Category Archives: Causes for Sainthood

Burying the Lead: Blessed Laura Vicuña

Laura Vicuña was a Peruvian-Argentinean girl who lived a saintly life and died in a heroically edifying way. The Salesian Brothers and Sisters in Argentina supported her cause for sainthood, and she was named a Venerable back in the early 1900’s, eventually being beatified by Pope John Paul II in the 1980’s.

Here’s the problem. Laura lived a difficult life because her desperately poor widowed mother became the live-in girlfriend of a ranch owner, who then started to go after Laura as she got older. (She died at the age of 13, though, and the guy had been going after her for over six years. So obviously he was a sick puppy, and it’s not clear if he went after her younger sister, Julia, also.)

The ranch owner was also a violent man, when he was drunk and when he wasn’t. He beat up the mother, and he beat up Laura when she refused him. Finally, Laura’s mom fled with her two kids to another town, but the abuser followed, demanding to rape Laura. Laura tried to draw him off or prevent her mom from letting him in, by leaving the place they were staying by another door. Instead she received a crazy beating from the man in the middle of the street, in the middle of town. He almost rode off with her unconscious body, but townspeople intervened before he could. He finished his work by throwing her down in the middle of the street. Laura recovered consciousness, but died of her injuries, after making her mom promise not to go back to him and then forgiving her killer.

All this was covered up in the normal outlines of her life. They said that she had tuberculosis (which she did), and that she had offered God her life to get her mom and sister out of the bad situation (which she did). But they said that it was the tuberculosis that killed her, as opposed to her internal bleeding and injuries. And they said that the bad situation was her mom living an immoral life, not the whole family being subject to a crazy abusive would-be rapist.

(It’s a little weird, because the normal story about St. Maria Goretti, from about the same time, is perfectly clear about the man having rape and murder as his intentions.)

A minor point is that the normal story still emphasizes that Laura was a friend to everybody in school, loved by the teachers, and a leader in sports. Apparently the real story is that Laura worked hard, was devout, helped everyone, was a favorite with the teachers for her good qualities — and was absolutely despised by every other girl in school, except for her one best friend. She was poor, she was stubborn, she had normal looks, and she was showing everybody else up.

Here’s another point. Laura’s mom, Mercedes Pino, was treated pretty poorly by life. Her husband Domenico Vicuña came from a rich family, while hers was poor or middle class. When they married against his family’s wishes and he was disowned by his family, her family also disowned her. She kept the family going for six years after her family died, living an honest life as a dressmaker and hatmaker. But in 1899, thieves broke into her store and cleared out the whole inventory, plus the store appliances. Seeking a new start, she took her girls into the frontier lands of Argentina, where there was supposed to be plenty of opportunity. She was willing to work hard as a maid and cook. So nobody knows why she agreed to become Manuel Mora’s mistress as well as his housekeeper.

Like Mercedes’ dead husband, Manuel Mora came from a good family. Unlike her husband, he had a long list of prior convictions, and wasn’t shy about shooting or stabbing people. Thanks to his family’s influence, he got a good grant of cattle land along the frontier. To give him credit, he was good at running estancias and raising cattle, and he dressed well. However, he was known to treat his hands like slaves, the local natives like worse than slaves, and was in the habit of whipping anyone who displeased him. He was then in need of a mistress, because he had branded his previous one like a cow and then driven her off the ranch.

Apparently he was very charming to Mercedes in the beginning, and implied that he was planning to marry her. But that was all just lies. He did initially pay the kids’ tuition for boarding school, but eventually he refused to pay more because he wanted easy access to Laura. (To their credit, the sisters then awarded Laura and Julia scholarships.)

One sad point is this: Laura didn’t understand what was going on with her mom and the abuser until she was ten, and one of the sisters taught about marriage as a Sacrament. The poor kid fainted dead away, right in the middle of class. (No doubt some of her classmates had been hinting stuff that she hadn’t understood.) It’s just as well, though, because the abuser made his first move on her after the end of that school year, in 1902.

That wasn’t the end of her troubles, either. She wanted to join an order, both for religious reasons and to get out of the bad home situation. (Which would also have lightened the financial load on her mom and sister, although obviously her sister would have been up next for unwanted attention from the abuser.) But she was refused admission to the order of Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, not just because of her age (the standard outline’s explanation), but because her mother was living an irregular life, and they feared giving scandal. Yes, crappy things happen to the holy.

Piecing together her story from different English sources is not only difficult, but pretty horrifying. Obviously you can’t teach everything to kids, but come on, people!

Blessed Laura Vicuña has been named a patron saint of abuse victims.


Filed under Causes for Sainthood, Church, Saint Stories

TV to Adapt Japanese Light Novels about Vatican Investigators

Yes, my children, it’s that time again. It’s time to enjoy or shudder at the Japanese pop culture idea of Catholicism!

Anime company J.C. Staff is making a Gothic/horror/mystery anime called Vatican Miracle Investigators (Bachikan Kiseki Chousakan).

Behold. There is a trailer.

Fr. Joseph Kou Hiraga is a brilliant scientist. Fr. Roberto Nicholas is an expert in archives, paleography, and codes. Together, they investigate miracles!

(Yeah, that’s not how priests usually look. Albeit priests sent to the Vatican to study for the Vatican diplomatic service often are attractively presentable.)

To be fair, they are giving these guys some interesting features. Fr. Hiraga has a twelve year old brother with terminal bone cancer. (Ow.) Fr. Nicholas the archives researcher is an Italian bon vivant, as opposed to the more serious Fr. Hiraga.

The light novels by Rin Fujiki have been running since 2007, so there should be plenty of backstory to work with.

So yeah, it’s gonna be a doozy. Coming this July to a computer screen near you!

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An Official Computer Geek Servant of God!

Carlo Acutis, a devout Catholic young man who died of leukemia in 2006 at the age of 15, is being proposed for canonization by his home diocese in Italy.

Carlo had many hobbies and skills, and expressed his devotion in many ways. But he was best known in the Italian blogosphere for creating an extensive catalog of all the world’s approved Eucharistic miracles. He and his parents visited many of the sites, at his request, and he created a “virtual museum” website about the miracles, as well various other forms of presenting the information. Here in the US, the Knights of Columbus use a translated version of his presentation package to give Eucharistic talks.

So yes, currently his title is the Servant of God Carlo Acutis. A diocesan bishop can do that.

The next step is for the Vatican saints office to study his life, and determine whether he exhibited “heroic virtue.” If he did, he will be declared “Venerable.” After that, there will be more study, more promoting of interest in him, and an inquiry as to whether anybody has received a miracle through his intercession. If his life still looks good, if it can be seen that people are privately devoted to him, and if there is one approved miracle, he will be declared a “Blessed,” and his home diocese can say Masses on his day and promote public devotion to him. Then there will be more study, and more checking to see whether God shows His favor by doing miracles in response to Carlo’s intercession. Two more approved miracles, and he can be canonized into the list of saints.

All I can say is, “Go, Carlo!” I’m only sorry I didn’t get a chance to know him back in the day.

Here’s the website for his canonization cause. As is fitting for a computer guy, it’s also available in English and many other languages.


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Pope Without Ceremony: Or, Nothing New Under the Sun

The Servant of God Pope Benedict XIII, born Pierfrancisco Orsini, took the name of Friar Vincenzo Maria when he became a Dominican. (Before that, he was the 12th Duke of Gravina, along with other titles.) He was made a cardinal by Pope Clement X in 1672 — against his will, people said. The pope deployed him as a bishop first in Manfredonia, then Cesena, and then Benevento. Despite his reluctance, he was a hardworking bishop with a hands-on approach to correcting things, and of course he was a good preacher who was interested in making sure everybody got a good education. After two years in Benevento, the earthquake of June 5, 1688 hit. He attributed his escape from certain death to the prayers of St. Philip Neri.

Benevento is earthquake-prone, so he ended up rebuilding the town twice during his service. Meanwhile, he participated without incident in the papal conclaves that elected Popes Innocent XI, Alexander VIII, Innocent XII, Clement XI, and Innocent XIII.

But in the conclave of 1724, we are told by the Chevalier Artaud de Montor, things were a little bit different. The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that the bishop was worried because after two months, no particular candidate had any particular majority. He wanted to get on back to Benevento with the Church on track. So on May 25, he quietly started a novena to St. Philip Neri, asking that the election not be delayed much longer.

Be careful what you pray for.

Suddenly the good bishop found himself in the uncomfortable position of a papabile; and worse, he got the feeling that he was the one who was going to win! He was known to be a great pastor as well as a man of holy and austere life who took his religious vows seriously, and that sounded good. More and more cardinals kept voting for him, while he got more and more distressed. Finally, on the last ballot on May 29, we are told that the voting was unanimous — except for the vote of the bishop himself. Everybody congratulated him.

He refused the papacy.

A staredown resulted. Cardinals kept trying to persuade him. He kept refusing. They kept refusing to reconsider. Some say this lasted more than a day, while others that it was only three hours.

Finally, somebody sent for tbe head of the Dominican Order (since technically the conclave was over and the doors could be unlocked). The cardinals asked him to order his friar to become pope!

The guy agreed to speak to his friar. We don’t know if he would have ordered him. As soon as they started talking, the bishop apparently revealed that he had made a secret vow not to accept any kind of honors at the conclave, either as the pope or a member of his court. Since he was a priest as well as a friar, the head Dominican had the authority to dissolve the vow, which he promptly did. The unhappy new pope reluctantly accepted his election.

As was then the custom, the new Pope was dressed in his new robes and the papal triple tiara. He was then placed on a sedan chair (the sedia gestatoria) and carried outside through the Square and over to St. Peter’s, so that the people could see him. At the door of St. Peter’s, the new pope startled everyone by ordering the chair to be lowered. He got out and pressed himself to the earth, kissing the threshold of the doors. He spent a long enough time on the ground that many people in the crowd thought he had collapsed and died. The cardinals, who could see what was going on, were confused about whether they should also prostrate themselves, kneel, bow, or just keep standing there. Finally, everyone was released from suspense when the new pope got up and walked inside on foot, and then went over to the Blessed Sacrament chapel.

The papal masters of ceremony were worried and upset by all this. But the contemporary joke was that there was no reason to sing the traditional antiphon “Ecce Sacerdos Magnus” (“Behold the great priest”), because nobody would be able to “behold” him through the crowd!

Later that day, when the Pope was taken back into the papal palace, he initially refused to sleep in the papal bed (until reason prevailed or it got to be silly). The next day, he sent for his Dominican convent bed with its normal sheets and bedclothes, all either wool or of rough-textured cloth. He slept on that for the rest of his papacy. He also delayed his papal installation Mass for the next three days, spending it all in prayer. The Mass was finally held on June 4th.

After that, things went pretty normally until June 11, when the pope interrupted his visit to Holy Ghost Hospital to give last rites to a dying nun.

On June 26th, he announced a Jubilee Year or Holy Year to ask God’s favor.

In August on St. Dominic’s Day, he went back to his old convent and dined in the normal refectory dining room. So as to show no favor, he then proceeded to do the same thing on St. Francis’ Day in October. In later years, he often visited his old convent’s refectory, and kissed the hand of whoever was running the Dominican Order at the time.

Pope Benedict XIII was also known for canonizing many saints. He did equipollent canonizations of Pope St. Gregory VII and St. Wenceslas.

In 1727, as part of his administration of the Papal States, he went out by sea to the very rural town of Terracina to see what was going on with the Pontine Marshes (which badly needed draining). Two ships of the Barbary Pirates found out about this and attempted to capture him, landing raiders at San Felice Circeo. (Mind you, the Barbary States had just concluded a treaty with the Papal States, agreeing not to attack them. So yeah, that worked out.)

Luckily for the Pope, the hurried imprudence that led him to go out to the marshes without enough guard also hurried him back home again. The raiders found that they were too late. (But we are told that many old people and children were kidnapped and enslaved by the disappointed Muslim raiders.) On later papal trips by sea, the pope took a Papal States war galley.

Pope Benedict XIII was still very fond of his old diocese of Benevento, and he visited the city several times during his papacy. He was also criticized for placing too much confidence in men from Benevento whom he knew, because he picked so many of them to be his ministers and bureaucrats, while overlooking many able Romans. The worst example was Cardinal Nicolo Coscia, formerly his coadjutor bishop at Benevento. He was a total crook, and apparently Pope Benedict XIII was the only one who didn’t realize it. (As soon as the pope died, Coscia was arrested, tried, and sent to prison for ten years for all his stealing.)

On the other hand, Pope Benedict XIII deliberately didn’t give special favors to his own Orsini family. (He wasn’t even the first pope from his noble family. The others were Celestine III, best known for excommunicating the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI for imprisoning Richard the Lionheart; and Nicholas III, whose dad had been a personal friend of St. Francis of Assisi.)

So far, you probably are thinking that this guy was a lot like our current Pope Francis.

But he also did a lot of stuff that was prudent administration. He ordered that cardinals who weren’t from wealthy backgrounds should be given a geneous stipend, sufficient for doing their jobs, paying their staff, and giving out alms. He also got out the books of ceremonials for bishops and had all the iffy passages corrected in a new edition, according to how he had seen bishops do it correctly over his long years of pre-papal epicopizing. He replaced a confraternity for laypeople that had been suppressed with another confraternity of the same name, run along exactly the same lines, but under Franciscan supervision.

With the help of a personal friendship which he had formed with the dissident Cardinal Noailles of France during the long two months of papal conclave, he convinced Noailles to publicly agree with the old bull Unigenitus before the cardinal died. (Unigenitus is a condemnation list of 101 Jansenist statements, said in a popular book by a guy named Quesnel. His argument was that God was perfectly okay with running over people’s free will. The popes consistently said this was nonsense.)

He also acted as a friend of theater. There was a plague in Pamplona, Navarre. The desperate people of the city assembled in the public square and collectively vowed several things if God would spare their lives, among which was that no comedy would ever be played in Pamplona. They kept the vow and closed down the theater. The problem was that the local orphanage for illegitimate kids was supported by theater revenues. Should the citizenry’s vow be dissolved? Or were comedy plays something evil that should not be allowed in a Catholic city, as some insisted? Pope Benedict XIII dissolved the vow. He argued that it was the King of Navarre’s job and the theater’s job to make sure that the plays were good ones, and that the citizens should give the orphanage a named amount of money to replace the lost revenues.

He also built the Spanish Steps.

He died on February 21, 1730. An autopsy showed that his heart was abnormally large, much like that of St. Philip Neri. His funeral Mass was at St. Peter’s, but he was interred in the Chapel of St. Dominic at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, right next to the Dominican convent he loved. Here’s his tomb.

People have started causes for his sainthood several times, including soon after his death; but it always stalled. The process was started again in 2004 and the diocesan bit was officially reopened on February 24, 2012, under Pope Benedict XVI. The dioceses sponsoring it are: Altamura-Gravina-Acquaviva delle Fonti, Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo, Cesena- Sarsina and Tortona.

Anyone who has new information or documents relating to his life, whether positive or negative, is requested to send authenticated photocopies of them to the Diocesan Tribunal of the Vicariate of Rome.

There doesn’t seem to be any website for his cause. However, back in Gravina, the Centro Studi Benedetto XIII seems to be keeping his fame alive. (Website in Italian.)

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Re: the Martyrdom of Fr. Jacques Hamel

The name of the church where the attacks took place is Saint Etienne (St. Stephen). It’s an eponymous church, ie, the church after which the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray was named. “Rouvray” refers to the forest of Rouvray, a vast oak forest which once ran all the way from Paris to the outskirts of Rouen. The remaining part that’s near Paris is called the Bois de Boulogne. The part near Rouen is called “Londe-Rouvray.” It’s right next to Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

Saint Etienne is not called “the Church of the Gambetta,” as English newspapers translated it. “Eglise de Gambetta” means something more like “the church on Gambetta Street” or “the Gambetta Street church.” It’s informally called that, because the street that runs in front of the church is called “Rue de la Republique” or “Rue Gambetta,” depending on where you are standing. Leon Gambetta was a French politician who founded the Third Republic.

Saint Etienne is part of a parish cluster. The main church in it by number of parishioners is Sainte Therese du Madrillet, but apparently the seniority of Saint Etienne as a church makes the parish cluster be named after it, instead. The pastor is Fr. Auguste Moanda Phuati. He’s a Redemptorist priest. His original nationality was Congolese. Fr. Jacques Hamel was his associate pastor; he was a diocesan priest of Rouen.

The archbishop of Rouen has not come right out and said that Hamel is a martyr. OTOH, in a public secular memorial held in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray on July 29, he ended his elegy by saying, “Dear friends… dear brothers and sisters… seek the heavenly Father with the aid of Father Jacques Hamel, who is with God, his Father and our Father!” In the old medieval days, that would have been enough to serve as a straight-up acknowledgement of sainthood by the local bishop. So if he doesn’t follow up with a petition to the Vatican, it would be pretty weak sauce.

(Btw, the Google Translate version of his speech stinks. In French, he really does say that the Eucharist is “more than a symbol,” but at this hour Google Translate just has “is a symbol.” I corrected it, but who knows if that will show up.)

Father Hamel’s funeral will be held in the Cathedral of Rouen on August 2nd; it is open to the public, although the interment will have restricted attendance. This is another indication that the archbishop thinks he’s got a saint on his hands.

A prayer vigil is being held today at St. Therese du Madrillet, at 8:30 PM French time.

St. Etienne’s is still closed as a crime scene, but the diocesan website explains that when it is released “in a few weeks,” the church will reopen. Since any serious act of sacrilege or violence deconsecrates a church, they will first perform “a penitential rite of reparation” to make the church a place of worship again. (If not for the crime scene thing, the church would be reconsecrated as soon as possible, as they did in the case of my parish church in Beavercreek. But since a crime scene can’t be disturbed, and since a crime scene investigator has to crawl around doing and saying stuff not suitable for a church, it makes sense to wait on the police to finish.)

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Was Fr. Hamel a Martyr?

Jimmy Akin raises a serious question here. There’s odium fidei (“hatred of the Faith” by those killing you), and then there’s “turn the other cheek.” (Although this doesn’t preclude defending yourself first, as the list of kingly Welsh and Saxon martyrs tends to testify.)

OTOH, as a non-canon lawyer and a member of the faithful, it is my job to be part of the sensus fidei, including the early veneration and acclaim of martyrs. And my sense is that the man is a martyr.

Also, I have petitioned Fr. Hamel privately on several small matters, as is the right of any of the Catholic faithful when anybody passes, and thus I have received several small (but important!) favors from the Lord through his intercession. So yup, my personal opinion is that God also says he’s a martyr.

Now, whether or not this is recognized soon is another matter. Rouen was the site of the death of one of the Church’s greatest saints, remember, and she wasn’t canonized until World War I. So I can wait.

But I’m pretty sure I know the answer.

And if I were someone in France with a bad disease or disability, I would hie me to his funeral and try to get near his coffin. Because martyrs are really good at taking care of that sort of thing.

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VENERABLE Brother William Gagnon of New Hampshire, 1905-1972!!!

Venerable Brother William Gagnon, was a member of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God. (As a monk, not a knight.) He was born in Dover, New Hampshire, entered the order up in Quebec, and died while performing heroic service to the poor in Saigon, Vietnam, during the Vietnam War.

Anyway, his sainthood cause received a decree of heroic virtue that was approved by the Pope back on December 14, 2015, in the same consistory that got Mother Teresa and Mother Hesselblad’s canonization miracles approved. This officially made him a Venerable. I missed that, so now I want to mention several times that he’s actually been named Venerable by the Pope! YAYYYYY!

The news of his title in Italian, from his order’s website.

An article about him in English, from his order’s website.

A news article from Dover.

“I was speaking to a brother from Vietnam who didn’t know [Gagnon] personally but had heard many stories about him,” said Provincial Secretary Stephen de la Rosa of the Hospitaller Order in Los Angeles. “What came out in those stories is that he was totally committed to every task from the simplest to the most complicated.”

…. “In this day and age, it helps us to understand humility in a person who reaches sainthood,” de la Rosa said. “He was a hard worker and didn’t seek praise for his work.”

The basics from an article about him:

Born and baptized May 16, 1905 at Dover, New Hampshire, U.S.A. of French Canadian parents, living both in New England and Quebec, Canada, he was called from his youth to take care of others. He discovered the fulfillment of this call when he entered the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God. He took vows on 20 November 1932 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His dedication to those who were sick and suffering energized his life….

After having occupied various functions, his dream of being a missionary became a reality when he arrived with two other Canadian Brothers at the Bui-Chu Mission, in the North of Vietnam, January 18, 1952.

During 17 years, his apostolic action concentrated on the implementation of the Order in Vietnam and ministering to thousands of refugees. Hospitality as a way of being and acting toward those in need was empowered by a deep sense of reverence for life and a devotional life of prayer. He was enlived daily by his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Exhausted after having given of himself totally, Brother William Gagnon died in Saigon, Vietnam on February 28, 1972.

Here’s the official prayer for his cause:

Lord Jesus, Your mercy inspired the Servant of God William Gagnon to live hospitality with the ill, the refugees and the poor. Grant that we may always minister to all suffering people with charity, as did this Son of St. John of God.

Lord, hear the prayer that we address to you (insert personal intention) by the intercession of the Servant of God William Gagnon, in order that we may be affirmed
in our faith and that Your glory and the joy of the Church be proclaimed.

Our Father…
Hail Mary…
Glory be….

So there you go! Sounds like a good guy to have in your corner! And go, Dover NH!

(Insert “the pro from Dover” jokes here, I guess….)

Here’s the US Hospitallers’ website. No news update yet.

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