at 105 degrees, Father Tolton was returning from a retreat in Bourbonnais, Ill.  When he stepped from the train, he collapsed.  Taken to the hospital, he died a few hours later from sunstroke. Father Gus was only 43 years old when he died.  The community was shocked at the loss of their dear friend.  Father Tolton was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery near Quincy.

In March 2010, Cardinal George of Chicago announced that he was beginning the cause for canonization for Father Tolton.  On February 24, 2011, the Catholic Church officially began the formal introduction of the cause for sainthood. Father Augustus Tolton was then formally designated as “Servant of God.”

Good Father Gus was declared a man of “heroic virtue” by Pope Francis on June 12, 2019. He is now known as Venerable Augustus Tolton. He is currently under consideration for Beatification.

Venerable Augustus Tolton, please pray for us all.

 

Copyright©Larry Peterson 2020 (updated from original of 2016)