Potential saints have local ties - Catholic Courier

Potential saints have local ties

Most Catholics can think of at least one miracle that occurred through the intercession of a saint who lived hundreds of years ago. But as the Mahoney family of Syracuse can attest, saints and miracles deserve a prominent place in our modern world, too.

In 1992 14-year-old Kate Mahoney underwent chemotherapy for germ-cell ovarian cancer. The treatment resulted in a massive accumulation of fluid in her abdomen, however, and she soon experienced multiple-organ failure. Doctors doubted she’d survive.

The family prayed for the intercession of Mother Marianne Cope, a Franciscan sister who’d lived and worked in central New York in the mid-1800s. Mary Mahoney, Kate’s mother, had attended grammar school at the Franciscan sisters’ convent, and Kate’s grandmother had been involved with St. Joseph Hospital in Syracuse, where Mother Cope had once served as head administrator.

“We had all these very earthly connections ‚Ķ so it was just a natural (to pray to Mother Cope),” Mahoney said.
Franciscan Sister Mary Laurence Hanley visited Kate at the hospital and touched her with a relic of Mother Cope. The local Sisters of St. Francis also kept up a steady stream of prayers for Mother Cope’s intercession.
One by one, Kate’s organs soon began to function again. The doctors were amazed, Mahoney said.

“Medically they had no explanation for how Kate came out of this,” she recalled.

The Mahoneys attributed the cure of her multiple-organ failure to the intercession of Mother Cope. So did Pope John Paul II, who affirmed the miracle and allowed Mother Cope’s cause for sainthood which had been opened in 1983 — to proceed, said Sister Hanley, director of Blessed Marianne Cope’s cause for canonization.

Saints in the making

Mother Cope, who was beatified in May 2005, grew up in Utica and joined the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse at age 24. She later sat on the religious community’s governing board, helped establish St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Utica and eventually became known for her extensive work with lepers in Hawaii.

She is not the only saint-in-the-making with local ties, however. Although he never set foot in America, Blessed Grimoald Santamaria has a devoted following in the Rochester area.

Santamaria was born in Pontecorvo, Italy, in 1883 and went to live at a Passionist monastery when he was 15, according to a biography written by Father Robert F. McNamara, former archivist for the Diocese of Rochester. The young man took his first vows the next year, but died before he could be ordained.

His mother, Cecilia Santamaria, and his sister, Vincenzina “Jenny” Panella, later settled in Rochester, where they prayed for young Santamaria’s intercession and spread the word about his extraordinary holiness. Those stories also were passed down to the younger generations, said Ida Turan and Iris Ioannone, Santamaria’s niece and great-niece, respectively.
“If they couldn’t find him anyplace, they’d find him in church,” Turan said of Santamaria. She also recalled the shrines her mother, Panella, erected to him in her home.

“He used to say to (family members), ‘I’ll pray for you here on earth when I get to heaven,” said Turan, who belongs to St. Paul Parish in Webster.
“He started praying at the age of 5. He would get his chores done and he’d always want to be in a church,” added Ioannone, Turan’s niece, who belongs to Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Greece.

Another would-be saint with a strong local following is Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who served as bishop of the Diocese of Rochester from 1966 to 1969, before being named titular archbishop of Newport, Wales.
Born in El Paso, Ill., in 1895, Archbishop Sheen was ordained in the Diocese of Peoria in 1919 and taught at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., for more than 20 years. Archbishop Sheen is perhaps best known for his national radio broadcast, “The Catholic Hour,” which drew millions of listeners during more than 22 years. He passed away in 1979.

Yet another potential saint with local connections is Father Nelson Baker, who served at St. Mary Parish in Corning in the 1880s and died in 1936 at the age of 95. Father Baker is known for founding Our Lady of Victory Parish in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna, where he opened a number of institutions for the needy, including an orphanage and hospital. A number of alleged miracles in both the Corning and Buffalo areas have been attributed to his intercession, according to The Mysteries of Father Baker, written in 2005 by John Koerner.
Only a bit farther removed is Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who was born in 1656 to Algonquin and Mohawk parents in upstate New York. She decided early on to dedicate her life to God, according to information from the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, N.Y., near Amsterdam. She was baptized at the age of 20, took a vow of perpetual virginity three years later and died in 1679.

Path to sainthood

Miracles are a crucial piece of the canonization process, which begins with a rigorous information-gathering phase, said Passionist Father Dominic Papa, vice postulator for Santamaria’s canonization cause. After volumes of information and testimony are sent to the Vatican, a tribunal examines the documentation to determine whether the candidate was a person of heroic virtue, Sister Hanley said.

If the tribunal agrees this is true, the candidate is decreed venerable and a servant of God. In order to reach the next step and be beatified, or named blessed, at least one authenticated miracle must be attributed to the candidate, Father Papa said. In Santamaria’s case, this miracle came in 1982 when a 4-year-old boy’s uncle left the keys in the ignition of his tractor and left the large machine unattended in front of the family home in Italy.

“The little boy climbed up and turned the key and the tractor lunged forward. He fell off and the tractor’s rear wheel went right over him,” Father Papa said.

The boy’s father watched the accident unfold from the window and invoked Santamaria’s intercession as he ran to his child.

“He took the boy to the doctor, and the doctor said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with this boy.’ He just had a tire mark on his face,” Father Papa said.
In 1993 the miracle was authenticated by the Vatican, which has strict standards for determining a miraculous event.
“A miracle is something extraordinary, that which cannot be explained either by medical science or the natural order of things,” Father Papa said.

Medical miracles usually are preferred because they’re easiest to prove and document, said Father Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation. So far, he said, two alleged miracles have been attributed to Archbishop Sheen’s intercession and sent to the Vatican for examination.

Officials must be able to prove that the miracle occurred as a result of the candidate’s intercession, which can be tricky, Sister Hanley noted.
“If you say, ‘I prayed to Mother Marianne and the Blessed Mother,’ who do you think is going to get the credit?” she asked rhetorically.

The canonization process can be lengthy. Santamaria’s cause, for example, formally opened in 1957 and remains ongoing. Father Deptula has a quick answer when asked why people bother engaging in such a rigorous process.

“The saints give us great encouragement,” he said. “They are our older brothers and sisters in the faith. The saints remind us that it’s possible for us (to be holy).”

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