Catherine’s Life and the History of the Cause

Catherine: Cause Newsletter #1 — Summer 2001

A new stage has been reached in Catherine’s Cause. In a letter to the postulator, Father Robert Wild, dated July 21st, 2000, the former Bishop of Pembroke, the Most Rev. Brendan O’Brien, wrote: 

“Catherine can be referred to as ‘Servant of God’ once the inquiry has been started at the diocesan level. One may refer to her in this way in writings or talks since this is the customary way of referring to those whose cause is under consideration.” 

Thanks be to God! 

Dear Friends,  

This is the first issue of a newsletter to promote the Cause of canonization of Catherine de Hueck Doherty. In a recent trip to Rome, in order to confer with some priests who are involved with the Causes of Saints, it was strongly suggested that such a newsletter as this be started. I was told that it was a common practice, and advisable to do so. I had thought of such a project for several years, but this suggestion finally provided the necessary inspiration to begin.  

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, 15 Aug 1896 – 14 Dec 1985, “She Loved The Poor”

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, 15 Aug 1896 – 14 Dec 1985, “She Loved The Poor”

 My plan is to put out an issue at least several times a year. Since this first issue will be mailed to people who have already communicated with me about Catherine, as well as to many of our friends, I will presume a certain familiarity with her life and work in this first issue. As times goes on, I will include more biographical information for those perhaps less familiar with her.  

The purpose of this newsletter is: 1) to promote knowledge of Catherine’s life and work; 2) to solicit and publicize the testimonies of people who believe they have received favours through her intercession; 3) to keep people informed of the progress of the Cause; 4) to ask that our friends pray for her canonization—if it be God’s will; 5) to ask for financial donations to help defray the expenses of the Cause.  

What I thought would be appropriate, and of interest, for this first issue, would be to give a brief history of the progress of the Cause to date. From the very beginning we have sought to work as closely as we can with the Bishops of our Diocese, Pembroke, Ontario, Canada, and to follow the canonical procedures required by the Church. Involvement in a Cause was new for me, so it has been a learning experience all along the way.  

Canonical work on a person’s life for the purposes of opening a Cause cannot begin until five years after that person’s death. Catherine died in Combermere, Ontario, December 14th, 1985. She is buried in the local cemetery of Canadian Martyrs Church in Combermere. At an appropriate time, therefore, after her death, the Directors General of Madonna House, Father Robert Pelton, Jean Fox, and Albert Osterberger, asked the then Bishop of Pembroke, the Most Rev. Joseph Windle, to approve their appointment of myself as Postulator for Catherine’s Cause. In a letter to me dated January 30th, 1991, Bishop Windle wrote: “In accordance with the Norms outlined in the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints, issued on January 25th, 1983, I am pleased to confirm your appointment as Local Postulator in connection with the Introduction of the Cause of the late Mrs. Catherine de Hueck Doherty.”  

Bishop Joseph Windle

Bishop Joseph Windle

I would like to say publicly what a great privilege it was for me to be so chosen by the community for this holy task. Since my appointment I have been collecting testimonies of people concerning Catherine’s life, gathering materials for the eventual examination of the Bishop’s Committee, and endeavouring to follow the proper canonical procedures on the community’s behalf. It has been especially important to interview people who may no longer be alive at the further stages of the investigation.  

On April 25th, 1993, I wrote Bishop Windle, presenting to him a prayer I had composed to be prayed privately, asking for Catherine’s intercession. He returned that prayer with his signature and imprimatur on May 11th, 1993. Since then I have been liberally passing out this prayer (which we now have in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian), careful to tell people that this is strictly for private and not for public liturgical use.  

We have now over 400 testimonies concerning Catherine’s life and reputation for holiness. We also have hundreds of testimonies of favours people believe they have received through her intercession. At this very preliminary phase, the Bishop is simply asking us to keep a record of favours received.  

Bishop Windle retired, and has since gone to his eternal reward. I would publicly like to acknowledge his very enthusiastic support for the Cause at its beginning. He guided it in its early stages. We will be eternally grateful to him. He was succeeded by the Most Rev. Brendan O’Brien, who saw the process through the next several significant steps.  

One canonical requirement is to consult the bishops of the region where the person lived, asking if they have any objections to the opening of a Cause. Bishop O’Brien brought this question to a meeting of the Ontario Bishops Conference. No objections were raised. Next, he was required to publicly consult the faithful of the diocese with the same question. Again, no serious obstacles were encountered.  

Father Robert Wild presenting the petition for the Cause to Bishop Brendan O’Brien.

Father Robert Wild presenting the petition for the Cause to Bishop Brendan O’Brien.

The next significant step was for myself, representing the community, to formally present a petition to the Bishop to open the Cause. This also was done.  

A further step on his part was to appoint competent people to begin reading Catherine’s writings for any theological difficulties. Members of this committee have been at work for several years.  

However, in the Lord’s providence, Bishop O’Brien was recently appointed to St. John’s, Newfoundland. At this writing we are awaiting a new bishop. I publicly give thanks to Bishop O’Brien’s whole-hearted support for the Cause. Under his fatherly guidance, significant steps were reached in the process.  

However, with the present vacancy of the see of Pembroke, the continuance of the work of this committee will await the arrival of a new bishop. We have every confidence that it will resume with our new shepherd.  

In November 2000, I was asked by Father Pelton to go to Rome to make some personal contacts with the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. I made several important ones.  

Msgr. Robert Sarno works at the Congregation. He was very generous with his time, and extremely helpful. (He himself is presently engaged in the Cause of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.) He is a canon lawyer, and was able, through our conversations and shared material, to outline for me the next necessary steps and procedures. He made it clear that the main task of myself and Madonna House is to gather all the relevant material on Catherine’s life for eventual investigation by the Bishop’s committee. A very exciting moment was when he wrote out for me (in Latin) the official title on Catherine’s file:  

Pembroke: Cause of the Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty, lay faithful and foundress of the Apostolate called “Madonna House”.  

Archbishop Angelo Palmas

Archbishop Angelo Palmas

Another valuable contact was Father James Fitzpatrick, O.M.I., Postulator General for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He had been involved in the Cause of their founder, St. Eugene Mazenod. He was also more familiar with the Canadian Causes presently in process.  

Finally, I visited our dear friend Archbishop Angelo Palmas, the former Pro-Nuntio in Canada for many years. He was one of the first Father Brière and I went to visit, asking advice about the Cause. He has a great love for Madonna House. There is still a great deal of work to be done, but at the present time the Cause is progressing steadily. This newsletter will keep you up to date on its progress.  

— Father Robert Wild, Postulator for the Cause  



“Catherine Doherty was the pioneer among the Catholic laity in interracial justice in North America,” said Father Paul Hanley Furfey to me a few years ago. He ought to have known: he was Catherine’s spiritual director during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s when she lived in Harlem. He himself was a pioneer among the clergy, and a great Catholic sociologist. I pressed the point: “Do you mean the pioneer?” I asked. “Yes, THE PIONEER,” he said, even more emphatically.  

This is just one of hundreds of testimonies coming in about Catherine’s life since her death in 1985. We at Madonna House, and many other people around the world, believe that Catherine was one of the great Catholic women of the past century. She once simply described herself as “just a good Catholic woman.” We are now organizing her writings and gathering testimonies to help the Church determine just how good she was.  

— Father Robert Wild, Postulator   

Archbishop Angelo Palmas:

Archbishop Angelo Palmas was the former Pro-Nuntio in Canada.  

“On my part, I thank God every day for the grace I had to meet several times the servant of God. She warrants very much the public opening of her cause.”  

Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger:

“I met Catherine de Hueck briefly a number of years ago and she impressed me very deeply. Aside from this meeting, I know of her life and action only by her writings and the witness of the members of Madonna House.  

In my limited information, it seems to me that the life of Catherine presents extraordinary signs of the action of God. In the first place, the fruits of holiness in the service of charity and as far as the poor and the conversion of sinners are concerned. If she is canonized, her life will speak to our contemporaries by:  

  • the example of a consecrated lay sanctity.
  • the fruitfulness of service to the poor carried out in total detachment.
  • the power and the necessity of the contemplative life in our civilization.
  • the strength of love of the Church and the grace of forgiveness which give birth to an authentic Marian piety.

Everything that I have learned and have been able to intuit about Catherine makes me desire deeply that her cause will be opened and that it will result in a positive decision of the Holy Father. That is one grace that I ask of God for the Church.” 


Favours Received

In Catholic theology, prayers are only offered to God, of course. Therefore, we do not pray to saints, but rather, we ask the saints to pray for us—just as we might ask friends on earth to pray to God on our behalf. It is because we believe in the eternal Communion of Saints that we continue to ask Christians who have died to pray for us. (Even in the Hail Mary, we say, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us…”, for we know it is God alone who answers prayer.) 

Catherine Doherty believed in miracles, and in the power of the intercession of the saints. The people of God asking for the intercession of someone through prayer is one of the signs the Church looks for in the canonization process. (This inspiration of the people to so call upon a person is itself one of the signs the Church looks for in regards to the lives of holy people.) Thus, God’s answers to Catherine’s prayers will be considered by the Church as a possible sign of her closeness to God. 

“Favours Received” will be a regular part of our newsletter. Some of the testimonies and favours will be from years past, as we have been receiving them since Catherine’s death. We encourage anyone who believes he or she has received favours from God through Catherine’s intercession to send them to the Postulator for the Cause. 

“I used the prayer asking for favours through the intercession of Catherine Doherty. I used it daily in my most difficult circumstances. I must confess that I was fortunate enough to receive all of my requests better than I expected: 1) my own financial needs were granted; 2) my health restored; 3) the sick for whom I prayed have better health; 4) unity and peace were granted for those who wanted me to pray for them. I will continue to ask for her intercession. Wishing you all the success in promoting the cause.” — D.G., Sri Lanka, 7/25/2000 

“Testimony: Through Catherine’s intercession I asked Jesus to continue to finance my daughter’s education in France. The day before she returned to Paris, three-quarters of the necessary funds had come in donations. Thank you Lord Jesus. Thank you, Catherine. I pray to her every day as I am convinced that she intercedes for us before God.” — M.L., Québec, Canada, 10/1998 

“I have been praying to Catherine Doherty for the last two or three years for forgiveness and reconciliation between family members, particularly siblings. A week ago I received a phone call from a brother and he also phoned my sister. He had been estranged from one sibling for about 14 years and from the other for about 5 years. I’ll continue to pray to Catherine for three others who need to forgive and be reconciled. Prayer does work and miracles do happen.” — C.A., Ontario, Canada, 12/14/2000 

“Our son complained of frequent back pains. The doctor said that this pain could in some way be connected with infections. After tests, his urine revealed a high white blood cell count, indicating severe infection. He was scheduled to see a specialist in a week. Before this appointment, we prayed over our son, asking or Catherine’s intercession.The urinalysis that week showed no trace of infection. Fifteen months later he has also been completely free of the back pain.” — W.Z., Ontario, Canada, 10/13/2000 

“I wish to tell you that I’ve been praying to Catherine Doherty for two weeks faithfully saying the prayer asking for her favours. My request was granted. I was hired today to begin employment. I am so very grateful and blessed.” — L.S., Pennsylvania, U.S.A., 3/1/2000 

“I want to thank God for taking the pain away from my back.I believe it was through the intercession of Catherine Doherty.I prayed to God and asked Catherine to pray for me to have the pain leave if it was God’s will for me. I went to sleep and when I got up in the morning, the pain was completely gone. I believe this happened through her prayers for me. I think God granted me this blessing through Catherine Doherty and I thank her very much.” — M.L., Ontario, Canada

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