The New Episcopal Appointees

Catherine: Cause Newsletter #12 — Fall 2006

From the Postulator’s Desk

As we were walking back to the priest guest house after the fifth meeting of the new historical commission, Fr. Terry, one of the new appointees, said to me, “I feel overwhelmed.” I was tempted to say that “there is a lot more to Catherine’s life and legacy that we haven’t yet shared with you yet,” but I thought better of it.

Five recent appointees of Bishop Richard Smith of Pembroke are to begin the next phase of research into Catherine’s life and writings. For the first time—July 25–26 of this year—they all came together in Combermere to meet the Bishop and Madonna House, and to meet one another, since some of them had not yet met each other. They also needed to see our archives and set their sights for future research. What is this “next phase”?

(left to right): Kathleen Janet Thompson, Dr. Elizabeth Smyth, Fr. Robert Wild, Fr. Pat Cogan, Dr. Vicki Bennett, Fr. Terrence Fay. (front) Fr. Alexandre Tache.

(left to right): Kathleen Janet Thompson, Dr. Elizabeth Smyth, Fr. Robert Wild, Fr. Pat Cogan, Dr. Vicki Bennett, Fr. Terrence Fay. (front) Fr. Alexandre Tache.

It’s the canonical establishment of both a tribunal and an historical commission. Fr. Alexandre Tache, O.M.I., a retired canon law professor at St. Paul’s in Ottawa, has graciously accepted the task to be what is called the Bishop’s Delegate. He is the one who will now guide Catherine’s cause in the name of the Bishop. He was already familiar with Catherine and Madonna House, having taught two of our priests at St. Paul’s, and he had visited here for an ordination.

The second member of the tribunal is Fr. Pat Cogan of the Society of the Atonement. He teaches at St. Paul’s in Ottawa. His official title is Promoter of Justice. His task will be to see that everything is done canonically correct in the process. Fr. Paul Wattson, the founder of the Society of the Atonement to which Fr. Pat belongs, was Catherine’s spiritual father in the early years of her apostolate. When some of the older friars who had known Catherine heard that Fr. Pat was involved in her cause, they were delighted.

Fr. Terence Fay, S.J., of the historical commission, teaches church history in the School of Theology at the University of Toronto. He has written a book, The Catholic Church in Canada, in which he mentions Catherine. Thus he was already very much aware of Catherine’s apostolate in Toronto and Ottawa in the 1930s.

Dr. Elizabeth Smyth is associate professor in the Department of Curriculum Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. When I first met her in Toronto I asked her what her specialty was. She said she was a social historian, especially interested in the influence of the milieu on a person’s life and character. Thus, she was eager to be involved in the study of the life of Catherine, a Russian immigrant, who served the poor in urban and rural North America. She has also been involved in research concerning some congregations of nuns in Canada.

Dr. Vicki Bennett is the Director of Publications Service for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in Ottawa. She has written a book called Sacred Space and Structural Style, the Embodiment of Socio-Religious Ideology. (I wondered what her thoughts were when she walked into our Russian chapel in the woods!) As a professional archaeologist she said she is interested in the cultural aspects of Catherine’s life and apostolate.

All three of the above belong to the Canadian Historical Society, and knew one another before their recent appointments. Each has expressed to me how enthusiastic they are to be involved in Catherine’s cause, which is a new professional experience for each of them. The community is extremely grateful to them for accepting the bishop’s appointment considering they are all very busy people.

The Two Day Visit at Madonna House

The committee at work under Fr. Tache's direction.

The committee at work under Fr. Tache's direction.

Everyone, except Fr. Alex, was able to arrive the day before the meeting and receive a mini-tour including Catherine’s cabin, the statue of Our Lady of Combermere, and Catherine’s grave. All meetings were held in the archives building. At the first meeting, on Tuesday morning, they got their first glimpse of where they will be spending their research time in the future. We at Madonna House who are involved in the cause, had had a chance to read the curricula vitae of our new friends, but this was our first opportunity to hear about them viva voce. They were interested as well to know something about the backgrounds of our archivists—Mary Catherine Rowland, Bonnie Staib, Rejeanne George, and Marian Moody. They also heard something of the enormous amount of work on the cause done by Kathleen Janet Thompson, the vice-postulator, who was present as well for most of the meetings. Many preliminary questions were brought up for discussion, and the archivists began their verbal and visual tour of what our archives contain.

Fr. Alex arrived for lunch on Tuesday, driven from Ottawa by his faithful chauffeur, Brother Henri, O.M.I. The meeting after lunch was, you might say, the first real formal meeting, initiating the work of the historical commission. Though Fr. Alex has trouble walking, he is a “good trooper,” and allowed himself—keeping a jovial attitude—to be carried up and down our steep archives stairs for the meeting!

Before the Bishop’s arrival, the upstairs sections of the archives were explained: Catherine’s personal library; books making mention of Catherine’s life and apostolate; books by famous friends of hers. This upstairs area would be their work place in the future.

With the Bishop’s arrival, Fr. Alex chaired the meeting. Also present were our Directors, Fr. David May, Susanne Stubbs, and Mark Schlingerman. After words of welcome, prayer, and introduction, Fr. Alex outlined the duties of the commission, quoting the official Decree. (Cf. below) He concluded: “In due time, the members of the Commission are to be called before the bishop or his delegate as ex-officio witnesses and confirm under oath that they fulfilled their duty properly and that they neither changed nor destroyed any document or text.”

As one of the main purposes of these two days was for people to get to know one another, much of the meeting was spent doing just that. Please God, we will be working with one another for a number of years, so this was an opportunity to exchange views, ask questions, and set our sights.

At the end of the meeting Bishop Smith remarked what a truly awesome thing a canonization is for the life of the Church. When someone is canonized, it affects the life of the Church for all time. He thanked those present for accepting his appointment for this work on which they were now embarked.

Mass with Bishop Richard Smith.

Mass with Bishop Richard Smith.

The evening Mass on Tuesday was the first public, liturgical recognition of what was transpiring in Catherine’s cause. In his homily, Bishop Smith developed one aspect of what holiness is. We were all thinking of Catherine as he spoke:

This event—these meetings—and today’s feast of St. James and its readings, focus our attention on what it is to be holy, on what it is to be a saint. The readings show us that the one who is holy is one who has been given the gift of a properly focused desire. The one who is holy is one who is aware of that desire, lives from it, for it, and in conformity with it.

At the heart of each of us is a desire, a desire placed there by God himself when he fashioned us. There are times when we can have an overwhelming experience of this desire, and it is often experienced as a desire for ‘I know not what’. Our faith, however, tells us that it is a desire for life, a desire for communion with God. It is a desire given by our God who wants to draw us to himself. We could call it an ‘essential’ desire because it is part of our essence, part of who we are, of our make up.

The experience of this essential desire can get fuzzy, out of focus, and can be experienced as a desire for things, accomplishments, achievements, persons, because of various factors like, for example, compulsions, concupiscence, and so on. This existential experience of desire can also become a desire for things that are not holy. Even when the desire is for good things, if these are not properly discerned, even this desire for good can lead us away from God. So the experience of desire needs to be properly focused. A saint has had this desire focused and learned to live from it.

The passive voice of the verb is important in talking of this desire. The desire is focused, it is something that is done for us. It is focused by God. We see this process happening in today’s Gospel. First of all their mother speaks for James and John. She expresses something that seems to be good—seats at the Lord’s side. This seems also to be the desire of James and John. Perhaps it is also the desire of the other apostles: they too, would like to sit at the Lord’s side; but it is hidden under their anger and indignation. Jesus initiates the process of giving the desire focus with a question: ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I shall drink?’

A properly focused desire ultimately is the desire for Christ and the desire to suffer with and for him, and ultimately to die with and for him. This is far deeper than just a renewed openness to suffering and death. It is the desire to live, suffer and die with him for the sake of the Father’s plan of salvation.

We see how St. Paul’s desire had to receive focus. In fact there was a radical shift, a radical refocusing, from an apparent ‘good’—persecuting Christians—to having only a desire for Christ and to make up in his own body what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ. We who live from a properly focused desire, carry within us, and live from, the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is impressed on us at our Baptism. The more we are given the gift of a properly focused desire, the more we embrace this truth, and the more we realize that we are the object of God’s desire, and that it is out of that desire that he has fashioned us and redeemed us. This is ultimately made manifest in the Cross of Jesus—made present here and now in this Eucharist, where he feeds us with his own Body and Blood, so that our desire/his desire, will reach ultimate fulfillment. Let us pray that he will enable us to understand and to embrace what is truly at stake, so we can say with the Apostles: We seek to follow you and to grow in the sanctity to which you call us!

Bishop Richard then thanked the members of the commission and the tribunal, saying, “The work before them is daunting, to say the least, so we assure them of our prayers!” The Bishop then invited me, Fr. Bob, to read the official decree which he had signed in March of this year establishing the historical commission:

Decree—By the Grace of God and the Apostolic See

Decree Establishing a Historical Commission of Canonical Inquiry—Catherine de Hueck Doherty (Foundress of Madonna House). By Most Reverend Richard Smith, Bishop of Pembroke.

Fr. Wild reading the Decree.

Fr. Wild reading the Decree.

By virtue of the authority granted by the apostolic constitution Divinus perfectionis Magister [cf. note below] of January 25, 1983, I, the undersigned Bishop of Pembroke, with this decree establish a historical commission to examine the writings of Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty and appoint the following as members: Fr. Terence Fay, S.J., Dr. Elizabeth Smyth, and Dr. Vicki Bennett.

The historical commission is to perform the duties set forth in the Norms of February 7, 1983, enacted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints:

14. a) If all the votes of the theological censors are favorable, the bishop is to order that all writings of the servant of God, those not yet published as well as each and every historical document, either handwritten or printed, which in any way pertain to the cause, are to be gathered.

b) When such a search is to be made, especially in the case of ancient causes, experts in historical matters and in matters that pertain to archives are to be employed.

c) After the task has been completed, the experts are to hand over to the bishop an accurate and precise report together with the collected writings. In this report, they are to indicate and testify that they fulfilled their duty properly; to include a list of the writings and documents; to give a judgment on their authenticity and their value as well as on the personality of the servant of God, as it is drawn forth from the same writings and documents.

Given at Pembroke, at the diocesan curia, under our signature and seal and that of the Chancellor, this second day of March, in the year of Our Lord two thousand and six.

+Richard W. Smith, Bishop of Pembroke
Reverend Steven F. Ballard, J.V., Chancellor

And in a communication to me after the meetings, here is how Fr. Fay summed up the new situation: “The Bishop of Pembroke, Richard Smith, has appointed a three-member Historical Commission of Canonical Inquiry to search into the unpublished writings of the founder of Madonna House, Catherine de Hueck Doherty. The commission’s mandate is to review the archival documents and gather other documents which relate to the life and spirituality of Catherine Doherty. The Historical Commission will prepare ‘an accurate and precise report’ along with the collected writings for the bishop, provide a judgment about the ‘authenticity’ and ‘value’ of the documents, and assess how the documents describe the Christian character of Catherine Doherty.”

I (Fr. Bob Wild) wish to publicly acknowledge and thank, in this newsletter, the “theological censors” mentioned in the above decree. Our associates, Fr. Michael Prieur, Professor of Moral theology at St. Peter’s seminary in London ON, Fr. Don Guglielmi, of Stratford CT, and Bishop Emeritus Noel Delaquis, of Gravelbourg SK, together read all of Catherine’s published writings.

To continue with an account of the visit.

After Mass, and after having had supper with all the members of the commission, Fr. Alex departed. We gave the others a tour of the postulator’s office, making our new friends aware of the documentation we had collected there. We gave each member of the commission a hard copy of Catherine’s collated diaries. We then went to our Madonna House Publications office where Linda Lambeth and Marian Heiberger gave a presentation of the work carried on there, as well as giving each member some books and pamphlets.

Fr. Pat left early on Wednesday. The meeting that morning with the others was taken up with more touring of the archives and questions pertaining to the research of the commission. (I had specifically left all of Wednesday open to address the needs I knew would arise from the day before.)

After lunch at St. Mary’s the three members held a private meeting of their own, at which they elected Fr. Terry as president of the commission for one year. As all the members do not have to read everything, and they can divide the material among themselves, at this meeting Dr. Smyth chose to concentrate on the canonical aspects of the research; Dr. Bennett was interested in the customs and cultural dimensions of Catherine’s apostolate; Fr. Terry will delve more into the correspondence.

In the afternoon, with Fr. Terry presiding, there was a more private meeting with our Directors to discuss such matters as finances, confidentiality, future visits, and other practical aspects of their work. They decided to return November 17–19 for more research in our archives.

At a final “wrap-up” session in the same afternoon, at which everyone was present, Fr. Terry informed us of some of the details of the earlier meeting. He was also interested in reflections about Catherine from the community members present. He said when he returns in November he may wish to interview some of us. As postulator, he asked me for a brief history of the cause.

In my remarks I emphasized that Catherine does not belong to Madonna House but to the Church, and that we are simply trying to discern the Lord’s will in her regard for the future life of the Church. Sometimes people ask why Madonna House is “pushing” Catherine’s cause. As a matter of fact, the initial inspiration to consider a cause for Catherine came from the heart of Archbishop McNeil a few days after Catherine’s death. He told Fr. Peter Nearing, who was our priest in Edmonton at the time, that we should consider such a move. And both former Bishops of Pembroke, Joseph Windle and Brendan O’Brien, have been very, very supportive of what we as a community believe to be a movement of the Holy Spirit.

Since an important part of their visit was to meet the community, I tried to “scatter them around a bit” at meal times. I think, in the brief time they were here, that they did meet the community. People often ask, “Have there been any miracles yet?” I wanted them to meet the community which I consider the greatest miracle!

Note of Interest:

The Apostolic Constitution Divinus perfectionis magister, The Divine Teacher and Model of Perfection (mentioned in the above decree), and the Norms which followed its publication, are the new papal guidelines for the process of canonization. I thought our readers would appreciate this brief summary of the intent of these documents. It is written by Fr. Yvon Beaudoin, O.M.I., who has worked at the Congregation for many years. He writes:

“The new norms were dictated by three principal needs: to involve as much as possible the diocesan Bishops in a Cause, giving them the appropriate authority to gather proofs; to raise the critical level in studying the Causes, thereby endowing the Congregation with tools apt for such purpose; and, lastly, to streamline the procedure, freeing it from useless formalism and distributing better the competence of the diverse personnel of said Dicastery.”


An Excerpt from Pope Benedict’s interview with Bayerische Rundfunk (ARD), ZDF, Deutsche Welle

Question: Holy Father, your predecessor beatified and canonized a huge number of Christians. Some people say even too many. This is my question: beatifications and canonizations only bring something new to the church when these people are seen as true models. Germany produces relatively few saints and blessed in comparison with other countries. Can anything be done to develop the pastoral sphere so that beatifications and canonizations can give real pastoral fruit?

Benedict XVI: In the beginning I also thought that the large number of beatifications was almost overwhelming and that perhaps we needed to be more selective; choosing figures that entered our consciousness more clearly. Meanwhile, I decentralized the beatifications in order to make these figures more visible in the specific places they came from. Perhaps a saint from Guatemala doesn’t interest us in Germany and vice versa; someone from Altoetting [Germany] is of no interest in Los Angeles, and so on, right?

I also think that this decentralization is more in keeping with the collegiality of the episcopate, with its collegial structures, and that it’s suitable for stressing how different countries have their own personalities and these are especially effective in these countries. I’ve also seen how these beatifications in different places touch vast numbers of people and that people say: ‘At last, this one is one of us!’ They pray to him and are inspired. The blessed soul belongs to them and we’re happy there are lots of them. And if, gradually, with the development of a global society, we too get to know them, that’s wonderful.

But it’s especially important that multiplicity exist in this field also because it’s important that we too in Germany get to know our own figures and are happy for them. Besides this issue there’s that of the canonization of greater figures who are examples for the whole Church. I’d say that the individual Episcopal conferences ought to choose, ought to decide what’s best for them, what this person is saying to us, and they should give visibility to [such] people through catechesis, preaching, or through the presentation of a film. I can imagine some wonderful films. Of course, I only know well the Church Fathers: a film about Augustine, or one on Gregory Nazianzen who was very special, how he continually fled the ever greater responsibilities he was given, and so on. We need to study: there are not only the awful situations we depict in many of our films, there are also wonderful historical figures who are not at all boring and who are very contemporary. We must try not to overload people too much but to give visibility to many figures who are topical and inspirational.


A Special Plea for Funds

Dear friends of Catherine, you have been very generous over the years. This new step in Catherine’s cause will require added funds, as we are responsible for the financial expenses of the tribunal and commission members. Whatever contribution you can make at this new juncture will be, as always, greatly appreciated.

God bless you. Fr. Bob


Catherine in print and media

Catherine Doherty has been the subject of many books, and she herself was a prolific speaker and author with dozens of published works. We hope to introduce you to these popular and important works, considered by many to be modern spiritual classics. The following title is featured in this newsletter:

Soul of My Soul: Coming to the Heart of Prayer by Catherine Doherty


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