On October 11, the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the Church will begin a Year of Faith. It will be an invitation for all of us to deepen our faith through prayer and study and to embrace once more the eternal newness of the Gospel.
As I begin to reread the documents of the Council, I am once again struck by the call to holiness contained in the fifth chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. The Church and all of her members in any state or walk of life are called to holiness — a holiness derived from our baptism that bears fruit in love for God and our neighbor.
When I prepared to write this article I thought of many people who influenced my life for good, although they most likely will never be officially declared saints by the Church. By taking the call to holiness seriously they had a lasting impact on my life.
There are many men and women who lived and worked here in New York State that witnessed to holiness by their lives. Let’s take a few moments to consider some of them. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but may call to mind some of the great qualities in individuals that encourage us to holiness.
We have just celebrated the feast of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) who on October 21 will be canonized the first Native American Saint. The daughter of a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk chief, she was born near Auriesville. Both of her parents died of smallpox when she was four years of age. Kateri’s face was scarred from the disease and her sight was affected. At 20 she converted to Catholicism but suffered greatly from her tribe for doing so. Eventually Kateri left for Canada where she embraced a life of consecrated virginity and served those in need. God called Kateri to Himself at the young age of 23, but her goodness lives on in the lives of many who courageously practice their faith. Kateri is known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Her feast day is July 14.
The 17th Century North American Martyrs worked among Native Americans in New York State and Canada. The best known are Isaac Jogues and John de Brebeuf. Others are Antoine Daniel, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Garnier, Noel Chabanel, Rene Goupil and Jean de Lalande. The last two were not Jesuit priests but lay mission helpers. There are several books that recount their missionary journeys and difficult suffering. A summer drive to the shrine at Auriesville would be an inspiring trip. On July 21, I had the opportunity of celebrating Mass there for the annual Tekakwitha conference. It was a grace filled opportunity for me and for many who find inspiration and hope in the lives of those who died for their faith. The feast of the North American Martyrs is celebrated on October 19.
We all know the story of our own Blessed Marianne Cope (1838-1918). Born in Germany, raised in Utica, the second Superior General of our Franciscan Sisters, foundress of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Utica, teacher, missionary to Molokai, nurse to those suffering from Hansen’s disease, soon-to-be our own saint. How blessed we are to call her one of our own! Blessed Marianne’s feast is celebrated on January 23. Several hundred people from the diocese will be traveling to Rome for her canonization on October 21.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821) is the first native born American saint. A native New Yorker, Elizabeth was raised an Episcopalian. At the age of 20, she married a successful merchant, William Seton with whom she bore five children. When her husband’s business failed and he became quite sick, the family traveled to Italy in the hopes of improving his health. Unfortunately William died there. During this period of time, Elizabeth, impressed by the goodness of her host family, decided to become a Catholic. She too knew rejection after her conversion. In time, Elizabeth moved to Baltimore where she started a school. In 1809, she professed religious vows and began the Sisters of Charity. Her feast is celebrated on January 4. She is honored here in the Diocese of Syracuse at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Liverpool and at Seton Catholic Central School in Binghamton.
Mother Mary Angeline Teresa McCrory, O. Carm. (1893-1984) is the foundress of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. She was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI on June 28. Mother Mary Angeline Teresa was General Superior of her community from 1929 until 1997. In the words of Mother Angela, “Our apostolate is not only to staff and operate up-to-date homes for the aged, but as religious it is to bring Christ to every old person under our care. Bringing Christ means giving them his compassion, his interest, his loving care and his warmth, morning, noon and night. It means inspiring the lay people who work with us, to give the same type of loving care.” The Carmelite Sisters serve those needing skilled nursing, short-term rehab and end-of-life care at St. Joseph’s Home in Utica. How blessed we are to have the sisters in our diocese. With them we look forward to the day when Mother Angeline Teresa will be beatified and canonized.
A priest dear to my heart is the Venerable Nelson Baker (1841-1936). Father Baker was a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo and the founder of Our Lady of Victory Institutions in Lackawanna. His care for orphans and abandoned infants, unwed mothers and troubled youth is legendary in Western New York. Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna together with the institutions that have served tens of thousands of people is a tangible sign of the enduring effect of this good priest. If you are in the Buffalo area, a visit to the Basilica and a prayer for his canonization would be very much appreciated.
These are just a few of the many saintly people who have lived and worked in our state. They heard the call to holiness and responded wholeheartedly. As we reflect on their lives it is worth noting that the fifth chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church is entitled the Universal Call to Holiness. Although the Church officially recognizes some of the faithful as models of virtuous living, all of us are called to holiness through the love of God and neighbor practiced in the state of life and conditions of life to which we have been called. May all of us, with God’s grace and our sincere efforts, pursue holiness thus making Christ known and building up His Church.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.