The Church is a Prayer

Catherine: Cause Newsletter #5 — Summer 2003

“It is not by carrying wood and stone that we will restore the Church. It is by restoring the community Christ came to create, so that men should see his icon in us through the love we have for one another.”

Thank you for your interest in Catherine’s cause for canonization. In 2000 Catherine was given the title of Servant of God, one of the stages on the way to canonization. The next stage is the diocesan examination of her life and writings, and the examination of witnesses. Please keep that in your prayers.

Net News

The Internet offers a wealth of information, both past and present, on the whole subject of canonization. I don’t know how many of the readers of Catherine have access to this source, but if you do, just type in “canonization” on your favorite search engine and you will have information to your heart’s delight.

However, I presume many do not have either the time or the facilities for this luxury. In this issue I thought I would share with you some scattered pieces of information from the Internet that are relevant to Catherine’s Cause. Hopefully you will find them as interesting as I did. As I surf the waves of canonization I swim especially towards items which will help me in my work on Catherine’s Cause.

“How Long Will It Take?”

St. Josemaría Escrivá (Founder of Opus Dei)

St. Josemaría Escrivá (Founder of Opus Dei)

A question people frequently ask me is, “How long is it going to take before Catherine is canonized?” At this point I would say, “Don’t hold your breath!” The other day I scanned a list of holy men and women who were born in the 19th century and reached the stages of either Blessed or Sainthood in the 20th century. The average time to reach those stages was about 40 or 50 years. There were some exceptions, especially with the martyrs. Often what makes the headlines are causes which seemed to be “rushed through,” such as St. Josemaría Escrivá and Mother Teresa, but normally it takes a number of decades.

However, it is certainly true that the process has been speeded up of late. There are several reasons for this. The most significant is the Pope himself!

“After John Paul II was elected pope in 1978 the pace of canonizations increased so dramatically that in the approximately two decades since John Paul took office almost exactly the same number of people—280—have been made saints as during the previous four centuries. So, if more new saints are wanted, who wants them and why? The answer is easy. It is the Pope who keeps asking for new saints. He feels that the Catholic Church has had many more saints than it to date has recognized, and that most of the saints it has recognized reflect a piety too dated, too European and perhaps too passive to provide models of heroic faith that this generation of Catholics need.” (Duncan Hanson, Europe Update, January 1999)

One of the factors fuelling the Pope’s intentions in this matter is the canonizing of lay people who are contemporary and involved in the needs of society. Catherine would “fit” this requirement.

Another factor presently speeding up causes of the saints is technology. Within the last 20 or 30 years so much information is now more available on computer discs for those responsible for investigating the lives of candidates. Madonna House is blessed with an excellent archives, and each year more material is being made accessible in preparation for the inquiries of the future. It is true: Catherine lived a long time (1896-1985), and she has voluminous writings to be gone through. But the new technology will speed up this examination significantly.

Catherine Doherty meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1981.

Catherine Doherty meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1981.

Canonists distinguish between two types of causes as far as time is concerned: recent and older. A recent cause is when firsthand eyewitnesses with personal knowledge of the candidate are still alive to testify; an older cause is when firsthand eyewitnesses are no longer living, and testimony is available only from written sources. (If the period between the death of the candidate and the opening of the cause is more than 30 years, the question needs to be asked: “Why was so much time allowed to elapse? Has there been any attempt to hide relevant facts?”)

In one case I read about there was a lapse of over 100 years. (This is not uncommon.) The living testimony of witnesses who knew the candidate had been broken. Everything must now come from written sources. Such causes may take longer as the fama sanctitatis—the reputation for holiness—is harder to establish.

Here again, with Catherine’s cause, we have another reason for quicker results. Her cause was opened immediately after the 5 year waiting period. Very many people who knew her are still alive. I have even been interviewing some people who may not still be alive when the Bishop officially begins the questioning of witnesses. The living link of witnesses to Catherine’s life is present and unbroken.

A big factor also in “how long will it take?” is the amount of time and energy the people appointed by the Bishop will have to give to these investigations. Competent people, with the proper theological and historical credentials, are often very busy people. They may be able to commit only a few years to the work of a cause. Frequently, because of the ordinary length of causes mentioned above, the task must be passed on to others after a few years. How much time and energy qualified people can give to a cause is a determining factor.

North America—Land of Saints?

One of my pleasant surprises from the Internet is discovering the number of causes now pending in Canada and the U.S. Altogether there are about 60. The following comments would apply equally to Canada as to the U.S.:

“Under past pontiffs, American Catholics haven’t thought of saints as something here among us,” says Father Gabriel O’Donnell, a Dominican who is postulator—half chief researcher, half chief lobbyist—for the cause of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus.

“Part of the problem is that Americans have long had an incorrect idea of the Church’s notion of sainthood,” says Father Peter Gumpel, a member of the Con-gregation for the Causes of the Saints, the Vatican’s Saint-making body. “Rather than limiting its scope to prophets and stigmatics, the Church in the post-Second Vatican Council era is looking for those who have done their duty constantly, joyfully, a person who prayed, who was charitable to others.”
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895–1979)

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895–1979)

I think it’s also fair to say that the Church herself is now recognizing heroic virtue among the laity as well as bishops, priests and religious. (I can’t resist this true story. A priest asked a bishop why more parish priests, like John Vianney, are not canonized. The bishop answered: “That’s because all the holy priests become bishops.”)

Generally, Catholics in Canada would be familiar with the famous “founders of the Canadian Church” such as Marguerite D’Youville and Marie of the Incarnation; and less so with those “on the way” such as Eleonore Potvin, Theophanius-Leo, or Gerard Raymond. In the States everyone knows Mother Seton, Frances Xavier Cabrini, Katherine Drexel, Dorothy Day, Bishop Sheen, Father Patrick Peyton; less so, Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik, Mother Maria Kaupas, Pierre Toussaint, and Angeline McCrory. The youngsters of today will probably see many of the above on the liturgical calendars of the future. My point is that our relatively young Church of North America is also a Church of saints, a Church of holiness, of which we can be very proud. Keep all these causes, known and unknown, in your prayers.


Relics of holy people are a familiar reality to Catholics and Orthodox. Is it not a very human trait to keep mementos of our loved ones—clothing, items which were special to them? Keeping locks of hair of the deceased is not that unusual. And now, with cremation (which I personally don’t like), people may even have the ashes of their loved ones in their keeping.

But our ancient practice regarding relics is not sentiment or anything merely human. It is bound up with our understanding of the holiness of the body, and the communion of saints. Those who have died are still intimately united with us in the Body of Christ. They are concerned about us and pray for us. Thus, when we touch one of their relics and ask them to pray for us, this is not magic. The relic simply gives us a very human connection with the person, makes him or her more present to us, helps us to concentrate on their presence and love for us.

Catherine and Eddie Doherty holding paintings of Our Lady with Jesus and Don Bosco.

Catherine and Eddie Doherty holding paintings of Our Lady with Jesus and Don Bosco.

A first-class relic is a part of the person’s body: a piece of hair or bone. Through the forward-looking love of some of our community, we have a fair amount of Catherine’s hair—although we have been advised, at this stage of the process, not to make it available.

Second-class relics are items which have touched the body of the candidate. (We joke that many of us are second-class relics!) Clothing is the most obvious of these. On request, we can send you a second-class relic of Catherine’s clothing. It is yours for the asking. I’d rather not ask you for a “donation” for such relics, although this is acceptable. The distinction between buying a relic or a holy service (a Mass), and giving a donation for them, is very valid; and donating is an ancient practice in the Church. But as the Reformation proved, this can both be abused by church people and misunderstood by others. If you wish you can always donate to Catherine’s cause in general; there will be many expenses. (The latest estimate is that it costs about $250,000!) But I’d prefer that we gave out relics for the asking.

Finally there are third-class relics, items which have touched objects which have touched the body.

Prayer is a mystery. But praying through Catherine’s intercession while holding a relic, or applying it to a person, can help to increase our faith and focus our prayer. For the Church to accept a miracle on a candidate’s behalf, it is necessary that people have prayed only through that person’s intercession and not through a whole litany of saints. It would not be clear, in this latter case, to whom the miracle should be attributed. Praying with a relic can remind us of this important condition.

— Father Robert Wild, Postulator for the Cause

Publications featured in this issue:

Living the Gospel Without Compromise, by Catherine Doherty

Journey to the Heart of Christ: The Little Mandate, by Father Robert Wild

Love One Another: A Talk on Living the Gospel, by Catherine Doherty


Father Francis Bonano, OFM (former postulator for causes of saints in the Holy Land) :

Catherine was no ordinary Christian. She has affected the lives of so many people through her books (especially the one entitled Poustinia), through her organization and family of Madonna House, and through her personal life and example. The grace of God has been powerful in her, and “By their fruits you shall know them,” Jesus said.

Her work for the poor and downtrodden showed a great love for neighbor. Her love for the poustinia and her zeal to live the mystery of Nazareth showed her great love of God and contemplation. I remember in 1984 seeing her on her sickbed a year before she died. She had her hair in pigtails with ribbons like a little girl in spite of her eighty or so years. I wondered if it were senility or a human touch. I judged the latter when she lucidly encouraged me so strongly in building the House of Prayer at Emmaus based on the poustinia model.

Why would Catherine’s life and teaching be particularly edifying for the Church of today? I think Catherine grasped a synthesis of Eastern and Western spirituality, unique in the history of the Church. The Holy Father is anxious to bring East and West together spiritually and ecumenically; Catherine helped in this great process. For ordinary Christians, her insistence on Nazareth and doing the little things well out of love can be a model and source of imitation.

Donat Chiasson, Archbishop Emeritus, Moncton, NB :

On July 5, 1979, I met Catherine Doherty for the first time. She invited me to a staff meeting and I was much impressed by her teaching. She talked about the breakdown of our North American society and the call of God to be witnesses of his divine love. I believe that every Christian is aware of some evil in this world, and we have all heard about the immense love of God. What struck me very powerfully was the realization that here was a woman who seemed to live those two realities at a new depth.

The weight of evil in our society pierced her heart in a way I had not witnessed before. I also felt that when she spoke about the love of God it carried all the qualities of personal experience.

I believe she had the grace of a Foundress. Many people feel called to live the Gospel with greater commitment and are enriched in becoming, in a way, her disciples. Many people from all walks of life recognize in what is called the Little Mandate a translation of the Good News of Jesus for today.

Mary Creegan, Dundee, Scotland :

I said to my confessor that I loved the spirituality of Catherine, and he said to me: “Who is this Catherine de Hueck Doherty? Can you bring me any books?” I did so, and since then my love for Catherine has become a great influence in my very ordinary everyday life. She directs me, and I am absolutely delighted.

I am thrilled to know that you, dear Father, have been given the great work of making Catherine known. She is the great woman of this day and age. I am positive that one day she will join the great women saints of the Church. Catherine has obtained for me a great love of priests and the Mass in my life.

Helen Coolen, Cleveland, OH :

As for ‘B’ [nick name for Catherine], she has been the second great blessing in my life. My mother was the first. She set my feet on the path of faith and tried to keep me there, nourished my faith, and still does from heaven. ‘B’ further nourished my faith. First I was introduced to the Eastern rite, a blessing in itself. Then the Office of Prime and Compline, the encyclicals. More than everything, though, it was how she lived the Gospels—showing me our black brothers and sisters through the eyes of Christ. You said be brief. That’s hard when relating to ‘B’: so enriching, so much grace. How she listened to the Spirit, and taught me to do so. In fact she still does. I hear her voice so clearly.

Father Lorenzo Maria T. De La Rosa Jr., Prior, Carthusian Charterhouse of the Transfiguration, Vermont :

Please know that I join in your prayers for the Church’s official recognition of the virtues of our sister Catherine. I feel personally that she is so needed in our sad times, she, who in her word and by her life, has pointed so clearly to the magnificent love and ineffable goodness of our Lord, and the road of beauty that one finds oneself [on] when she/he traverses the way of the Cross in self-forgetting love.

Beverly King, Marengo, IL :

Ever since I “discovered” our Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, I feel that I have found a real friend. Though I only know her through her writings and through her followers, as seen in Restoration, I still feel comforted. I venture to say that Catherine Doherty as well as Josemaria Escriva are two of the most important people in my life—I think because they appeal to us Regular Folks in the pew.

Favours Received

I can’t seem to find the words to express clearly what I want to say. Suffice it to say that every time I have called upon her [Catherine] for little and big things over the past five years (at least), she has come through with a solution, healing, inspiration, etc.

I don’t know if this kind of letter is helpful or not for Catherine’s cause, but I just want you to know that she is very active in my life, bringing me through situations that would normally set me back, and in need of at least 3 rounds of antibiotics at a time (which has happened when I forgot to ask her for help). — M.B.M., Windsor, ON, 1/9/2003

That Sunday, like all other days since my [medical] report came back, I was very fearful, upset, etc. I was sitting in the living room, between 7:30 and 8:00 pm, when I had a very strong feeling that something had happened, things were different. No more fear, no more crying; felt great, at peace. Just knew that all would be fine, that God was in charge.

My daughter called to see how I was making out. I related to her what had happened to me the previous evening. She asked me at what time that had transpired. When I told her she said that was the time she had gone to Catherine’s grave and was prayed over in proxy for me. I am certain that it was through Catherine’s intercession that I was healed of my fears. — L.P., Augusta, Me, 6/12/2002

I attribute to Catherine Doherty the speedy recovery (two years ago) from a severe brain operation of a member of our parish. She continues to be a very active member of her church in so many ways. — M.H., Belleville, ON, 9/2002.

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