Biographies of Blesseds - 1995


The following were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995 :  

Agostino Roscelli
Angeles de San Jose Lloret Marti
Anselmo Polanco Fontecha
Carlos Erana Gurceta
Damien de Veuster
Dionisio Pamplona
Felipe Ripoll Morata
Fidel Fuidio
Genoveva Torres Morales
Giuseppina Gabrielaia Bonino
Grimoaldo of the Purification
Jesus Hita
Johann Nepomuk von Tschiderer
Joseph Vaz

Marguerite Bays
Maria Bernarda Butler
Maria Domenica Brun Barbantini
Maria Helena Stollenwork
Maria of St Joseph Alvarado Cardozo
Mary Helen Mackillop
Mary Theresa Scherer
Modestino of Jesus and Mary
Pedro Ruiz de los Panos y Angel
Peter To Rot
Pietro Casani
Rafael Guizar Valencia
Vicente Vilar David

29 October 1995

BL. MARGUERITE BAYS was born the daughter of simple, pious farmers on 8 September 1815 in La Pierraz, Siviriez, near Fribourg, Switzerland. She was educated locally and worked as a dressmaker.

She spent all her life in her own neighbourhood. In her parish she was an exemplary committed lay person, especially dedicated to children and young girls. She also visited the sick and the dying with tireless ardour. She was a true friend of the poor, whom she called "God's favourites". She introduced missionary activities into the parish and contributed to founding the Catholic press at the time of the Kulturkampf.

She developed intestinal cancer at the age of 35 and asked Our Lady to intercede with her Son to exchange her suffering for the kind of pain that would enable her to share more directly in the Passion of Our Lord. She was miraculously cured on 8 December 1854 at the moment when Pius IX pronounced the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Instead, she had to bear a "mysterious affliction" which immobilized her in ecstasy every Friday when, physically and spiritually, she relived the phases of Jesus' passion from Gethesmane to Calvary. She also received the stigmata, like St Francis, which she did her best to hide.

Marguerite Bays put the greatest trust in prayer, the focus of her life, to which she had been inclined since childhood. She had deep love for Our Lady, whom she venerated by frequently reciting the Rosary and visiting her shrines. She also had immense love for Jesus in the Eucharist, before which she spent long hours in adoration. She lived constantly in God's presence. Thus she suffered from the sight of the weak faith she saw around her and prayed that it would be strengthened. Her focus on the eternal prevented her from being distracted by the pleasures of this world or by personal advantage of any kind. God was her greatest love. She deplored human indifference to him and insistently demanded: "What can we do to love God more?". Her constant concern to be centred on God made her profoundly humble. She felt she was the lowliest of creatures and a great sinner, and fought the self-love that dampened her ardour. She fled attention and always sought to hide the great marks of favour she had been granted.

Marguerite identified increasingly with the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. Happy to be called to follow him, she showed no sign of suffering and on the contrary "could be heard to utter words of adoration and submission to God's holy will". She died at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, 27 June 1879, absorbed in her love for the crucified Lord.

BL. MARY THERESA SCHERER was born on 31 October 1825, in Meggen, Switzerland, and was baptized with the name Anna Maria Katharina. Katharina was only seven years old when her father died. Only three of the children could remain with their mother, so Katharina was taken in by relatives who saw to it that she had a Christian education.

During a pilgrimage to Einsiedeln, she recognized her vocation to the religious life, and on 1 March 1845, she entered the newly founded Teaching Sisters' Institute, begun by Fr Theodosius Florentini, O.F.M.Cap. The plan was that it should start with Menzingen as the mother-house. In the autumn of that year she pronounced her first vows and was given the name Sr Mary Theresa. After a year of practical work in Galgenen, she was sent to teach at Baar, and then later at Oberageri where she was also superior of the small communities.

In 1850 Fr Theodosius placed her in charge of a home for the poor and orphans at Nafels, where she was known as the "mother of the poor". During that same year, Fr Theodosius opened a small hospital. He turned to the Sisters of Menzingen and asked for Sr Mary Theresa to take over the administration of the hospital. It was not easy for her, but she went in obedience and in the process she recognized that the founder's charism was not limited to education, but extended to the social works of mercy

In 1856 the Teaching Sisters separated from the founder in order to be an autonomous institute devoted to schools. Sr Mary Theresa suffered much under these circumstances. She prayed, listened to reliable advice, and came to a definite decision regarding her own mission: she would serve in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

In 1857 she was elected Superior General of "The Sisters for Schools and Care of the Poor", and along with Fr Theodosius, she led the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, which spread rapidly, since it worked where the needs of the time were the greatest. Petitions for the services of the sisters came regularly from Ingenbohl. Sisters were wanted for poor-houses, orphanages, houses of correction, military hospitals.

The sisters regarded Mother Mary Theresa as a "living holy rule". Yet in spite of this fidelity, she was not spared calumny and the accusation that she violated the vow of poverty. She bore it with fortitude and with full confidence in God.

For years Mother Mary Theresa suffered physical pain but it did not keep her away from her work. After a long period of severe pain, she died on 16 June 1888, in Ingenbohl.

BL. MARIA BERNARDA BUTLER (in the world, Verena) was born into a peasant family in Auw, Aargau, Switzerland, on 28 May 1848. She entered the Franciscan Convent of Maria Hilf in Altstatten, Switzerland, and made her religious profession as a contemplative in 1869. She later became novice mistress, then superior.

Bishop Schumacher of Portoviejo, Ecuador, invited her to his Diocese. Overcoming resistance from the Bishop of Sankt Gallen, she obtained papal authorization and left with six sisters on 19 June 1888 to found the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Help of Christians in Chone, where her efforts among the local people were soon to bear fruit. She founded other communities in Santana and Canoa Ben.

But she had her trials. With heroic virtue and utter obedience. Maria Bernarda bore the stifling heat, health problems and uncertainty, not to mention misunderstandings on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities and the departure of some of her sisters to found a new order. She silently forgave and prayed for those who caused her suffering, which culminated in persecution in 1895 and forced her community to leave Ecuador.

Unsure of her destination, Maria Bernarda reached Bahia with 15 sisters and made her way to Colombia. During the voyage they received an invitation from Bishop Eugenio Biffi of Cartagena to work in his Diocese. He assigned them a wing of the women's hospital known as the Obra Pia, which became Maria Bernarda's home for the rest of her days. In addition, she founded houses in Colombia, Austria and Brazil.

A true Franciscan, she devoted herself to the spiritual and physical care of the poor and the sick who were ever her special favourites. Indeed, she instructed her sisters always to give them priority. She died at the age of 76, after 56 years of religious life and 36 as a missionary. She had been Superior for 30 years.

Maria Bernarda was proof of an unbounded apostolic zeal and charity, which continue in the Church today through her foundations, present in various countries on three continents, and she can be held up as an authentic model of inculturation. She found divine mercy in contemplation of the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and the Passion of Our Lord and bequeathed this legacy as a charism to her congregation, with her affection for Mary whom she chose as Mother and patroness. She teaches everyone how it is still possible today to combine prayer and work, contemplation and action, life with God and service to others, all the while bringing God to men and men to God.

1 October 1995

BL. PIETRO CASANI was born in Lucca, Italy, in 1572. Impressed by his mother's exemplary death, he felt called to enter the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin, founded in Lucca by St John Leonardi. Before entering the novitiate he had studied with the Franciscans in Lucca and then at the Roman College. He was ordained in the Lateran Basilica and carried out his priestly ministry in preaching, hearing confessions and in the pastoral care of youth for whom he founded the Congregation of Our Lady of the Snows in Lucca.

After the death of St John Leonardi in 1609, his sons offered the Pious Schools their pastoral help. To ensure their continued existence, St Joseph Calasanz united them with the Congregation in Lucca. Paul V approved this union in 1614. Fr Casani was appointed rector of St Pantaleon's, headquarters of the Pious Schools. But the fathers in Lucca were soon to realize that they could not accept the ministry of the schools definitively without betraying their own founding charism. Paul V separated the two institutions in 1617. Fr Casani then decided to remain in the Pious Schools as part of the Calasanz group and played an effective role in the institute's gradual transformation from a simple secular congregation without vows to an order with solemn vows.

St Joseph Calasanz continued for 30 years to give Fr Casani increasing responsibilities, appointing him as the first rector of the mother-house of St Pantaleon, first assistant general, first novice master and first Provincial of Genoa and Naples, commissioner general for the foundations in Central Europe and the first candidate to succeed the founder as Vicar General. Fr Casani was a pious man and gifted preacher who tirelessly undertook his missions promoting regular observance in Rome and elsewhere.

His love of religious poverty was one reason for his spiritual bond with St. Joseph Calasanz and was consistent with his schools' preferential dedication to poor children. To maintain this rigorous poverty, they were both against accepting excessive generosity from benefactors. They also shared the new institute's pains and joys and the frustration of being unable to satisfy so many demands for foundations. However, Fr Casani was not spared trials. He was taken prisoner, stripped of his office as assistant general and the order reduced to a simple congregation without vows. During all these humiliations, Fr Casani defended the founder and his work with heroic resignation. He asked in vain for the favourable intercession of friends and of the powerful. He died on 17 October 1647, attended by Bl. Joseph Calasanz, who wrote many letters communicating his pious death and initiating his cause for beatification. But Calasanz died 10 months later and the preference for advancing his cause superseded all others.

In 1738, in Szeged, Hungary, where the Piarists had had a school since 1720, a woman dying in hospital recovered from an incurable illness after kissing an image of Fr Casani given her by a Piarist priest. This led to a regular canonical process, which was recently re-examined. The miracle has been recognized and approved by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

BL. CARLOS ERANA GURCETA was born in Aozaraza-Arechavaleta, Guipuzcoa, Spain, on 2 November 1884. He and his two companions, BL. FIDEL FUIDIO and JESUS HITA, were lay Marianists, imprisoned in hatred of the faith in 1936 in Ciudad Real. They were devoted to teaching and to the charism of their institute founded in Bordeaux in 1817 by Ven. Fr Guillaume Joseph Chaminade. They met in Ciudad Real in the summer of 1936 and suffered separate martyrdom. Carlos Erana was distinguished among the first generation of Spanish Marianists. When his school, the prestigious "Collegio N.S. del Pilar", was requisitioned, he felt hunted in Madrid and made a dangerous journey to Ciudad Real to seek help from his former pupils, but found the two schools had already been requisitioned and the communities scattered. "It will be as God wishes", he would say, as he calmly visited his confreres, without concealing his religious status. He was executed at dawn on 18 September 1936 near Alarcos. His companions were martyred shortly thereafter.

BL. ANGELES de SAN JOSE LLORET MARTI was born in Villa Joyosa, Alicante, Spain, on 16 January 1875. She was Superior General of the Sisters of Christian Doctrine, to which her 16 COMPANIONSalso belonged. They lived the institute's mission with dedication in accordance with the intentions of their foundress, the Servant of God Mother Michaela Grau. Catechesis was their main task and they persevered despite the difficulties in Spain, until their martyrdom in 1936. Their obedience to the Father spurred them to witness to their love, teaching and living the doctrine of Jesus to counteract the upheaval of the 1930's. They continued their life of prayer during the constant "perquisitions", and formed a community led by Mother Angeles de San Jose when they were obliged to leave their Generalate. They continued to hope and trust in God during the four months of imprisonment that preceded their death, even knitting jerseys for the militiamen. They died as a community, united as they had been in their life, in the autumn of 1936.

BL. VICENTE VILAR DAVID was born in Manises, Valencia, Spain, on 28 June 1889, the youngest of eight. He was educated by the Piarists and studied engineering in Valencia. He spread a Christian outlook and morality among his peers and was known for his charity to the poor. He worked as an industrial engineer in the family ceramics firm and held several important municipal posts in which he put the Church's social teaching into practice. He married Isabel Rodes Reig (d. 1993), the main witness of his life and martyrdom. In addition to his constant efforts on behalf of workers, he was involved in parish activities and Catholic youth groups. He was steadfast in his convictions despite the growing anti-religious sentiment in 1931, and, attempting to save persecuted priests and religious, offered them hospitality. Unafraid, he continued to live a normal life rather than hide as did many for fear of arrest, and to do good to all until his martyrdom on 14 February 1937. As he was taken away, his wife said to him: "See you tomorrow!", and he answered, "Until tomorrow or in heaven!". A few minutes later shots were heard. He was an exemplary Christian and, had he not been martyred, his cause for beatification could have begun with the canonical process to recognize the heroism of his virtues.

BL. ANSELMO POLANCO FONTECHA, the son of modest farmers, was born in Buenavista de Valdavia, Palencia, Spain, on 16 April 1881. He joined the Augustinian Order in Valladolid at the age of 15. He was later made Prior, an office he retained until he was sent to the Philippines as provincial councilor. He became Provincial Superior in 1932 and went to China, the United States, Colombia and Peru. In 1935 he was named Bishop of Teruel and Apostolic Administrator of Albarracin. He appointed BL FELIPE RIPOLL MORATA, a priest of great faith and humility, as Vicar General. Born in Teruel, Spain, on 14 September 1878 into a poor but devout family, Fr Ripoll was professor and spiritual director at the seminary and later became rector. Bishop Polanco and Fr Ripoll shared the same deep faith and love of prayer. When Teruel was taken by the Republican Army in 1938, Bishop Polanco stood by his people, earning their esteem. He resisted when pressed to remove his signature from the Spanish Bishops' Collective Letter denouncing the Church's persecution, aware of what his fate would be. Fr. Ripoll joined him and they were imprisoned for 13 months. At the end of the war (1939) they were used as a shield by disbanded soldiers and shot in a gorge near Gerona. Their remains are preserved in Teruel cathedral.

The martyrs of the Diocesan Worker Priests were a community dedicated to the promotion and formation of aspirants to the priesthood whose members developed their own ministry in this apostolate. It consisted of EIGHT of the community's members and the general director, BL. PEDRO RUIZ de los PANOS y ANGEL. He was born in Mora, Toledo, Spain, on 18 September 1881. He exercised his ministry in the seminaries of Malaga, Badajoz, and Seville and was rector of Plasencia College and the Spanish College, Rome. He founded the Disciples of Jesus, a female religious congregation dedicated to the vocational apostolate. He was a fervent apostle of priestly vocations and yearned for martyrdom. He was martyred on 23 July 1936 in Toledo. His EIGHTCOMPANIONS were also martyred on various dates that same year.

BL. DIONISIO PAMPLONA was born in 1868 in Calamocha, Teruel, Spain. He and his 12 COMPANIONS devoted their life to educating youth in the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools. Five belonged to the same religious community in Peralta de la Sal, Huesca, the birthplace of the founder, St Joseph Calasanz. Dionisio Pamplona was rector of the school in Buenos Aires and parish priest, as he was in Peralta de la Sal when he was arrested. He escaped from prison to consume all the consecrated hosts in the parish church for fear of the profanation that seemed inevitable. Dragged from Monzon prison, the only priest to be tortured with the others, he stood out among them for he was very tall. Thus with the cry, "Leave the priest to me!", most of the shots were aimed at him. He and his companions suffered martyrdom in 1936.

4 June 1995

BL. DAMIEN de VEUSTER was born at Tremelo, Belgium, on 3 January 1840 and given the name Joseph. His was a large family and his father was a farmer-merchant. When his oldest brother entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts (called "Picpus" after the street in Paris where its Generalate was located), his father then planned that Joseph should take charge of the family business. Joseph however decided to become a religious himself. At the beginning of 1859 he entered the novitiate at Louvain, in the same house as his brother. There he took the name of Damien.

In 1863 his brother, who was to leave for the mission in the Hawaiian Islands, became ill. Since preparations for the voyage had already been made, Damien obtained permission from the Superior General to take his brother's place. He arrived in Honolulu on 19 March 1864, where he was ordained to the priesthood on the following 21 May. He immediately devoted himself, body and soul, to the difficult service of a "country missionary" on the island of Hawaii, the largest in the Hawaiian group.

At that time, the Hawaiian Government decided on a very harsh measure aimed at stopping the spread of leprosy: the deportation to the neighbouring island of Molokai of all those infected by what was thought to be an incurable disease. The entire mission was concerned about the abandoned lepers and Bishop Louis Maigret, SS.CC. spoke to the priests about the problem. He did not want to send anyone "in the name of obedience", because he knew that such an order meant certain death. Four brothers volunteered; they would take turns visiting and assisting the lepers in their distress. Damien was the first to leave on 10 May 1873. At his own request and that of the lepers, he remained definitively on Molokai. Having contracted leprosy himself, he died on 15 April 1889, having served 16 years among the lepers. His remains were exhumed in 1936 and placed in a crypt of the Church of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts at Louvain.

Damien is universally known for having freely shared the life of the lepers isolated on the Kalaupapa peninsula of Molokai. His departure for the "cursed isle", the announcement of his illness (leprosy) in 1885 and his subsequent death deeply impressed his contemporaries of all denominations. After his death, the whole world continues to consider him a model and hero of charity. He, who so identified himself with the victims of leprosy to the point of being able to say "we lepers", continues to inspire thousands of believers and non believers who wish to imitate him and to discover the source of his heroism.

Damien was before all else a Catholic missionary. He respected the religious convictions of others; he accepted them as persons and received with joy their collaboration and their help. With a heart wide open to the most abject and miserable, he showed no difference in his approach and in his care of the lepers. Whether in his parish ministry or his works of charity he found a place for everyone. Among his best friends were the Lutheran Meyer, superintendent of the leper colony, the Anglican Clifford, the painter, the free-thinker Moritz, the doctor on Molokai, the Buddhist Goto, the Japanese leprologist.

Damien was very far from being just a philanthropist or a hero for the day! People from all creeds and from all philosophical systems recognize in him the Servant of God which he always reveals himself to be, and they respect his passion for the salvation of souls.

7 May 1995

BL. MARIA of ST JOSEPH ALVARADO CARDOZO was born in Choroni, Venezuela, on 25 April 1875, and received the name Laura Evangelista at Baptism. The feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1888 was an unforgettable day for her: she received Jesus in Holy Communion for the first time and made a private vow of virginity, consecrating herself as a bride of Jesus Christ.

She began instructing poor children at home, supporting the project financially with her own labour. She took her parish priest in Maracay, Fr Vicente Lopez Aveledo, as a spiritual director and under his guidance made a vow of perpetual virginity. During 1893 smallpox epidemic in Maracay, she devoted herself to the care of the sick in the first hospital founded by her parish priest. The work was difficult, the poverty total, but nothing caused her to waver. She said: "My Jesus, the ideal I seek is you and you alone. Nothing frightens me. I want to be a saint, but a true saint". This became the motivation of her entire life.

In 1901 she and Fr Lopez Aveledo founded a congregation of sisters for the assistance and care of the sick, the elderly and orphans, called the Augustinian Recollects of the Heart of Jesus. In 1902 Laura confirmed the vow of virginity she had made at 17. On 13 September 1903, by a special privilege granted to her by the Holy See as the foundress of the community, she made her perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, changing her name from Laura to Maria of St Joseph.

Her love for the needy led her to found 37 homes for the elderly and orphans in La Victoria, Villa de Cura, Coro, Calabozo, Ocumare del Tuy, Barquisimeto, Los Teques, San Felipe, Puerto Cabello, Caracas and Valencia. Many towns and cities experienced the boundless love of Mother Maria and her daughters. She said: "Those rejected by everyone are ours; those no one wants to take are ours".

Her life was a union of deep contemplation and intense activity for others. She identified with Mary's love for the Eucharist and spent many hours at night before the tabernacle in intimate conversation with Jesus. Motivated by this love, she made hosts with her own hands and distributed them freely to parishes, a work she recommended to her daughters.

After a long illness, which she bore with great strength of soul, she died in the odour of sanctity in Maracay on 2 April 1967, at the age of 92. As she had requested, she was buried in the chapel of the Immaculate Conception Home in Maracay, where she is venerated by thousands of pilgrims who come to give thanks for the favours they have received through her intercession.

BL. MARIA HELENA STOLLENWORK was born on 28 November 1852 in Eifel, Germany. She grew up in a religious atmosphere at home and participated fully in parish life.

The parish priest noticed her religious sense and so Helena joined the Society of the Holy Childhood, becoming enthusiastically interested in going to China as a missionary.

At the age of 29 she wrote to Arnold Janssen, who had founded the Society of the Divine Word in Steyl, Holland, and in 1879 had sent missionaries to China. "Whether I am going to start a missionary community for women, I cannot say as yet", he said, but he accepted her as a maid in the mission house kitchen.

Helena was joined by three others who all shared her dream: to become missionary sisters. For the time being, however, they made their contribution by cleaning vegetables, washing dishes and scrubbing the kitchen.

Soon the new Divine Word Missionaries' foundation in Argentina needed sisters. For Arnold Janssen this was the hint from God for which he had been waiting. In 1889 he founded the Mission Congregation of the Servants of the Holy Spirit.

Helena was clothed in the blue habit on 17 January 1892 as Sister Maria. She took her vows on 12 March 1894, among the first 12 sisters. Although she was responsible, she lovingly became the servant of all. Her motto, "to God the honour, to my neighbour the benefit, to myself the burden", reflects her basic attitude. She received each sister with motherly love and concern, encouragement and guidance, knowing from her own experience, however, where to set limits. In 1895 the first sisters left for Argentina, and in 1897, two more for Togo. Meanwhile in 1896 Arnold Janssen had founded a cloistered branch and Sister Maria was given the opportunity to be transferred. She hesitated for some time, torn between the yearning for a more contemplative life and her close association with the missionary sisters. She finally became a contemplative in 1898 at the age of 46.

A year later she contracted tubercular meningitis and endured the atrocious pain with heroic patience. In January 1900 she made her vows as a cloistered sister, testifying once again to her love for God. She died three days later on 3 February.

Despite all the resistance, she had maintained her ideal even when she realized she would never leave Steyl to be a missionary. She surrendered like a grain of wheat does in the sandy soil along the Maas River. Her surrender bore abundant fruit: today nearly 4,000 sisters work in 37 countries, striving to fulfil Sister Maria's missionary calling.

BL. MARIA DOMENICA BRUN BARBANTINI was born on 17 January 1789 in Lucca, Italy. She married at the age of 22, but six months later her husband died and that same night she consecrated herself to the Lord forever.

She was expecting a child and gave birth to a son. While seeing that he received a Christian upbringing, she carried on her husband's business activities and still found time at night to help the poor, sick and abandoned.

She continued to serve them and gradually attracted a group of women who devoted themselves entirely to this charitable service. In 1817 they became the Pious Union of the Sisters of Charity.

Her son died at the age of eight after a short illness. Her love for God led her to work wherever she was needed. In advance of her time, she gave an impetus to all the activities of Catholic action.

After living with the Visitandines, the question arose as to whether God wanted her to be entirely consecrated to prayer or to serving the poor sick.

She met Fr Antonio Scalabrini, later Superior General of the Order of St Camillus, who taught her the spirit of service to the sick, which led to the foundation of the Sisters Servants of the Sick of St Camillus in 1829, dedicated to serving the sick in the Camillian spirit. In 1841 the Archbishop of Lucca approved her Rule and granted the new community the status of a diocesan religious institute. She died in Lucca on 22 May 1868.

BL. GIUSEPPINA GABRIIELIA BONINO was born in Savigliano, Italy, on 5 September 1843. Deeply religious, she was given sound upbringing more by example than by words. At the age of 12 she moved to Turin and, on the advice of her spiritual director, made a temporary vow of chastity at the age of 18.

When she was 26 she moved to Savigliano to care for her ailing father until he died.

After painful, but successful back surgery she went to Lourdes in 1877 to thank Our Lady for the favour received. There she felt inspired to devote herself totally to the service of the poor. She returned home and began caring for orphans.

In 1880, after two experiences of cloistered life and on the advice of her spiritual director, she began preparations for the foundation of a new religious institute dedicated to the care and religious education of orphans and to the service of the poor and elderly sick. In April of 1881, at the age of 38, she became superior of the new institute of the Sisters of the Holy Family, a post she held until her death.

Imitating the poor, humble and hardworking Family of Nazareth, the sisters were filled with love and zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Firm in hope and strong in faith, Mother Giuseppina founded four other houses. On the morning of 8 February 1906, she died in Savona as she had predicted.

BL. AGOSTINO ROSCELLI was born in Casarza Ligure, Italy, on 27 July 1818. His materially poor family was an example of faith and Christian virtue. An intelligent and sensitive, but reserved child, Agostino helped care for the family's sheep. The natural surroundings and the silence of the mountains opened his soul to a close relationship with God.

During a parish mission in May of 1835, he felt called to the priesthood. Financial problems made it difficult for him to pursue his studies in Genoa, but his tenacity and intense prayer, combined with the aid of generous people, supported him.

Ordained in 1846, he was appointed curate of St Martin d'Albaro and began his humble service of sanctifying his people.

Entrusted with pastoral care of the Church of Consolation in 1854, he spent countless hours in the confessional. Here he set up his first residential centre in Genoa for the moral, intellectual and professional training of young women who lacked support and were at risk.

In 1874 he was appointed chaplain of the provincial orphanage, where he served for 22 years, and also worked as a prison chaplain, caring particularly for those condemned to death.

In 1876 he founded the Institute of Sisters of the Immaculata to care for the residential women's centres he had established. He died on 7 May 1902.

29 April 1995

BL. JOHANN NEPOMUK von TSCHIDERER was born in Bolzano, then in the Diocese of Trent, on 15 April 1777. His parents were Joseph Joachim and Caterina de Giovanelli.

After his primary education, in 1786 he began secondary school with the Franciscans. In 1792 he was reunited with his family in Innsbruck where they had previously moved. Here he went to university and studied philosophy and theology. He was ordained a priest on 27 July 1800.

With an open and cheerful disposition, he cultivated all the virtues, especially piety, humility, penance and charity. He began his ministry with zeal, carrying out the apostolate in several Tirolean mountain parishes, a ministry which he left for several months in order to make a pilgrimage to Rome. This made a very deep impression that remained vivid throughout his life. Later he was a highly-regarded professor at the theological seminary of Trent and later dean in Sarentino and Merano. In 1827 he was recalled to Trent as a member of the Chapter of St Vigilius' Cathedral. He was appointed Pro-Vicar General of the Diocese and in this office demonstrated his great capacity for governance.

In 1832 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Bressanone for Vorarlberg, with his residence in Feldkirch. He was ordained a Bishop in Innsbruck on 20 May 1832. Two years later, when Prince-Bishop Franz Xavier Luschin was transferred from Trent to Lemberg (now Lviv, Ukraine), he indicated Bishop Johann Nepomuk von Tschiderer as his successor. He began his ministry on 3 May 1835. He governed his Diocese like a saint, assiduously proclaiming the Gospel in preaching and writing, in an intense catechesis, in reviving popular missions and in helping the poor, the sick and in missionary works. He zealously guided divine worship, which he wanted to be worthy of God's majesty, in agreement with the Church's norms. He administered the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders to many candidates, including some from other Dioceses. He supervised the building and restoration of over 60 churches. He maintained cordial relations with the priests, providing for their ongoing formation with generous care. He promoted and encouraged the apostolic works of religious for the Christian education of boys and girls, as well as for the care of the sick. He loved the seminary and showed great interest in it, since he wanted it to impart instruction and formation inspired by sound doctrinal and ascetic principles. He was most attentive to social problems and generously helped the poor, in addition to being a great benefactor to an institute for the hearing and speech impaired.

He gave frequent proof of constancy at difficult moments, sharing the anxieties of the people in times of grief and dismay, especially during the cholera epidemic of 1836 and 1855, and in the war of 1859. He intervened promptly and decisively to prevent the 20 March 1848 Uprising from becoming a blood-bath, and when his petition for clemency for 21 young members of the Franco-Italian forces captured by the Austrians was refused, he saw to it that they were given religious assistance and a pious burial.

He lived in deep communion with God through long periods of prayer, the celebration of Mass, meditation on the Lord's Word and on the teachings of the Church's Magisterium, the unfailing guide of orthodox spiritual teachers; and he prayed the Rosary daily. He was determined to overcome the obstacles to relations with the Holy See that were created by contemporary legislation.

As a devoted son of Holy Mother Church, he had a great love for the Roman Pontiff. He used the occasion of the third centenary of the opening of the Council of Trent to promote a religious revival through popular missions and other pastoral activities. In 1854 he planned, despite his advanced age, to make a pilgrimage to Rome for the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. However this journey was prevented by symptoms of the illness which eventually led to his final meeting with Christ on 3 December 1860, the feast of St Francis Xavier, patron of the missions, as he asked the Lord for "a very pious successor" for his Diocese, and a "few, but good, good priests".

29 January 1995

BL. RAFAEL GUIZAR VALENCIA was born on 26 April 1878 in Cotija, Michoacan, Mexico. At the age of 16 he entered the major seminary of Zamora, his native Diocese, and was ordained a priest on 1 June 1901. Zealously committed to the priestly ministry, in 1905 he was appointed apostolic missionary and spiritual director of Zamora's seminary.

In order to counteract the anti-Catholicism of the revolutionary press, Fr Guizar founded a print shop, which published the Catholic periodical La Nacion. Religious persecution forced him to move to Mexico City, where, disguised as a junk dealer, he was able to care for the sick and wounded. Sentenced to death several times, he escaped and did missionary work in the USA and Cuba.

Consecrated Bishop of Vera Cruz in 1919, evangelization became his main concern and he wrote a Catechism of Christian Doctrine to this end. He rebuilt the seminary, which had long been closed because of anti-Catholic legislation. He used to say: "A Bishop can do without a mitre, crosier and even a cathedral, but he can never do without a seminary, because the future of his Diocese depends on the seminary". The seminary was later confiscated by the Government following new anti-religious legislation.

The seminary was moved to Mexico City, where it operated clandestinely for 15 years. The Bishop practised heroic charity towards the poor, giving away his pectoral cross, ring, clothes, shoes, cassock, hat and coat to provide for their needs, so much so that he was known as "the Bishop of the poor", despite sufferings brought on by diabetes, phlebitis, cardiac insufficiency and extreme obesity.

Forced into exile, he worked in the Southern United States, later going to Cuba, Colombia and Guatemala, where he helped local Bishops organize the spiritual life of their clergy. Through correspondence he remained in touch with his Diocese and the underground seminary in Mexico City. On his eventual return to Veracruz he taught catechism, preached popular missions and aided the sick and dying. Having taken ill in Cordoba, he was brought to Mexico City, where he died on 6 June 1938.

BL. MODESTINO of JESUS and MARY was born at Frattamaggiore (Naples) on 5 September 1802 to a humble, working-class family. He was baptized Dominic. He showed great religious fervour and served as an altar boy. At 18 he entered the seminary of Aversa on the recommendation of Bishop Agostino Tommasi, who had been impressed by his zeal. After his benefactor's death in 1821, Dominic continued to study for the priesthood at home. He was clothed in the Franciscan habit at Grumo Nevano in 1822 and spent his first year in the novitiate of Santa Lucia in Naples. On 27 November 1824 he made his religious profession. After philosophical and theological studies he was ordained on 22 December 1827 in Aversa.

Fr Modestino was involved in preaching and hearing confessions, and also became and exemplary guardian (superior) of the friaries of Mirabella Eclano (Avellino) and Pignataro Maggiore (Caserta).

In 1839 he was transferred to Santa Maria della Sanita in one of the populous slum quarters of Naples where he lived until the day of his heroic death, doing great good especially for the poor and sick. He was distinguished for his zeal in defending newborn life and in spreading the devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel. Fr Modestino not only shared the life of his people with Christian compassion, but was able to adapt the eternal Gospel of charity and peace to the mentality of his time, inspiring unsuspected spiritual and moral energy in the hearts of generous Neapolitans. On 24 July 1854 he succumbed to cholera while helping victims of the epidemic. He died a holy death, mourned by all in Naples.

The heroic life of this authentic son of St Francis is still a model, especially for religious who are called on by the Church to give a dynamic witness to the Good News in social settings that have not been imbued with Gospel values. Fr Modestino's holiness is an invitation to all believers, especially young people. With his enthusiasm for following Christ, he urged young people to let the great hopes of the Church and humanity resound in their hearts and not to be afraid of responding generously to the Lord.

BL. GENOVEVA TORRES MORALES was born on 3 January 1870 in Almenara, Castille, Spain, he youngest of six children, born to honest God-fearing labourers. By the age of eight she had lost both parents and four of her brothers and sisters. She learned to care for the home and started reading spiritual books, which taught her always to do the will of God, for that is why the Lord created man. This became her rule of life.

At the age of 13 her left leg had to be amputated at the thigh. She used crutches for the rest of her life and the leg was a continual source of pain and sickness. From 1885 to 1894 she lived at the Mercy Home run by the Carmelites of Charity, where she intensified her life of piety and perfected her sewing skills. Reflecting back on this period in her life, she later wrote: "I loved freedom of heart very much, and worked and am working to achieve it fully.... It does the soul so much good that every effort is nothing compared with this free condition of the heart".

It seems that Genoveva intended to join the Carmelites of Charity, but they did not permit it because of her physical condition. She felt a great desire to dedicate herself to the Lord and started living with two other women who supported themselves by their own work. In 1911 Canon Barbarros suggested a new religious community, pointing out that there were many poor women who could not afford to live on their own and suffered greatly. For years Genoveva had thought of a religious congregation that would be solely concerned with meeting the needs of such women. And so, with the help of Canon Barbarros, the first house was established in Valencia.

Other houses were soon erected in Valencia, Zaragoza, Madrid, Bilbao, Barcelona, Santander and Pamplona, despite many problems and obstacles. In 1953 the institute received papal approval with the name "Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Holy Angels", popularly known as the Angelicas.

Always in good humour, kind and welcoming to all, Genoveva would joke about her physical ailments and was filled with a great love for God and the poor. She died on 5 January 1956.

BL. GRIMOALDO of the PURIFICATION was born on 4 May 1883, the eldest of five children of a devout family in Pontecorvo (Frosinone), Italy, and baptized Fernando. His family gave him his first schooling in the faith. At the age of eight he made his First Communion and served Mass regularly, growing in piety especially through personal prayer and attendance at catechism class. At nine he joined the Congregation of the Immaculata, and participated faithfully in all their religious exercises. He also sang in the parish choir and by the age of 12 was helping to catechize his peers.

After regularly attending retreats given by the Passionists at the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Graces in Pontecorvo, at the age of 13 he expressed a desire to enter their community, which his father at first opposed because he had others plans for the boy. In the end he gave his permission.

He entered the Congregation of the Passion at Santa Maria di Pugliano and received the habit on 5 March 1899, taking the name of Grimoaldo, in honour of St Grimoald, a martyr and the patron of his people. He made his religious profession on 6 March 1900, including the special vow of practising and spreading devotion to Christ's passion. The next day he moved to the student residence in the ancient abbey of Santa Maria di Corniano, near Cecceano.

Grimoaldo continued to live the Passionist rule with the same fervour he had in the novitiate, spending time in study, prayer, penance and community life. Although outwardly his life appeared ordinary, his companions noticed something special: he had a particular sense of God's presence and concentrated all his attention on the Lord.

He was never ordained a priest, but he lived his religious vocation to the full. At the age of 19 he was diagnosed as having acute meningitis. The seriousness of the illness revealed the heroic virtue that was second nature to him. Clear, calm and recollected, he was not saddened by his approaching death, but kept repeating: "God's will be done". With a smile on his face he went to meet the Lord on 18 November 1902.

21 January 1995

BL. JOSEPH VAZ was born in Benaulim, in the Province of Salcette, Goa, India, on 21 April 1651. He went to primary and secondary school in Sancoale and Benaulim. Aware of his attraction to the priesthood, he attended Goa University to study humanities, and went on to the St Thomas Aquinas Academy to study philosophy and theology.

In 1676 Vaz was ordained a priest. Because of his excellent references from the seminary he was given the faculty to preach and hear confession. In these tasks he applied himself so zealously that he was even sought out by the Viceroy of Goa. Desirous to extend his pastoral activity, he opened a Latin school in Sancoale to help those who wished to prepare for the priesthood, and he did great good among the young people.

Joseph Vaz always had a great devotion to Mary. In 1677 he made an extraordinary act of self-consecration as a "slave of Mary" and sealed it with an official document known as his "Letter of Enslavement".

A varied apostolate (1681-1686)

In that period Joseph came to hear of the tragic situation of Catholics in Ceylon, who, persecuted by the Dutch, had been deprived of priests for almost halt a century. Since the see was vacant, he sought permission from the Chapter of Goa to go to Ceylon; however, he was instead asked to go to the mission in Kanara. He accepted on the advice of his spiritual director, but continued to cherish his desire to go to Ceylon.

Appointed Vicar of Vara in Kanara, he carried out an intense apostolate in that mission, alternating the ministry of preaching and hearing confession with visiting the sick, helping the poor, ransoming Christian slaves, depriving himself of everything, even clothes. He attached importance to the validity of the sacraments, especially marriage, which was endangered by the jurisdictional dispute between the Archbishop of Goa, who was connected with the Portuguese Padroado, and the Vicar Apostolic, sent from Rome. To resolve this critical situation, he asked the Vicar Apostolic, Don Tommaso de Castro, for conditional jurisdiction and explained his own work to the Chapter in Goa, imploring them to solve the problem. The situation was complicated by the intolerant decisions of the new Archbishop of Goa, Don Manual de Souza de Menezes. He obliged Joseph Vaz to oppose the Vicar Apostolic, to whom he later made a public apology before leaving Kanara to go back to Goa (1684).

Meanwhile, a small congregation of priests desiring to live an ascetical life had formed in Goa. After his first approval of the statutes, the Archbishop granted them the Church of the Holy Cross of Miracles as their residence. After joining, Joseph was elected superior. He gave a definitive canonical status to this Oratory, introducing religious exercises and charitable activities, and training its members for the mission.

The apostle of Ceylon (1686-1696)

Joseph gave up his position as superior and decided to set out for Ceylon (1686). He disguised himself as an itinerant workman and reached the port of Tuticorin (Easter 1687). He had great difficulty in embarking for Ceylon, but finally reached Jaffna in the north of the island, which was the Dutch stronghold.

Recovering somehow from an infection due to the fatigue of the journey and all kinds of deprivations, he started his apostolate by contacting Catholics and escaping the vigilance of the Dutch. He was lodged by a firm Catholic, on good terms with the Dutch, and carried out his ministry with families at night. However his presence in Jaffna became dangerous, and he was advised to move to Sillalai, an entirely Catholic village. From here he extended his apostolate to the neighbouring villages. The Dutch commander of Jaffna, Adrian van Rheede, concerned by the Catholic revival and suspicious of a Catholic priest's presence, sought in vain to capture him on Christmas Eve 1689.

Joseph Vaz went to Puttalam (1690) in the Kingdom of Kandy, inhabited by 1,000 Catholics who had not seen a priest for half a century. He also intensified his apostolate in the neighbouring regions. Desiring to make Kandy the centre of his apostolate, he left for that city (1692), hoping to obtain from the king a permit to circulate freely. Instead, because of a Calvinist's insinuations, he was imprisoned together with two Catholics. In prison he learned Sinhala. When vigilance over the prisoners slackened, he built a hut-church in the prison precinct and later a proper church dedicated to Our Lady, for the conversion of non-believers.

An unusual event put an end to his imprisonment and also to the hostility of the Buddhist monks. After a serious drought, the king had asked the Buddhist monks to pray to their gods for rain, but without result. He then turned to the Servant of God. After erecting an altar and a cross in the middle of the square, he began to pray and received an abundant rainfall, while he himself and the altar stayed dry. The king then granted him the freedom to preach the Gospel everywhere (1696).

An intense apostolate (1696-1710)

Making the most of his new-found freedom, he made a missionary visit to the Dutch zone and, risking capture, visited the Catholics in Colombo. Probably at that time, he received three missionaries from the Oratory of Goa to help him, with the news that the Bishop of Cochin, Don Pedro Pacheco, had appointed him Vicar General in Ceylon. He was organizing the basic mission structure when a bad epidemic of smallpox broke out in Kandy (1697). His apostolate among the sick convinced the king to allow Fr Joseph every possible freedom in his labours.

He then began a missionary journey to the main centres of the island. He returned to Kandy with Fr Joseph de Carvalho (1699), who had been expelled at the instigation of Buddhist monks, and completed the construction of the new church (1699). The king invited him to his palace to translate Portuguese books into Sinhala.

From 1700 to 1705 he organized missionary trips to all parts of the island, intensifying his ministry both to the Catholics and non-believers. He succeeded in converting some Sinhalese notables, which gave rise to slanders against him and persecution of the new converts.

The arrival of new missionaries (1705) enabled him to organize the mission into eight districts, with one priest for each. With the collaboration of two of these, he began to realize his dream of creating a Catholic literature comparable to that of the Buddhists, and to affirm the rights of Catholics with regard to the Dutch Protestant Government.

In the meantime Vimaldharna Surya II, the king who had favoured Fr Vaz, died (1707). His successor, Narendrasimha, in turn followed him more closely. He continued his apostolate, aided by the arrival in 1708 of new missionaries. Despite his waning physical strength, in 1710 he undertook his last apostolic trip.

On his return from his last journey, he fell from the carriage and reached Kandy in serious condition. He recovered, but after Easter was affected by a catarrhal infection from which he also recovered. Immediately after this an abscess formed behind his ear, which caused him unspeakable pain and a high fever. In this condition he wished to undertake the nine days of spiritual exercises prescribed by the Rule, but after the sixth day, he was forbidden to continue.

Feeling that his end was near, he asked for Extreme Unction. After greeting a missionary who had just arrived in Kandy, he asked the others to leave him in silence and withdrew into contemplation. He died late at night on 16 January 1711.

The king was duly informed and sent the Fathers his condolences. News of the blessed's death spread everywhere and a great crowd arrived, so that his body had to be exposed for three days. It was then buried after a solemn funeral ceremony in the church in Kandy.

19 January 1995

by Fr Paul Gardiner, S.J. Postulator of the cause


Born in 1842 in Melbourne, Australia, MARY HELEN MACKILLOP learnt to know and love God from a mother and father, Alexander MacKillop and Flora MacDonald, whose ancestors had held fast to the Catholic faith in Scotland through centuries of persecution. When she came into the world, scarcely more than 50 years had elapsed since the first Europeans had settled in Australia.

After Mary there were three more daughters and four sons born to the family. Although Alexander was a good man and genuinely religious, he was not a successful money earner, and his firstborn found herself with the duty of supporting this family until she was 25.

From her earliest years Mary had a delicate sense of God's presence, and felt called to live a life of poverty consecrated to the service of his poor. But she had to wait. The family needed her, and at the age of 16 she went to work to earn money to support them. Two years later she went to teach as a governess in a little town in South Australia called Penola. There she found that the priest, Fr Julian Tenison Woods, was concerned that in the vast area under his care the children had no education, religious or secular.

In time Fr Woods' problem and the young woman's vocation found a single solution in the great religious and educational enterprise known as the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. "Our work was instituted by God", Mary said, "to destroy the secular spirit of education among our schools". The foundation is traced to the period when she returned to Penola in 1866 after some years teaching elsewhere, and became Sr Mary of the Cross.

After small beginnings in a school building that had been a stable, the Sisters of St Joseph moved to the capital city, Adelaide, where their numbers grew rapidly. Before long, their works of charity had spread to other parts of Australia and to New Zealand. Besides primary schools, they cared for anybody in need, orphans, old people, girls in danger, the friendless of all ages. No money was asked for any of these services. They depended on alms for everything.

In 1873 Sr Mary was sent to Rome to obtain the approval of the Holy See for the institute. She had several audiences with Pope Pius IX, who gave her great encouragement. She returned to Australia with a modified Rule, being assured by the officials of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide that after some years' trial it would be given final approval.

In 1875 Mary was elected Mother General. After many difficulties she had the joy of seeing the institute approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, by which time the mother-house was in Sydney.

She was Mary of the Cross, and her cross took many forms - ill health, frequent long journeys in primitive conveyances on land and sea in oppressive weather, the writing of thousands of letters, struggles to obtain the necessities of life, the hardships of real poverty.

But her most distressing crosses came from people, sometimes in high places. What she suffered is sometimes astonishing to read (as when she was falsely excommunicated), but more astonishing is the story of her charity and forbearance towards those who were unjust to her. She judged nobody, she blamed nobody, she was never heard to utter a word of criticism or bitterness, and her reverence for the sacred character of priests and Bishops was never diminished. She always tried to excuse those who had wronged her, called attention to their good qualities, and reminded the sisters of favours received from them in the past.

Her public achievement is a historical fact in Australia and New Zealand, but for those who knew her personally the most striking thing about her was her kindness. In everything she said or did she showed respect and love for those around her, making no distinction between the rich, the high-born, and the influential on the one hand and the lowly and the outcasts of society on the other. Her love did not depend on performance. Once a condemned murderer (a wild animal, people called him) poured abuse and blasphemy on anyone who tried to talk to him, until Mother Mary came into his cell, calmed him down, and helped him to die at peace with God and man.

Love was the soul of her virtues, always ready to make allowances and to endure whatever comes (1 Cor 13:7). Her faith enabled her to look beyond what she could see and hear and smell, and to respect all as children of God redeemed by the blood of Christ, one whom she had not seen but whom she loved (1 Pt 1:8). Her union with God was constant, fed by long hours of prayer and great devotion to the Eucharistic Sacrifice and to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. From childhood she had looked on the Blessed Mother of God as her mother. She loved poverty with the quiet St Joseph, the patron of her institute, and honoured him as a model and helper at all times.

Mary MacKillop, lover of the crucified Christ, had never been without the Cross. Besides ill health she had to bear human opposition, calumny and rejection. With the passing of the years the human problems faded, but her physical sufferings grew worse, until in her last months they were constant and distressing. But she always said, "my only prayer is that his will may be done in the matter".

When God finally called her from this world on 8 August 1909, she had borne her cross with incredible patience and with the joyful love of the dear will of God which had marked her whole life. That love of God had filled her heart and overflowed to all those around her, but it was especially tender towards anybody in trouble. She had kept the great commandment, "Love God" and the second, "Love your neighbour" (Mt 23:37).

Her place of rest in the chapel of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, North Sydney, is a place of pilgrimage and devotion.

History of the cause

When Mother Mary of the Cross died on 8 August 1909, there was a remarkable display of veneration for her in Sydney. This was not merely because there were then nearly 1,000 Sisters of St Joseph, but because she was regarded as a saint.

People touched the body with rosaries and other objects of devotion, and after her burial they took earth from around her grave. This was surprising because this kind of thing is not customary at all in Australia. There is no tradition of saints in that country.

On 27 January 1914, Mother Mary's remains were transferred to the chapel of the Josephite mother-house in North Sydney. The conviction that she was a saint grew stronger with the years, but Australia had no experience of how to go about having someone canonized. Eventually in 1925 the Mother General of the congregation, Mother Laurence, was encouraged by the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Cattaneo, to take the necessary initiative.

Archbishop Michael Kelly of Sydney set up the necessary tribunals. Between September 1926 and November 1928 an Informative Tribunal held 45 sessions during which a carefully itemized set of questions was put to a number of witnesses -sisters who had known Mary from the early days, and her own sister, Annie.

In March 1929 a technical difficulty arose, and much time was taken up in discussing how to proceed. Eventually, in 1931 it was decided that the cause should be suspended until a better time. But 20 years later the man who was notary at the Tribunal had become the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney. He had always held that the suspension of the cause was an injustice to a holy woman, and was determined to resume it. The difficulty vanished, and the inquiry proceeded with examining witnesses. By 15 November, with the 74th session, the Informative Process was deemed to be complete.

In April 1954 a decree was issued to the effect that Mary MacKillop's writings contained nothing incompatible with heroic sanctity. Two decrees de non cultu were issued, one in November 1951 and the other in 1990.

Though the Sydney Process seemed to be completed in 1951, the years 1959-61 saw 38 more sessions at which nine more witnesses were interrogated. This brought to 112 the total number of sessions held between 1926 and 1961. All the Acta were sent to Rome. In 1972 a volume of 600 pages was issued in Rome, Positio super Introductione Causae. The Decree on the Introduction of the Cause was proclaimed at the Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne in February 1973.

After more research in Roman archives and elsewhere, the Positio super Virtutibus was composed during the years 1984-1989 under the supervision of the Relator, Fr Peter Gumpel, S.J. On 15 November 1991 a special meeting of theological consultants under the presidency of Fr Antonio Petti, Promoter of the Faith, was unanimously favourable to the cause. Then on 5 May 1992, an Ordinary Meeting of Cardinals and Bishops, under the Ponens Cardinal William Wakefield Baum, was similarly favourable. The Decree De Virtute heroica was read in the presence of the Holy Father on 13 June 1992.

On 5 February 1993 there was a special meeting of the theological consultors to examine the evidence that there had been concerted prayer to Mary MacKillop on behalf of the patient, and that a relic of Mary had been applied to her. When this link had been established, the case was proposed, with Cardinal William Wakefield Baum as Ponens, at an ordinary meeting of Cardinals and Bishops on 4 May. It was accepted unanimously and a Decree on the miracle was read at a special papal audience on 6 July 1993.

The miracle

After the reading of the decree on Mary's heroic virtue in June 1992, the next step was the presentation of the Positio on a cure claimed to be effected through her intercession.

Twenty years previously a panel of doctors and others had looked at a number of such claims and selected the recovery in 1961 of an apparently dying woman. A Tribunal was set up in Sydney to examine the case, and the evidence of witnesses, together with hospital records, medical documents, x-rays and slides, was sent to Rome.

In 1992 the evidence was examined by medical and legal experts, and then by the Consulta Medica of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The verdict on 5 November 1992 was unanimous: that the diagnosis was correct, that the prognosis was totally negative, that the therapy was inadequate to produce a cure, that the recovery was full and permanent, and that there was no explanation in terms of medical science. The patient is strong and healthy now in 1995, 33 years after her illness.

17 January 1995

by Fr Renato Simeone, M.S.C.

PETER TO ROT was born in 1912 in Rakunai, a village on the Melanesian island of New Britain, today an eastern province of the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. Due to the lack of documentation, destroyed by the Japanese during the war, it is impossible to determine his date of birth. This is also the case for his martyrdom and for almost all the events in his life. In the culture of Papua New Guinea it was not customary to keep public records.

His parents, Angelo To Puia and Maria la Tumul, baptized as adults, belonged to the region's first generation of Catholics. It should not be forgotten that the evangelization of Papua New Guinea owed a great deal to the extraordinary faith, training and commitment of English Methodist Missionaries.

On 29 September 1882 the first group of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart arrived in Matupit, New Britain, 10 years after the Methodists had begun preaching and had established the Malaguna Mission. What happened in 1898 is surprising. Angelo To Puia, the great chief of Rakunai village on the hills near Rabaul, told the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart that the majority of his people wished to be Catholic and not Methodist. It was precisely in these circumstances that Peter To Rot's father, together with other powerful tribal chieftains, was solemnly baptized, forming the nucleus of the first generation of Catholics in the region. It was Angelo To Puia himself who opened the village of Rakunai to the faith and to collaboration with the missionaries. He promoted the Christian life in his village, where he was chief for 40 years.

Beginning in adolescence, Peter To Rot had a strong inclination to piety and obedience, which convinced his parish priest Fr Emilio Jakobi that the boy was born to be a priest. But Peter's father considered this choice premature. He felt none of his people were ready for the priesthood at the time. He nonetheless agreed that Peter should be trained as a catechist.

A capable but modest catechist

In 1930, at the age of 18, the Servant of God was enrolled at St Paul's Mission School for training catechists who would work closely with the missionaries in evangelization. He succeeded brilliantly in his studies and in 1933 obtained the catechist's diploma. An account testifies to the character of this young student: "...he was modest and there was not the slightest vanity in him, neither with regard to his background nor capability. He let the older catechists guide him in his work and accepted their advice, but eventually eclipsed them all and soon became their recognized leader, although he was younger".

When he had completed his studies, Peter was assigned to the mission in his own village, and so began his work as a catechist in Rakunai. These were years of intense work to organize catechesis in the village, to gather large and small groups for instruction and prayer and to become acquainted with people's real life situations. All those who had him as their catechist recall his straightforward, immediate and effective teaching. He referred constantly to the Bible and always carried it with him (rare for Catholics of the time!), quoting it directly as the occasion required. He was particularly sensitive in discovering the inner problems in others' lives and shared them intimately.

When he had completed his studies, Peter was assigned to the mission in his own village, and so began his work as a catechist in Rakunai. These were years of intense work to organize catechesis in the village, to gather large and small groups for instruction and prayer and to become acquainted with people's real-life situations. All those who had him as their catechist recall his straightforward, immediate and effective teaching. He referred constantly to the Bible and always carried it with him (rare for Catholics of the time!), quoting it directly as the occasion required. He was particularly sensitive in discovering the inner problems in others' lives and shared them intimately.

On 11 November 1936, the only certain date in his life, Peter To Rot married the young Catholic Paula la Varpit from a neighbouring village. Their marriage was celebrated in church but many local traditions - like the 50 shell necklaces to buy the bride - were joyously included. Three children were born from his marriage with Paula: Andrea, who died after the war; a little girl, Rufina La Mama, who is still alive; and the third child (name unknown), who was born shortly after the Servant of God's death in 1945 and died soon thereafter.

The decisive turning point in Peter To Rot's life and mission occurred in 1942. After the Japanese occupation, all the missionaries and mission staff were imprisoned in a concentration camp. The Servant of God remained alone. During the war he was the only spiritual guide for Catholics in the Rakunai district. With his constant presence, he provided prayer services, catechetical instruction, the administration of Baptism, the preservation and distribution of the Eucharist to the sick and the dying, and assistance to the poor. On the outskirts of Rakunai, he built a church for the Catholic community from branches, the only material available. The main church had been destroyed by the Japanese.

At the start of the Japanese occupation, he was on good terms with the military authorities. This sort of friendly relationship with the inhabitants ceased in 1942 after the Japanese suffered some military reverses. At that point the military police replaced the local authorities, creating an atmosphere of repression.

Therefore, they decided to forbid Christian worship and all types of religious gatherings, public and private. Subsequently, the repression became more violent. The Japanese, seeking to force the local chieftains into collaborating with them, decided that the Tolais should return to their previous practice of polygamy. This was a severe blow after almost half a century of missionary work. Peter firmly opposed this and was not afraid to disagree publicly with his brother Joseph.

The Servant of God was arrested in April or May 1945. According to accounts, his questioning by the official Meshida was a farce as well as an expression of the crudest violence. He was sentenced to two months' imprisonment. Later, referring to his imprisonment, Peter said: "I am here because of those who broke their marriage vows and because of those who do not want the growth of God's kingdom".

'A martyr for the faith'

The Servant of God was held in a concentration camp which had been set up in a cave. Various accusations were leveled at him, including: religious gatherings, undue interference in the Japanese plan for polygamy and persistence in his catechetical activities.

Efforts by the Methodist chief of Navunaram and the chief of Rakunai, Anton Tata, to have Peter released failed. A prison mate said: "He was often visited in prison by his aged mother and his wife, who brought him food every day. At one of their last visits, To Rot said to his mother: the police have told me that the Japanese doctor will be coming to give me some medicine. I suspect that this is a trick. I am really not ill at all and I cannot think what all this means".

Despite the precautions of the Japanese, Arap To Binabak, a prisoner, could see the brightly lit room where Peter had been summoned after the doctor arrived. The doctor gave Peter an injection, then something to drink and finally stuffed his ears and nose with cotton wool.

Then the doctor and two police officers made him lie down. Peter was stricken with convulsions and looked as though he was trying to vomit. The "doctor" covered his mouth and kept it closed. The convulsions continued for a time, while the doctor held him still. Peter fell into unconsciousness and after a long while drew his last breath. The same eye witness gently spread the terrible news of Peter's death to his companions. Several prisoners, taking advantage of the night-time absence of the Japanese, wanted to see his body. Thus they verified his horrible death.

But in the morning they saw a totally different scene: Peter's corpse was now arranged on the dormitory floor. The Japanese, summoned by loud speaker, registered great surprise when they saw Peter's corpse. Later, to Anton Tata, an old family friend, the Japanese cynically replied that the prisoner died from a secondary infection. In the meantime, they informed the family and returned his corpse for burial, which took place in silence without a religious rite.

The immense crowd which attended the Servant of God's burial, notwithstanding the presence of the Japanese police, immediately considered Peter a martyr. This was not a momentary reaction but a growing certitude. In fact, in the Tolai language Peter To Rot is called "A martir ure ra Lotu": "A martyr for the faith".

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
Various dates and pages in 1995

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