Opinion

We need more local saints

byDwight G. Duncan
6/24/2011

On June 2, the cause of beatification of Father Joseph Muzquiz officially started in the Archdiocese of Boston. Father Joseph, whom I was blessed to know personally, was one of the first three priests of Opus Dei, ordained on June 25, 1944 at the age of 31. He had worked closely with its founder, Saint Josemaria Escriva.

Five years later, in 1949, he brought Opus Dei to the United States along with laymen Salvador Ferigle (Sal) and Joseph Barredo. Sal Ferigle became a professor of physics at Illinois Institute of Technology before he was ordained to the priesthood for Opus Dei in 1957 and became Father Sal. (Opus Dei is a personal prelature of the Catholic Church, a canonical structure characterized by close cooperation between priests and lay faithful in advancing the Church's pastoral mission, which in Opus Dei's case is promoting the search for holiness in ordinary life.)

Though they started out in Chicago, within five years Opus Dei had centers in Boston as well. Father Joseph died on June 21, 1983, after spending the last years of his life in Boston. His cause of beatification and canonization was opened in Boston, because under the rules of canon law, causes of beatification are generally opened in the diocese where the person died.

While I could be wrong, my impression is that a cause of beatification in Boston is a relatively rare occurrence. While there should be a cause pending to beatify Bishop Jean Cheverus, Boston's first Catholic bishop and friend of John Adams, that cause belongs more properly to France, which is where he came from and ended up as Cardinal Archbishop of Bordeaux before dying in 1836.

There have been canonical proceedings in Boston regarding alleged miracles in causes of beatification, most notably a miracle attributed to Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) that happened locally, as well as a miracle attributed to Cardinal John Henry Newman curing Deacon Jack Sullivan of Pembroke of his debilitating back problems. This cure led to Newman's beatification by Pope Benedict XVI last September in England. But proceedings to verify a person's heroic virtue seem rarer in these parts.

I think there should be many, many more. To me, and for that matter to anyone who knew them both, the holiness and heroic virtue of both Father Joseph and Father Sal are no-brainers. Of course, I submit my judgment to the better judgment of the Church and its tribunals. Ruth Pakaluk, a local mother and pro-life leader who died in 1998 and about whom I have previously written in this column, is another worthy case.

Or how about Father John Hardon, S.J., the great catechist, or Father Walter Ciszek, the American Jesuit who spent twenty-five years in the Soviet Gulag for carrying out his priestly ministry?

We read almost daily in the newspapers about Catholic priests being prosecuted for egregious moral lapses, and dismissed from the priesthood, and of Catholic couples getting divorced and having their putative marriages annulled. And so we need solid examples of success in living the Christian life and being faithful to the Church and its teaching. We need hope.

Why not have as many causes of canonization as we now have cases of annulment, or cases of priestly sexual abuse? That, after all, is what the Church is all about: getting people to heaven, which means that they become the saints we are all called to be. Admittedly, there are failures and sinners--not everyone makes it; but there are plenty of happy endings, too, and we need to be reminded of them.

I have no doubt that there are many latter-day Americans, often otherwise ordinary people, who lead and have led exemplary Christian lives. On my drive through the Midwest during my June vacation, I visited the tombs of a couple of exemplary priests who have had their heroic virtue fairly recently confirmed by the Vatican and thus are entitled to the title "Venerable."

One, Father Nelson Baker, was a diocesan priest (and ultimately Vicar General) of the Buffalo diocese. As a 22-year-old conscript, he fought in the Union army at the Battle of Gettysburg, and then went to New York City to help quell the Draft Riots of 1863. He initiated countless charitable endeavors in the town of Lackawanna, New York, and built a magnificent shrine to Our Lady of Victories. Dying in 1936, nearly half a million people attended his funeral. Pope Benedict XVI just recently proclaimed his heroic virtue.

The other, Father Solanus Casey, was a holy Capuchin friar who died in 1957 in Detroit. The Solanus Casey Center at St. Bonaventure's Monastery in Detroit now houses his remains, and artifacts from his life. Father Solanus was declared "Venerable" in 1995 by Pope John Paul II. Both Father Solanus and Father Baker need miracles to be declared "Blessed."

Like any of the holy people I have mentioned, we can learn from them, and turn to them for help with the challenges (and apparently hopeless situations, medical and other) that we face. If we obtain a miracle through the intercession of one of these holy ones, it's a win-win situation. We benefit, obviously; but they (and the Church) do, too. One does not, after all, hide a light under a bushel basket. Better to place it on a lamp-stand for all to see. At least, that's what Jesus would do.

Dwight G. Duncan is professor at UMass School of Law Dartmouth. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.