Category Archives: Saints

Community life inspires ‘miracle man’

Redemptorist Father John Murray walks outside his residence in Ephrata, Pa. (CR/Clare Becker)

Redemptorist Father John Murray is convinced he’s a walking miracle.

After suffering a fall that left him paralyzed from the chest down, the former pastor of St. Mary in Annapolis and St. Wenceslaus in Baltimore began praying for Blessed Francis X. Seelos – a former St. Mary’s pastor – to intercede on his behalf. As noted in this upcoming story in The Catholic Review, Father Murray is now walking on his own and will soon receive his first priestly assignment since the 2010 accident.

 After spending a morning with Father Murray in preparation for the article, I was struck by how the priest was inspired by his fellow Redemptorists. As he underwent rehabilitation at Stella Maris nursing home in Timonium, the priest lived with infirm and elderly members of his religious order and, at 63, was the youngest priest among them at the St. John Neumann Residence – a wing for retired Redemptorists.
“You are surrounded by your confreres,” Father  Murray told me. “You get to pray together. You get to eat together. You get to just walk the corridors with them and sit down in our community room – and you get to celebrate Mass.”
It was quite different from a former facility in which Father Murray lived after the accident – one in which he could sometimes go a day without seeing another person besides the medical staff, he said.
There were 18 Redemptorists living at Stella Maris with Father Murray, 13 of whom spent most of their priesthood in foreign missions.
“They were in the Dominican Republic and Brazil eating rice and beans down there with no electricity large parts of the day,” Father Murray said. “To see how they sacrificed and now, at the age of 85 and 90, they are still going strong – it really touched me.”
Five Redemptorists died while Father Murray lived at Stella Maris. He watched his brother priests gather in the room of  dying clerics, staying with them and praying with them before and after they died.
“It was just so touching,” he remembered.
Father Murray noted that the St. John Neumann Residence could not be more perfectly named. St. John Neumann had been a diocesan priest in New York in the 19th century. He became depressed because he was often alone, Father Murray said. The priest joined the Redemptorists because one of its great charisms is community life.
“John Neuman realized he needed the support of a community,” Father Murray. “That was one of the things I most learned since my accident – the importance of community living and how community living for Redemptorists brings new life. It certainly brought me life.”

A rare birthday present for St. Joan of Arc

A statue depicts St. Joan of Arc. (Courtesy BSO)

Pope Benedict XVI minces no words when he describes the medieval judges who interrogated and sentenced St. Joan of Arc to death 580 years ago. The French clergymen were aligned with St. Joan’s political opponents, the pope said in a Jan. 26 general audience, and they “lacked charity and the humility to see God’s action in this young woman.”

“Joan’s judges were radically incapable of understanding her or of perceiving the beauty of her soul,” Pope Benedict XVI said. “They did not know that they were condemning a saint.”

As the world prepares to celebrate the 600th anniversary of St. Joan’s birth early next year, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will showcase a rarely performed oratorio that captures the drama of the French saint’s trial and execution.

“Jeanne d’Arc au Bucher” – “Joan of Arc at the Stake,” a groundbreaking work by Swiss composer Arthur Honegger, will be performed Nov 17-18 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore before hitting the bright lights of New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Marin Alsop conducts the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2010. (Photo courtesy BSO)

In an e-mail interview, BSO Music Director Marin Alsop told me the work defies categorization.

“It’s a dramatic oratorio with narrative creating a unique story and sound world,” the maestra said. “Joan is portrayed as a living, breathing human being who did not comprehend how she found herself in such an unbelievable predicament.”

Honegger’s work features folk tunes, plainchant, classical music and contemporary jazz. It includes many of the instruments of a modern orchestra, along with saxophones, pianos and the ondes martenot – a rarely used instrument best known for producing the eerie, glissando “woooooo” sounds of old-time science fiction and horror movies.

Caroline Dhavernas (Courtesy BSO)

“Joan of Arc at the Stake” is as much a work of theater as it is of music. Performed in French with English subtitles, it will feature vocalists from Concert Artists of Baltimore, the Peabody Hopkins Chorus, Morgan State University Choir and the Peabody Children’s Chorus. Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas has the title role.

French poet-dramatist Paul Claudel wrote the libretto for “Joan of Arc at the Stake” in 1934 after having a vision of two hands tied together, raised and making the Sign of the Cross. Honegger completed the score on Christmas Eve, 1935 and the work premiered in Switzerland on May 12, 1938.

Claudel tells St. Joan’s story through flashbacks that follow the course of her life in reverse order. The climax occurs when the work returns to the present for St. Joan’s martyrdom.

Just as Honegger’s work defies easy description, so does the woman on which it is based.

“She has been adopted by people on the right and left of the political aisle,” Alsop said, “and as a model for both religious and non-religious belief systems. I am intrigued by her ability to transcend categorization.”

St. Joan is the patroness of France who heard voices from saints commanding her to drive the English and Burgundians from her homeland. The illiterate peasant girl led the French to victory in several military campaigns before being captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English. She was condemned as a witch and burned at the stake at age 19. Pope Callistus III reopened her trial in 1456 and she was found innocent of all charges. She was canonized in 1920.

“I admire Joan’s total commitment to her beliefs and willingness to stand up for what she believed,” said Alsop, noting that St. Joan continues to serve as a model for people from all walks of society.

“Joan is portrayed as a devout individual adamantly true to herself and completely devoted to God,” Alsop said. “She is free of guile, but not above being human with faults and strengths.”

St. Joan’s inquisitors may have been “incapable of understanding her or perceiving the beauty of her soul,” but the musicians who recounted her fate surely weren’t.

For more information about the concert, visit the BSO site.  For a sense of what “Joan of Arc at the Stake” sounds like, check out the 2009 video clip below from a performance by the Latvian State Academic Choir.

Rocking out with Ray Herrmann and St. Alphonsus

Ray Herrmann waves at the end of an Aug. 14 concert in Baltimore. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

In this week’s Catholic Review, you’ll meet Ray Herrmann – a talented member of the rock group, ‘Chicago,’ and a devoted Catholic who is involved in quite a remarkable religious music project.

Over the last few years, Herrmann has produced three CDs of the musical works of St. Alphonsus Liguori. The great saint and founder of the Redemptorists was an accomplished composer, but his works have largely gone unnoticed and unheard since the 18th century.

Working with Redemptorists of the Denver Province, Herrmann put together a very moving collection of the saint’s music and prayers. The collection is focused on the rosary, the Seven Sorrows of Mary and the Way of the Cross. The most recent CD also features Liam Neeson reading some of St. Alphonsus’s prayers with the saint’s music serving as an underscore. (Read the CR story about the St. Alphonsus project here).

Here’s a sample of “To Jesus in His Passion,” one of St. Alphonsus’s compositions as arranged by Herrmann:

Herrmann is a multi-talented musician. I was fortunate to see him in concert and spend some time with him at an Aug. 14 Chicago performance at the Pier Six Concert Pavilion in Baltimore.

Check out this sax solo from that concert.  It’s certainly different from anything St. Alphonsus would have played!

It’s definitely worth buying Herrmann’s collection of St. Alphonsus’s works. It’s inspired music and long overdue for production. All proceeds from the sales of the CDs go toward helping the Redemptorists in their South American and African mission work.

Check out Herrmann’s producation company and purchasing information here. For more on the St. Alphonsus project, click here. Chicago’s website is here.

In the meantime, here are some more shots of Herrmann in action…

Ray Herrmann plays the flute during an Aug. 14 concert with 'Chicago' at the Pier Six Concert Pavilion in Baltimore. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Ray Herrmann plays a solo. The musician began playing the piano at 6 and clarinet at 7. He learned flute and sax in high school, earning a master's degree in music from the University of North Texas. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

'Chicago' performs Aug. 14 in Baltimore. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

VIDEO REPORT: Laughing with St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius of Loyola at prayer in Rome. (Father William Hart McNichols)

In honor of today’s Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola – founder of the Jesuits – here’s a video clip of Father James Martin, S.J. sharing some of his favorite Jesuit jokes. It’s taken from the priest-author’s July 29 talk at St. Ignatius in Baltimore. I know you’ll enjoy it!

Also, the image of St. Ignatius shown on this blog is one of Father Martin’s favorites. It shows the great saint at prayer in Rome – perfectly capturing his humanity. Father William Hart McNichols was the iconographer and you can learn more about his work here.

For more funny and insightful clips from Father Martin’s lecture on humor and spirituality, click here.

Happy Feast Day to all my Jesuit friends from a proud graduate of Loyola University Maryland!  Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!



VIDEO REPORT: Colbert Report chaplain says God wants us to laugh

Father James Martin, S.J.

Being a faithful Catholic doesn’t mean you have to be a joyless one.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan knows that. When Archbishop Dolan was installed to his post in the Big Apple, an enterprising reporter asked the newcomer if there was anything he would like to condemn. Archbishop Dolan responded in the affirmative.

“I condemn instant mashed potatoes and light beer,” he deadpanned.

A few years ago, when Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl visited a Catholic bookstore, the owner approached him and said, “Oh!  You’re looking for a book, Father. You must be a Jesuit!”

“No,” Cardinal Wuerl replied, “but I’m literate.”

Back when Blessed Pope John XXIII enjoyed making surprise visits to Catholic institutions in Rome, he once stopped at a hospital run by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. The superior of the religious community ran up to the Holy Father and announced that she was “the superior of the Holy Spirit.”

Without skipping a beat, the pope countered with: “Well, you outrank me. I’m only the vicar of Christ!”

Those were just a few of many stories of faith and good humor shared by Jesuit Father James Martin during last night’s Ignatian Day Lecture at St. Ignatius in Baltimore. The Jesuit priest, a bestselling author and culture editor of America Magazine, spoke on the important role of humor in living a spiritual life.

Well-known for his amazingly funny appearances on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, Father Martin is traveling the country to spread a message that might be summed up in two words: “Lighten up.”

Along with Matt Palmer – my good friend and colleague at The Catholic Review, I had the honor of interviewing Father Martin at the end of his lecture.  The priest was very generous with his time and gave us a lot of good insights into evangelization.

We will be sharing some of what he had to say in the next few days.  I will also be posting some interesting observations from Father Martin on what it’s like to be on the Colbert Report.

For now, take a look at some of these three video clips from last night.  Father Martin will have you laughing like you won’t believe.  Stay tuned for much more to come and check out The Welcome Matt to see what Matt Palmer’s posting about Father Martin’s appearance last night.

7/31 UPDATE: Click here to hear Father Martin share some of his favorite Jesuit jokes.

Woman says she was healed through Pope Pius XII’s intercession

The AP has an exclusive on a woman who believes she was healed through the intercession of Pope Pius XII.  Could it be the miracle that leads to the beatification of the World War II-era pope?  One American papal biographer thinks so.

Blessed Pius XII?

Maria Esposito was ready to give up. Wasted away at 42 kilos (92 pounds), she couldn’t bear another dose of chemotherapy to fight the Stage IV Burkitt’s lymphoma that had invaded her body while she was pregnant with her second child.

But as she and her family had done since she was diagnosed with the rare and aggressive form of cancer in July 2005, Esposito prayed to the man who had appeared to her husband in a dream as the only person who could save her: Pope Pius XII.

Esposito survived, cured after a single, six-week cycle of chemotherapy — a recovery that, she says, stunned her doctors and convinced her that the World War II-era pope had intervened with God to save her.

Esposito’s case, which the 42-year-old teacher recounted to The Associated Press in her first media interview, has been proposed to the Vatican as the possible miracle needed to beatify Pius, one of the most controversial sainthood causes under way, given that many Jews say he failed to speak out enough to stop the Holocaust.

Pius’ main biographer, American Sister Margherita Marchione, has championed Esposito’s miracle case and personally presented it to the Vatican’s No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Pope Benedict XVI moved Pius one step closer to possible sainthood in December 2009 when he confirmed that Pius lived a life of “heroic” Christian virtue. All that is needed now is for the Vatican to determine a “miracle” occurred.

“I’m certain that inside of me there was the hand of God operating, thanks to the intercession of Pope Pius XII,” Esposito said during a recent interview in her cheery dining room in the seaside town of Castellammare di Stabia on the Amalfi coast. “I’m convinced of it.”

The AP reports that some doctors and church officials aren’t as sure as Esposito.  Read about that and much more here.

VIDEO REPORT: Our Lady of Czechtochowa inspires devotion

For many of the 26 people who joined Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski on a recent pilgrimage to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, the spiritual highlight was praying in the presence of the famous icon known as Our Lady of Czechtochowa. The pilgrims had the honor of sitting only a few feet away from the “Black Madonna” as Bishop Rozanski led them in Marian prayers. Moved by the experience, several participants wiped away tears of joy. Check out this video report:

VIDEO REPORT: One way to fight the plague

BUDAPEST – One of the most fascinating pieces of artwork in Budapest is found in Hungary’s castle district. An early 18th-century monument built for the dual purposes of remembering victims of the plague and safeguarding the city from future diseases, the Baroque column is dedicated to the Holy Trinity.  Check out this video report:

‘The greatest temptation of my life’

Dominican Father Carleton Parker Jones (CR/Owen Sweeney III)

Dominican Father Carleton Parker Jones calls it the “greatest temptation” of his life.

It happened 21 years ago in the library of the Anglican Centre in Rome, where Father Jones was completing research for his doctoral dissertation on Blessed John Henry Newman.

Blessed Newman, an Anglican priest who was received into the Catholic Church in 1845, was one of Father Jones’ greatest heroes. Inspired by Blessed Newman’s writings, Father Jones had followed in the Englishman’s footsteps – leaving the Anglican priesthood to become a Catholic priest in 1982.

Deep in the stacks of the acclaimed library, Father Jones pulled out a first-edition of Blessed Newman’s “On the Development of Christian Faith.” It was the very work that had most inspired Father Jones to become Catholic.

As soon as the Dominican opened the volume, a letter fell from its pages. Father Jones, then a student at Rome’s Angelicum University, stooped down to pick it up. His eyes widened as he read the old letter and realized it was a hand-written, signed note from Blessed Newman to a reviewer who had written some kind words about his book.

No one was watching and no one knew the letter existed.

“I could have simply taken it and put it in my pocket and no one would have known the difference,” remembered Father Jones, now the pastor of Ss. Philip and James in Baltimore. “It’s not that I was looking to sell it and make a lot money. It was just that Newman had become so dear to me that it would have been a wonderful keepsake to have – a kind of relic.”

Father Jones stood still in the library for about a minute staring at the letter and thinking, “shall I or shan’t I?” The temptation was overwhelming.

“I can still feel it now,” the priest remembered. “I can feel the tingling in my spine as I looked at it. I wish I could have seen the expression on my face.”

Honesty triumphed and Father Jones turned the letter over to the librarian. He was rewarded with a gift of 10 books.

“I overcame the temptation by the grace of God,” Father Jones said. “I thought at the time, ‘If I steal this, it undermines all the graces I had received that brought me there.’”

Father Jones said it would have been ironic to steal something of the man who had led him into the church.

“Oh, but I struggled,” he said with a laugh. “I stood there looking at it – coveting it. I went through the whole thing!”

Click here to read about what Father Jones and the Dominicans are up to at Ss. Philip and James.

Calling St. Polycarp

When Marilyn Szewczyk was about to launch a network of pro-life pregnancy centers in Maryland, she turned to St. Polycarp for help. Reasoning that the obscure early Christian martyr didn’t have many people asking for his intercession, Szewczyk figured she’d have easy access to his ear.

Lynn Anne Sukeena, one of Szewczyk’s daughters, told me that her late mom put St. Polycarp to the test before selecting him. When a pro-life lobbying group was looking for office space in Annapolis, Szewczyk prayed to St. Polycarp. Sure enough, a prime spot was located in the State House. That was enough for Szewczyk, who officially named him the patron saint of her outreach network, Pregnancy Center, Inc.

Thirty years later, the network is thriving – as noted in this story in last week’s Catholic Review.

St. Polycarp is apparently more busy than people think.

Barbara Dean, former parish relations manager for The Catholic Review, e-mailed me last week to tell me of her own encounters with the saintly bishop of Smyrna (in what is now Turkey). Ben, her youngest son, decided to take St. Polycarp as his confirmation name. He will receive the sacrament in June at St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park, where Barbara Dean works in the parish office.

When Ben told his mother of his selection, Dean looked at him quizzically and told him to stop making up names.

After discovering from co-workers at St. John that St. Polycarp was indeed real, Dean apologized to her son and read a report he had written on St. Polycarp for his confirmation class.

“I went to daily Mass on his feast day (Feb. 23),” Dean said, “to show my respect to this wonderful saint and ask for forgiveness since I didn’t think he was a real saint at all when my son mentioned his crazy name.”

Dean said St. Polycarp is now constantly popping up in her life.  She recently received an unsolicited mailing at work that contained a plastic tab for a key ring. On one side was an image of Christ on the cross. On the other was a quote from St. Polycarp that read, “If we pray to the Lord to forgive us, we ourselves must be forgiving. We are all under the eyes of the Lord.”

“It is now hanging on my key ring,” Dean said, “and I am finding that St. Polycarp is a very special saint. I wish more people knew about him.”

Time to put St. Polycarp on my list of intercessors.

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