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Saints That Weren ’t

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  • John.Schott@phila.gov
    Interesting article: Saints That Weren’t http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/01/opinion/01martin.html?em&ex=1162530000&en=7f928114b52f5e07&ei=5087%0A November 1,
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2006
      Interesting article:

      Saints That Weren’t

      November 1, 2006
      Op-Ed Contributor
      Saints That Weren’t

      EVEN though today is All Saints’ Day, most
      Americans probably don’t know the name of the
      newest American saint. Or that, like several
      saints, she was mistreated by the church that she
      served so faithfully.

      Last month, Pope Benedict XVI declared Mother
      Théodore Guérin, who lived and worked in rural
      Indiana in the mid-1800’s, a saint. She is
      therefore worthy of “public veneration” by
      Catholics worldwide. Mother Guérin founded the
      Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods
      and started several schools and a college in the

      You would think that this would have won her
      favor from the local bishop. You would be wrong.

      At the time, the idea of an independent woman
      deciding where and when to open schools offended
      Célestine de la Hailandière, the Catholic bishop
      of Vincennes, Ind. In 1844, when Mother Guérin
      was away from her convent raising money, the
      bishop ordered her congregation to elect a new
      superior, in a bid to eject her from the very
      order of nuns that she had founded.

      The independent-minded sisters simply re-elected
      Mother Guérin. Infuriated, Bishop Hailandière
      told the future saint that she was forbidden from
      setting foot in her own convent, since he, the
      bishop, considered himself its sole proprietor.

      Three years later, Bishop Hailandière demanded
      that Mother Guérin resign. When she refused, the
      bishop told her congregation that she was no
      longer superior, that she was ordered to leave
      Indiana, and that she was forbidden from
      communicating with her sisters. Her sisters
      replied that they were not willing to obey a
      dictator. The situation worsened until, just a
      few weeks later, Bishop Hailandière was suddenly
      replaced by the Vatican. From then on, the
      Sisters of Providence flourished. Today its 465
      members work in 10 states, the District of
      Columbia, China and Taiwan.

      Many people think of the saints as docile, but
      Mother Guérin is not the only saint to have found
      herself at odds with local bishops, church
      officials or even the Vatican. Joan of Arc was
      burned at the stake at the behest of church
      officials. The writings of the great theologian
      Thomas Aquinas came under suspicion during his
      lifetime in the 13th century. And Ignatius
      Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was jailed
      during the Spanish Inquisition over complaints
      about his ideas on prayer.

      Somewhat more recently, in 1871, Mother Mary
      MacKillop was excommunicated — the church’s
      severest punishment — four years after founding a
      religious order for women in Australia. One
      biographer wrote that the bishops of the day were
      intimidated by Mary’s “independent spirit and
      steely character.” In 1995, Mary MacKillop was
      beatified, the final step before canonization, by
      Pope John Paul II.

      The church’s long history of “faithful dissent”
      offers both hope and perspective to Catholics
      and Christians in our time. It echoes the call
      of the Second Vatican Council, which, in 1964,
      declared that expressing opinions “on matters
      concerning the good of the church” is sometimes
      an obligation for the faithful.

      But, as some saints knew firsthand, a sincere
      intention is no guarantee that everybody in the
      church will listen — even today. Members of Voice
      of the Faithful, the lay organization founded in
      response to the sexual abuse scandals, are
      sometimes barred from meeting in Catholic
      parishes. Local chapters often gather in nearby
      Protestant church halls. Who knows which future
      saints are lurking there?

      All Saints’ Day is a good time to remember that
      while most saints led lives of quiet service,
      some led the life of the noisy prophet, speaking
      the truth to power — even when that power was
      within the church.

      Today the Catholic Church rightly honors all of
      its saints, even those it once mistreated,
      silenced or excommunicated. That includes Mother
      Théodore Guérin. It makes you wonder what Bishop
      Hailandière thinks from his post in heaven — or
      wherever he is today.

      James Martin, a Jesuit priest, is the author of
      “My Life With the Saints.”


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