Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Brother Fix-It gave his life in Guatemala: Another American Martyr to be Beatified

Blessed James Miller—    Christian Brothers of the Midwest

By Larry Peterson

They called him Brother “Fix-it” and his religious name was Brother Leo. He loved the poor and joined the order of the De La Salle Christian Brothers so that he could mentor, help, comfort, teach, and protect the poorest of God’s children. In 1982, while serving the downtrodden in Guatemala, he was gunned down by three masked men. Pope Francis has issued a decree of martyrdom for Brother James Miller, and henceforth he will be called Blessed.

James Miller was born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, in 1944. It was a premature birth, and baby James weighed in at under four pounds. James defied the medical science of the 1940s. He survived and grew into a six-foot-two-inch, 220-pound man.

James attended Pacelli High School in Stevens Point which was run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. Impressed with his teachers he graduated and entered St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota. St. Mary’s was also run by the De La Salle Brothers and in 1962 he entered the order as a postulant (candidate). Upon finishing his novitiate (training period) he donned the habit and took the name of Leo William.  In due time, he did as many religious were doing and went back to using his baptismal name; he became Brother James Miller.

Brother James began his career as a teacher in Cretin High School where he taught Spanish and English plus religion. He was also the football coach and was so adept at maintaining and repairing equipment, including plumbing and electrical problems, that he became known as “Brother Fix-It.”

In 1969 Brother James was sent to Nicaragua to take charge of a run-down school with about 300 students. Under his guidance and determination, the student enrollment quickly grew and within a few years was at 800.  He was then put in charge of the construction of ten new schools located in rural areas of Nicaragua.

When the Sandinista Revolution began in 1979, he was ordered to leave Nicaragua. His superiors knew that Brother James had cooperated with the  Somoza Government and would now be targeted by the Sandinistas. Brother James had kept lines of communication open with the government because he needed their cooperation so he could open new schools. He resisted leaving, but he and his superiors soon discovered that his name was on the Sandinista “death list.”

Brother James returned to the United Staes and went back to teaching at Cretin High Scool. He had promised the people in Nicaragua that he would return to them. It did not happen. Instead, in 1981, he was sent to Guatemala. He began teaching in Huehuetenango, a city in the Guatemalan highlands, which had a large population of suffering Guatemalan Indians.

Brother James had been going about his work providing job skills and schooling to the oppressed natives in the area. But he was a marked man because it was discovered that the pro-government,  Guatemalan armed forces, who had a death squad known as G-2,  had Brother James on their hit list.

On February 13, 1982. Brother James was working up on a ladder repairing a section of wall on the school. It was early morning and he never saw his assassins sneaking up behind him. As he wielded his hammer to complete repairs the three masked men opened fire on brother James. Children watched from the school windows as their beloved teacher fell from his ladder. He had died before he hit the ground. No one was ever charged for the murder.

Brother James Albert Miller had died “In Odium Fidei” (In Hatred of the Faith). In 2009, Brother James has declared a man of “heroic Virtue” and pronounced as Venerable.  Pope Francis has issued the decree of Martyrdom for Brother James, and sometime during the year of 2019, he will be officially Beatified becoming Blessed James Miller.

Blessed James Miller, please pray for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Servant of God; Father Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly (Kathanar)

Venerable Payyappilly Varghese Kathanar

By Larry Peterson

On April 14, 2018, Pope Francis met with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He presented the cardinal with the names of eight Catholics who have attained the designation of Servants of God. This designation is awarded to those who have attained the first pedestal on their road to canonization. Among those named was Servant of God, Father Varghese Payyapilly Palakkappilly (yes, that is a definite tongue-twister so we will keep it at Father Varghese).

Cardinal Amato was authorized by the Holy Father to place those named worthy of receiving a promulgation of “the Heroic Virtues.” Pope Benedict XIV, 1740 to 1758, who is considered the defining authority on these virtues, wrote five volumes about them. They are still used in determining if a Servant of God meets the criteria of demonstrating ‘heroic virtue.’

A simple way to think of  ‘heroic virtue’  might be as a virtue that has become a second nature.  It becomes a habit of good behavior that can only be attained through the love of God and a closeness to Him, a closeness that most of us never reach. Heroic Virtue must be a part of those who would be advanced to the level of Venerable from Servant of God.

Father Varghese was born in India, in the province of Kerala, on August 8, 1876. He attended St. Albert’s School in Ernakulam which is on the southeast coast of India. From St. Albert’s he moved onto the Central Seminary in Sri Lank (formerly Ceylon) an island off the coast of India. From there he attended the Papal Seminary, also in Sri Lanka, where he was ordained a priest on December 21, 1907.

Father Verghase was assigned as a parish priest and served as such in various parishes from 1909 thru 1922. While serving at the parish in Arakuzha, he began St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School. His presence and efforts at the school and church helped reunite many estranged families and succeeded in making the church self-sufficient through land purchases.

Father Verghase also managed to acquire land for the construction of St. Joseph’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. He remained there until 1929. It was reported that during Father Varghese’s tenure there, vocations to the priesthood exploded.

Father Verghases’s reputation as a kind and loving priest continued to grow. He became a member of the Diocesan Council and the Director of Apostolic Union as well as the Priests’ Provident Fund. People from all over came to him because they wanted his counsel to help them with their problems. He managed to bring many families back together using the wisdom he received from the Holy Spirit.

The simple priest was held in high esteem both by church officials and government officers. His empathy for the poor and suffering and his reputation spread far and wide after he helped many victims of the great flood of 1924. He even turned St. Mary’sHigh School into a shelter and delivered food himself by boat.

On March 19, 1927, Father Verghese founded the Sisters of the Destitute. His intention was to continue what he saw as Christ’s saving message among the poor. He found abandoned people, brought them to the shelter of the Home for the Aged and nursed them.

Today the Sisters of the Destitute, have over 1500 nuns and also include among its ranks doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers. They are located in Asia, Europe, Africa and across the United States.  The operate such institutions as homes for the sick and needy, health centers, libraries, nursing homes, schools, hospitals and cancer centers.

Payyappilly Palakkappilly Varghese Kathnar (that is Father Verghese’s full name) died from typhoid fever on October 5, 1929. He was buried at St. St John Nepumsian Syrian Catholic Church in Kornthurthy, India. On August 25, 2009, Father Verghese was declared a Servant of God by the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar CatholicChurch.

When Pope Francis authorized Father Verghese as worthy of having “the heroic virtue” he (aswell as the seven others) were elevated to the rank of Venerable. A miracle attributed to Father Verghase is under review for Father Verghese and if validated, Venerable Verghase Payyappilly may become beatified.

Venerable Verghase Payyappilly, please pray for us.