National shrine home to story of late pontiff, saint

By Sarah McCarthy
WASHINGTON (CNS) – In the heart of the national shrine dedicated to one of the most revered figures in church and world history, a new exhibit pays further homage to the man who embodied the Catholic Church for more than 25 years.
“A Gift of Love: The Life of St. John Paul II” will have its inaugural opening Oct. 22, the pope’s feast day, as a permanent exhibit at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington. The 16,000-square-foot display features numerous artifacts and insights into the life of the late pope, including photographs and footage of him as a young priest in Poland.
The executive director of the shrine, Patrick Kelly, said the opening of the exhibit lends a “major catechetical element” to the shrine.
“We’re a shrine so we’re a religious site, but we have this great exhibit, and never before have the two elements been put together, where you have a shrine, but you have a major exhibit to the saint that the shrine is dedicated to,” he said in an interview with Catholic News Service.

A man looks at an exhibit at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington Oct. 7. The facility hosts exhibits and events relating to St. John Paul and to the history of the Catholic Church in North America. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

A man looks at an exhibit at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington Oct. 7. The facility hosts exhibits and events relating to St. John Paul and to the history of the Catholic Church in North America. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

A walk through the exhibit not only draws the visitor into the works and legacy of the beloved pope, but also offers a glimpse into the life of Karol Wojtyla before he became Pope John Paul. Included among religious artifacts such as traditional headgear worn by the pope is a pair of skis and tennis shoes that St. John Paul used when he was a young man.
Before it became a shrine, the building was home to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. The Knights of Columbus acquired it in 2011 and converted it into a shrine to keep with the original vision of the center, Kelly said.
“We decided it was appropriate to build a shrine dedicated to this great saint who embodied so many of the trials and tribulations of the 20th century,” he said.
One of the hallmark features of the exhibit is an interactive touch-screen display that provides information on St. John Paul’s travels while he was pope, which included visits to more than 100 countries. The device allows users to choose a specific country and learn more about the pope’s visit to that country through timelines, photographs and videos on the display.
“I think John Paul II had an authenticity that people recognized,” Kelly said. “I mean, he connected with people. People who were in a crowd of tens of thousands felt like he was speaking to them.”

A boy plays on an interactive exhibit at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington Oct. 7. The facility is a shrine and museum owned and operated by the Knights of Columbus. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

A boy plays on an interactive exhibit at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington Oct. 7. The facility is a shrine and museum owned and operated by the Knights of Columbus. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Other parts of the exhibit focus on the scholarly aspects of St. John Paul’s papacy and the works he put forth during his time as pope. Several galleries highlight his teachings through original manuscripts and encyclicals penned by the pope.
“Certainly we hope to draw Catholics and Christians, but I think all people of good will recognize that in John Paul II they had a person of extraordinary ability (and) intelligence,” he said. “His work to defend the poor, the needy, that’s universally recognized by people of all faiths and people of no faith, and I think they will be drawn to come here just to learn more about this great man.”
St. John Paul’s worldwide appeal is certainly manifested in the exhibit, which showcases gifts and letters from various international leaders. A silver box from President Ronald Reagan and a Christmas plate from Helmut Schmidt, the former chancellor of West Germany, are just a couple of the items on display.
Aside from the many physical representations of St. John Paul’s legacy housed in the shrine, Kelly said he thinks the exhibit will offer visitors a chance to connect with him on a spiritual level.
“I think what people will get out of coming through the exhibit is they will see how (St. John Paul II) responded to the Holy Spirit in his life and they can do that too,” Kelly said. “They can make a gift of themselves just in the way that John Paul II made a gift of his life to others, and to the church and to the world. … All Christians are called to do that.”
The exhibit is free and open to the public.
(Copyright © 2014 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)
(Editor’s Note: More information about the St. John Paul II National Shrine and the permanent exhibit is available on its website, www.jp2shrine.org.)

Report takes deeper look at statistics about women’s religious orders

By Patricia Zapor
WASHINGTON (CNS) – A longtime trend of declining numbers of women in religious orders is unpacked a bit in a new study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
In the report released Oct. 13, the social science researchers of CARA observed that the demographical story of women religious in the United States takes some disentangling.
Although past studies have talked about the rapid decline in the number of nuns in the country starting after the Second Vatican Council, “such studies did not provide the more nuanced narrative of what decline meant for the individual religious institute,” the report said. “How, for example, did religious institutes respond to declining membership?”
From a peak in 1965 of 181,000, the number of women religious in the U.S. has steadily declined to the current 50,000. That’s about how many sisters there were in the United States 100 years ago, said the report: “Population Trends Among Religious Institutes of Women,” by CARA staffers Mary L. Gautier and Mark M. Gray, and Erick Berrelleza, a Jesuit scholastic at Boston College.
CARA found that as their numbers declined, some religious orders reorganized their internal structures, while others merged with other religious institutes. Some have been bolstered by sisters from other countries or women who joined a religious order later in life. Others simply stopped serving in the United States.
“In the face of diminishment,” it said, “women religious have innovated by responding with new models when old models proved ineffective.”
That’s partly why the report refers to disentangling, Gautier told Catholic News Service. Some whole institutes disappeared from the Official Catholic Directory, a reference book published annually, whether by being folded into another organization, by leaving the United States or adapting in another way.
The report pointed to a flaw in assumptions about the growth in women’s religious vocations coming primarily in orders that are “traditionalist” – meaning for example, those whose members wear a full religious habit – while institutes whose members do not wear a traditional habit are declining.
“One of the most striking findings regarding new entrants is that almost equal numbers of women have been attracted” to both kinds of religious orders, the CARA report quoted. Gautier’s book categorized the two types of religious orders according to whether the organizations belong to one or the other of two leadership organizations, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the Council of Major Superiors of Women (CMSWR).
The LCWR’s member organizations, which account for about 80 percent of the country’s women religious, had among them 73 postulants, 117 novices and 317 women who had taken temporary vows in 2009.
Although its member organizations account for a much smaller percentage of the nuns in the U.S., CMSWR organizations had about the same number of women in formation as did LCWR institutes, said Gautier – 73 postulants, 158 novices and 304 who had taken temporary vows.
Among other items in the report, CARA pointed to several institutes that stood out in the data for having a “slowing rate of decline” in number of members. When the authors dug a bit, they found that such slowing sometimes was the result of one community absorbing another.
It cited the merger of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, Massachusetts, in the mid-1970s with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Fall River, Massachusetts.
“It is not that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield exhibited a sudden increase in new vocations, but rather these two mergers account for the upswing,” the CARA report said. “In such cases, the apparent slowing rate of decline is not related to an increase of new vocations; instead, it is these mergers that account for the increases in membership.”
There are some institutes that show consistent growth even without such mergers, the report said.
“These communities do not exhibit the growth-followed-by-decline pattern and seem to point to even further expansion into the foreseeable future,” it said. For instance, the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, was established in 1973 with nine members. The community has continued to grow gradually, and its membership will approach 100 by the end of the decade, the report predicted.
In some cases statistically significant growth actually represents very few people, Gautier noted.
Six institutes that have been cited in anecdotes and news reports as evidence of a reversal of the trend toward decline, have increased their membership by a combined total of 267 people since 1970. That number, the report said, is “too few to have an effect on the overall picture.”
“Whatever these institutes have done or are doing is unlikely to offset losses in the tens of thousands elsewhere. It is simply not enough.”
(Copyright © 2014 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

Seminary celebrates 125 years of prayer, work

By Peter Finney
COVINGTON, La., – The powerful oasis of prayer that is St. Joseph Abbey cannot be underestimated.
For 125 years, Benedictine monks have prayed, formed seminarians and directed retreats in south Louisiana. The 1,200 piney acres near Covington on which they pray and work – a pristine oasis amid suburban sprawl – are a tangible expression of the beauty of God’s creation, all at the service of prayer.

Bishop Emeritus Joseph Latino, seated in the first row at left, joined bishops from across the region for a Mass to celebrate the 125th anniversary of St. Joseph Seminary College Saturday, Oct. 4. (Photos courtesy of Franke Methe/Clarion Herald)

Bishop Emeritus Joseph Latino, seated in the first row at left, joined bishops from across the region for a Mass to celebrate the 125th anniversary of St. Joseph Seminary College Saturday, Oct. 4. (Photos courtesy of Franke Methe/Clarion Herald)

“The monastery has been a stable presence of prayer throughout all these years,” said Benedictine Abbot Justin Brown of St. Joseph Abbey. “The monks have been praying in southeast Louisiana for 125 years – every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. That’s quite an amazing thing. Through that, we’ve offered not only to the seminary but to many other people a place for spiritual nourishment and retreat.”
The Benedictine community celebrated that rich, spiritual history Saturday, Oct. 4, with a Mass of Thanksgiving at 11 a.m. in the Abbey church. Bishop Emeritus Joseph Latino of the Diocese of Jackson, a 1963 graduate, joined principal celebrant Archbishop Gregory Aymond, a 1971 graduate of St. Joseph Seminary College for the Mass along with bishops from across Louisiana and Mississippi.
Other distinguished celebrants included three Benedictine abbots: Archabbot Justin DuVall of St. Meinrad Abbey, from which St. Joseph Abbey was established in 1889; Abbot Hector Sosa Paz of the Abbey of Jesus Christ Crucified in Esquipulas, Guatemala, established by St. Joseph Abbey in 1959; and Abbot Vincent Bataille, the president of the Swiss-American Congregation.
Prayer is the hallmark of any monastery, said Abbot Justin, who has served as abbot since 2001. The monks gather four times each day – at 6 a.m., 7 a.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. – to pray the Divine Office, and they celebrate Mass at 11:15 a.m. Quite often the monks are joined by neighbors who immerse themselves in the monastery’s spiritual rhythms.
“We have regulars – both Catholics and Protestants,” Abbot Justin said. “The psalms are all from the Bible.”

St. Joseph seminarians, including Andrew Bowden of the Diocese of Jackson, second from last in line, receive Holy Communion during the Mass. The seminary college has had record classes in the past couple of years.

St. Joseph seminarians, including Andrew Bowden of the Diocese of Jackson, second from last in line, receive Holy Communion during the Mass. The seminary college has had record classes in the past couple of years.

St. Benedict, who lived in the sixth century, called monks to do two things, Abbot Justin said – “to pray and to work within a community.”
“Prayer is central to our lives and the most important thing that we do,” he said. “But then, so is our work, and the work can take on many different possibilities.”
Preparing seminarians
The abbey’s primary work is the operation St. Joseph Seminary College, which was the reason the monastery was established in 1889 in a small town near Ponchatoula. Archbishop Francis Janssens asked the Benedictines to establish a monastery and seminary so that native clergy could be raised up. All seminarians from the Diocese of Jackson train at St. Joseph. Three of the nine current seminarians are there now.
The monastery moved to its current site in 1902, and following a 1907 fire, a large brick and steel building was constructed in 1908. The abbey church was dedicated in 1932, the same year that Abbot Columban Thuis became abbot. Abbot Columban served for 25 years, followed by Abbot David Melancon from 1957-82. Abbot Patrick Regan was elected in 1982 and served through 2001.
From its establishment, the abbey conducted a six-year program of seminary studies that included four years of high school and the first two years of college. After changes brought about by Vatican II, it converted to a four-year college program in 1964.
The K.C. Abbey Youth Camp opened on the abbey grounds in 1960, and the Abbey Christian Life Center opened for retreats in 1965.
Besides operating the seminary in conjunction with the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the abbey offers retreats, provides priests for parish ministry, operates a Pennies for Bread bakery, makes soap and hand-crafts simple cypress caskets. The abbey also has a cemetery available to the general public.
“The monastic life is a very simple life together,” Abbot Justin said. “The emphasis is on ‘together’ in the community. Unlike other religious, we take a unique vow of ‘stability of place.’ We stay and live within this community and this monastery all our lives. Each monastery is a family, and that is very much our charism.”
The connection to the surrounding community also is important.
“What I hear repeatedly from people is a sense of peace they feel when they cross over the bridge above the Bogue Falaya River, and come onto the abbey property,” Abbot Justin said. “Maybe it’s leaving a very busy, hectic world and coming to a place where the pace appears to be slower.”
Other festivities for the 125th anniversary include the Deo Gratias gala Nov. 1 in Covington; a Schola Cantorum Recital/Lecture by Benedictine Father Aelred Kavanaugh, music director Colby McCurdy and Benedictine Father Seán Duggan Nov. 9 at 3 p.m. in the abbey church; Music da Camera Nov. 30 at 3 p.m. in the abbey church; and closing vespers Jan. 28, 2015.
(Peter Finney is the editor of the Clarion Herald, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Maureen Smith also contributed to this report.)

Boys Town founder’s cause advances

Father Edward Flanagan, the Irish-born priest who founded Boys Town in Nebraska, talks with a group of boys in this undated photo. On March 17, 2015, three years to the day his sainthood cause was officially opened, the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb., will submit all documentation gathered for his cause to the Vatican. During a Sept. 15 presentation at the Great Hall on the Boys Town campus, Steve Wolf, president of the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion, said the process was moving at "lightning speed." (CNS photo/courtesy Boys Town)

Father Edward Flanagan, the Irish-born priest who founded Boys Town in Nebraska, talks with a group of boys in this undated photo. On March 17, 2015, three years to the day his sainthood cause was officially opened, the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb., will submit all documentation gathered for his cause to the Vatican. During a Sept. 15 presentation at the Great Hall on the Boys Town campus, Steve Wolf, president of the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion, said the process was moving at “lightning speed.” (CNS photo/courtesy Boys Town)

Synod explores family life in today’s world

By Nancy Frazier O’Brien
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Study after study has confirmed that those who are involved in religion and those who are married are healthier, physically and mentally happier and live longer than those who are not.
“The health benefits of marriage are so strong that a married man with heart disease can be expected to live, on average, 1,400 days (nearly four years) longer than an unmarried man with a healthy heart,” said Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
“This longer life expectancy is even longer for a married man who has cancer or is 20 pounds overweight compared to his healthy but unmarried counterpart,” Haltzman added. “The advantages for women are similar.”

A family is pictured on a field in 2013 outside their home in Nashville, Kan. The family and how it has changed in the last several decades will be under discussion when the extraordinary Synod of Bishops convenes at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

A family is pictured on a field in 2013 outside their home in Nashville, Kan. The family and how it has changed in the last several decades will be under discussion when the extraordinary Synod of Bishops convenes at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Couples with higher levels of religiosity “tend to enjoy greater marital satisfaction, fidelity and stability, with less likelihood of domestic violence,” according to a compilation of studies by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
Religious belief and practice are also associated with lower divorce rates, lower levels of teen sexual activity, less abuse of alcohol and drugs, lower levels of many infectious diseases, less juvenile crime and less violent crime, the foundation said.

“Marriage and religion influence various dimensions of life, including physical health and longevity, mental health, happiness, economic well-being and the raising of children,” wrote sociologist Linda J. Waite and economist Evelyn J. Lehrer in a paper published in 2009 by the National Institutes of Health.
“We argue that both marriage and religiosity generally have far-reaching positive effects; that they influence similar domains of life; and that there are important parallels through which each achieves these outcomes,” they added.
In a 2012 interview, the late psychiatry professor Robert Coombs, from the University of California at Los Angeles, concurred on the positive effects of marriage. “Virtually every study of mortality and marital status shows the unmarried of both sexes have higher death rates, whether by accident, disease or self-inflicted wounds, and this is found in every country that maintains accurate health statistics,” he said.
As the extraordinary world Synod of Bishops on the family begins its work Oct. 5 at the Vatican, one of the challenges facing it will be raising awareness of the positive benefits of marriage on individuals, families and society as a whole.
“We know the numbers don’t lie about the impact divorce has on children,” Randall Woodard, an associate professor of theology/religion at St. Leo University in Florida, told Catholic News Service. “Nearly every social indicator is a lot lower (for those) raising children in a single-parent household, and I say that as a single father of three. A traditional family is not the only way to live, but it is the best way, generally speaking.”
Woodard said religious institutions may be uniquely suited to help families deal with their challenges.
“Churches provide tremendous support groups that can provide spiritual, financial and psychological help,” he said. “Being surrounded by people who share many of the same ideals can help reinforce others who may be struggling.
“Another way churches can help familial health is by knowing their own limitations,” Woodard added. “Many times people will come to the church with problems such as depression or other issues that are better resolved by medical professionals. Being that first point of contact can be very vital by encouraging them to seek medical help when necessary.”
(Copyright © 2014 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

Despite 50-year ‘War on Poverty,’ prosperity for many seems elusive

By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – According to the Census Bureau’s new statistics, released Sept. 16, poverty in the United States is down, but only slightly.
The actual number of people living in poverty in 2013 is unchanged at 45.3 million, but because of continued population growth in the United States, the percentage of Americans living in poverty is down 0.5 percentage points, from 15.0 percent to 14.5 percent.
“We’d expect poverty to drop now that we’re in the fifth year of an economic recovery, right?” asked Gregory Acs, director of the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.100314poverty
Acs’ comment alludes to the intractability of poverty and the long, tough slog it is trying to get tens of millions out of poverty, given that 50 years ago, then-President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty.”
While some skirmishes were won in that war – senior citizens, for instance, are far from the brink of economic disaster as they had been two generations ago – poverty persists across all demographic groups.
Even among non-Hispanic whites, the most affluent of demographic groups, the poverty rate is 9.6 percent.
Here’s a snapshot of some states and their struggles with poverty:
— In Texas, 4.5 million still live below the poverty line, although the poverty rate dropped to 17.5 percent, except in the Rio Grande Valley, where the rate is double that. In the valley, median family income is $33,219, or 64 percent that of the state median of $51,563. Hidalgo County set a new minimum wage for county workers of $10.10 an hour, but Hidalgo is just one of 254 counties in Texas.
— Tennessee’s poverty rate dipped from 17.9 percent to 17.8 percent, but that’s of little comfort to 1.1 million Tennesseans living below the poverty line. “No matter how you measure it, Tennessee remains in the bottom 10 percent of people making ends meet,” Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, told Public News Service. “More than one in four Tennessee children lives in a family experiencing economic stress.”
— In neighboring Kentucky, the poverty rate took a pronounced slide, from 19.4 percent to 18.8 percent. But while child poverty nationwide slid from 22 percent in 2012 to 20 percent last year, Kentucky’s child poverty rate is 25.3 percent. Some in Kentucky are pressing the state to OK a statewide earned income tax credit for its poor; the U.S. bishops have backed the EITC at the national level.
The Urban Institute’s Acs said the new poverty figures don’t take into account pre-tax cash income, food assistance and rental subsidies as well as tax-based assistance like EITC. An alternative Census Bureau poverty measure, called the Supplemental Poverty Measure, includes these types of assistance, but Acs said it doesn’t substantively change the poverty rate.
On the other hand, the federal poverty line remains unchanged — and probably unrealistic — at $23,550 for a family of four. That would mean living on $452.88 a week.
“While we can debate what kind of success the war on poverty has been, we haven’t eliminated poverty. We haven’t eliminated racial discrimination. We haven’t – we still have issues, I guess, to drop any pretense of eloquence,” Acs told Catholic News Service. “It’s useful to see where we are, where we’ve come from, and how we’ve changed. But if you looked through a more pessimistic lens, we haven’t made a lot of progress,” he added.
“One of the things that has probably worked against progress is the way the criminal justice system has differently impacted African-American families — the high levels of incarceration among less-educated African-American men,” Acs said.
“You can’t blithely say that ‘if we just don’t put people in jail things would be much better,’ because crime-ridden neighborhoods are a problem,” he continued, adding the question has to be asked whether “the types of crimes people were arrested for and jailed for long periods of time warrants the disruption the removal of large number of people from the economy, from their families.
“With a prison record, it’s much harder finding a job — not nearly as economically viable as it was before. … and probably contributes the seeming lack of progress.”
What would happen to poverty if the nation didn’t do anything to fight it? “The overall trend in the labor market, the effects of technology and globalization, an increase in inequality, stagnation of wages, more benefits accruing to capital than to labor, without active anti-poverty programs one could reasonably expect that poverty would have grown worse, Acs said. “The counter-argument is that people would have worked harder if they didn’t have the safety net.”
(Copyright © 2014 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich: first beatification celebrated in U.S.

By Al Frank
NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) — Although Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich was personally unassuming, the spiritual impact she had on other Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth was so unmistakable that they began the effort to have her canonized soon after her May 8, 1927, death in Paterson.

(CNS Photo)

(CNS Photo)

Her cause will advance Oct. 4, when she will be declared Blessed Miriam Teresa at a beatification Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. She will be the first American to be beatified in the United States.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, will celebrate the Mass, joined by Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, Paterson Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli and Bishop Kurt Burnette, head of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic.
The church leaders represent local churches that all claim the daughter of Slovakian immigrants — she was born in Bayonne, baptized in the Eastern Catholic Church and educated at St. Elizabeth College in Morris Township, where her remains are entombed in the chapel of her congregation’s motherhouse.
Cardinal Amato will read the declaration of beatification near the beginning of Mass after a short biography is read and a portrait of her is unveiled.
Many Sisters of Charity plan to attend the liturgy, which will include a procession with a reliquary containing locks of Sister Miriam’s reddish brown hair, cut after her death of appendicitis at age 26.
Sister Miriam was known for her bad eyesight, and her intercession was invoked for Michael Mencer, a New Jersey boy who was going blind. His complete cure in 1964 was authenticated by the Vatican as having no medical explanation and was endorsed by Pope Francis in December.
In general, one confirmed miracle is needed for beatification and a second such miracle for canonization.
The youngest of seven, Sister Miriam delayed college to care for her invalid mother, who died when “Treat” — as Sister Miriam was called — was 18. Because of her poor eyesight, she was rejected by the convent of contemplatives she wanted to enter before she joined a teaching community.
“Miriam’s life of aligning her life to the will of God is a model for all of us,” said Sister Mary Canavan, a former general superior of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth who is the fourth sister to serve as vice postulator of Sister Miriam’s cause.
“I don’t know if we need another saint in the church per se, except that her message that we all are called to holiness is significant to everyone in this troubled world, because it will take all of us to help bring about the reign of God,” Sister Mary told the New Jersey Catholic, Newark’s archdiocesan magazine.
Sister Mary also noted that Sister Miriam embraced selflessness and had an acute awareness of God’s presence in her life.
Because she was baptized in the Eastern Catholic Church, her cause also is championed by the Eparchy of Passaic, which has jurisdiction over the Byzantine churches from Maine to Florida. Also endorsing the cause is the Archdiocese of Newark, where Bayonne is located, and the Diocese of Paterson, whose territory includes the Chapel of the Holy Family in the Convent Station section of Morris Township, where Sister Miriam’s body is entombed.
Sister Miriam was said to be aware of a special call at age 3. “Even before she entered the Sisters of Charity, she was living a saintly life,” Sister Mary said.
After graduating second in her class from Bayonne High School in 1917, she cared for her mother and her family for two years before enrolling at the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station.
She majored in literature and graduated in 1923 with highest honors “but was in a state of perplexity as to the future,” according to a biography by Sister Mary Zita Geis, a Sister of Charity.
Sister Miriam was drawn to a contemplative Carmelite community in New York but was rejected because her poor eyesight would have prevented her from helping with the sewing of the liturgical vestments the nuns made to support themselves.
The Sisters of Charity hired her to teach Latin and English at the Academy of St. Aloysius in Jersey City, which closed in 2006. She left teaching to care for her ill father, who operated a shoe repair business and after he died, she entered the Sisters of Charity novitiate in 1925.
In the winter of 1927, she was hospitalized several times and so, when she complained of pain just a few months later, her superiors suspected hypochondria. When she was again hospitalized, it was for acute appendicitis. She died just after taking her vows as a fully professed sister.
Only after her death did confidantes reveal she had described having a vision of Mary in her sophomore year and of walking with St. Therese, which  occurred during her novitiate.
On her body’s return to Convent Station from the hospital, one of the sisters cut locks of her hair. After her burial, visitors began chipping pieces from the granite cross at her grave.
Sister Mary said her work on Sister Miriam’s cause has helped her to better understand the Gospel message “Many are called, but few are chosen,” which she said is embodied in Sister Miriam, an example of living a holy life.
(Frank is editor of the New Jersey Catholic magazine and associate publisher of The Catholic Advocate, the news outlets of the Archdiocese of Newark.)
(Copyright © 2014 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

Special Collection aids Christians in Middle East

BALTIMORE – Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has committed an initial $1 million in private funding to help victims of the escalating violence in northern Iraq. With the help of service partners in Iraq, CRS is currently providing food, water and essential living supplies to families in desperate need of the essentials.
Over the next six months, CRS hopes to more than double the initial $1 million commitment and help an additional 30,000 people with social support and trauma counseling, education for children and preparation for longer-term resettlement. The Diocese of Jackson will take up a collection the weekend of Sept. 27-28, to help Catholic agencies in the Middle East assist with humanitarian aid.

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Children flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, Aug. 10. Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 Yezidi ethnic minorities, an Iraqi human rights minister said. (CNS photo/Rodi Said, Reuters)

CRS worker Caroline Brennan filed the following report from a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq:
The news from Iraq can be terrifying from a distance. But up close and in person, Iraqi families could not be more gracious, welcoming and kind — despite the dire backdrop in which they are living.
In a tent where the heat is sweltering and water is in scarce supply, you are offered a bottle of cold water. Under an open sky where a family — who lived in a nice home less than a month ago, and today lives under a tree — you are graciously offered tea. Above all, you are offered apologies that they are not able to offer you anything more.
The humanitarian crisis facing Iraqi families here is something that was unimaginable for many of them just months ago. Since January of this year, 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced within their country. They come from diverse backgrounds — Christian, Yazidi, and Shia minorities; corporate jobs, farmers and day laborers; grandparents, college students and newborns. They have one thing in common: they have been targeted by the militant group the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and have fled their homes in fear.
Many left in the middle of the night at a moment’s notice, crowded into small cars with a large number of family members, fleeing for safer cities like Erbil and Dohuk. They made it to some form of refuge after being robbed at check points and walking for hours or days. They find themselves in a life completely foreign to what they knew before.
Local Iraqi priests say all are welcome here for refuge, but their resources are stretched thin. CRS is working with the local Catholic Church and Caritas Iraq to provide relief and care for thousands in the area. To date, Caritas Iraq and CRS have provided living supplies to 4,350 displaced families in Erbil, Ninewa, Dahuk, Zakho and Amedi. But the needs are tremendous.

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Displaced people stand outside their tent at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Ankawa, Iraq, Aug. 14. (CNS photo/courtesy Aid to the Church in Need-USA)

Fear looms for families who are uncertain what their options will be for the long term. For starters: School is to start in September, but tens of thousands of people have filled classrooms of school buildings that were closed for the summer. Many displaced children weren’t able to take their end of year exams back home so are uncertain they will be able to move up whenever schools do resume. It’s unclear when schools will reopen and, if so, where these families will go.
“We need to go to back to our homes. We want to be safe. We want to be able to go to Church,” says Mary, who now lives in a classroom with another family in Sarsang.
And, driving along the highways, you see hundreds of families, primarily Yazidi, living under overpasses or along the sides of the road.
No matter the backdrop, you are still welcomed with kindness, and offered what little families have from their abundance of their generosity.
“I don’t want you to feel sorry for me,” said Saddam, living in an abandoned building with his six children in Erbil. “I don’t want to hurt your heart. I’m sorry you are meeting me in this circumstance. This is not life, but we are breathing,” he says.
CRS and Caritas are opening a joint office in Erbil as a base for their expanding operations. Program priorities include: Food and shelter; water and sanitation; essential living supplies; psychological and social support; education for the thousands of internally displaced children who have missed months of school; and preparation for longer-term resettlement, including more permanent shelter and livelihood options, such as cash-for-work and vocational training.
(Copyright © 2014 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

After 47 years, Francis to retire from Xavier University of Louisiana

By Peter Finney Jr.
NEW ORLEANS (CNS) – Fittingly, the announcement came inside Xavier University of Louisiana’s sleek convocation center, the newest of many green-roofed monuments that Norman C. Francis, the longest-serving university president in the United States, had built through charisma, prayer and personal witness.

Norman Francis, 83, president of Xavier University of Louisiana since 1968, is pictured being honored in 2006 by President George W. Bush with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. (CNS photo/Shealah Craighead, White House)

Norman Francis, 83, president of Xavier University of Louisiana since 1968, is pictured being honored in 2006 by President George W. Bush with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. (CNS photo/Shealah Craighead, White House)

Francis, 83, the patriarch of the Xavier family since 1968, told thousands of students, faculty and staff Sept. 4 that he would step down in June 2015 as president of the only historically black Catholic university in the Western Hemisphere.
“After nearly 47 years, I know the time has come to take the brightly burning torch turned over to me by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and pass it on to new leadership,” Francis said. “I do this with a passionate confidence and absolute certainty that Xavier is better prepared than ever to continue its educational and spiritual mission and to build on its tradition of excellence.”
Francis’ tenure spanned generations and overcame many obstacles, not the least of which was restoring a campus inundated by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
When Francis came to Xavier as a 17-year-old freshman on a work scholarship in 1948, the campus consisted of just a few permanent buildings, several small houses and Army surplus trailers in one city block. Xavier’s burgeoning campus today is dotted with 16 buildings on 63 acres, and the endowment has grown from $2 million to more than $160 million.
More importantly, 20,000 students have earned degrees, and Xavier annually places more African-Americans in medical school than any other college in the country. The school also leads the nation in the number of African-Americans earning degrees in biology, chemistry, physics and the physical sciences.
Francis, the son of a Lafayette barber and homemaker, graduated from Xavier in 1952 and became the first African-American to graduate from Loyola University New Orleans’ Law School. His older brother Joseph was the fourth black Catholic bishop in the U.S., serving as auxiliary bishop of Newark, New Jersey.
After serving in the Army, Francis worked with the U.S. attorney to help desegregate federal agencies in the South. He returned to Xavier in 1957 as dean of men and became the first lay president of the university in 1968, getting the appointment from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament on the same day civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.
“His assassination was like blowing up the dream,” Francis said. “I think it dulled our senses. We were in shock.”
Francis often reflected on the many “miracles” produced by Xavier, but the biggest miracle of all, he said, is that it existed in the first place.
Xavier was founded by St. Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who entered religious life, formed the Blessed Sacrament Sisters and then used her family inheritance to educate blacks and native Americans throughout the U.S.
St. Katharine opened the university in 1925, building an impressive administration and classroom building out of Indiana limestone. Xavier’s initial focus was to prepare African-Americans, who could not get a private school education in Louisiana, for future careers as teachers.
Francis said he was motivated by the example and discipline imparted by his parents, neither of whom graduated from high school.
“But they were as smart as anyone who had completed college,” Francis said. “I was full of dreams and more than a little bit of fear. Quickly, my fears were allayed and my dreams began to be nurtured by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the rest of the caring faculty and staff, as well as my fellow students, who shared many of the same dreams and fears.
“My experience as a student shaped my personal ambitions and ideas for what my role could be in changing the world. My faith guided me to apply the gifts that God had blessed me with to serve others.”
Francis said he had fleeting thoughts about retiring after Katrina devastated the Xavier campus and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans. But those notions quickly vanished as he pulled together a small core of administrators, faculty and staff in temporary headquarters in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.
“I thought about it, but not for long,” Francis said. “I couldn’t leave, not just because of who I was, but because I knew that Xavier wasn’t ready to give up to a hurricane. We had 80 people who brought us back in four and a half months, and 75 percent of them had lost their homes. That was not easy. There’s something about adrenaline. There’s something about knowing when it’s time to make a decision.”
Francis had lost his home as well, but even in the midst of the recovery efforts he agreed to a plea from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to chair the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state panel that provided guidelines for how the region would use federal funds to rebuild. In 2006, Francis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.
Michael Rue, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, said there is no true way to measure Francis’ impact on thousands of students and on the New Orleans community.
“There’s not a lot of servant leaders in this world,” Rue said. “This man could have been a politician, a successful businessman, a very successful lawyer. A lot of doors would have opened for him. But Xavier needed him and the nuns needed him.” Rue said board members hope to have a new president in place by July 1.
(Copyright © 2014 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

Educators attend convention

PITTSBURGH – Educators from Catholic schools across America browse the vendor area at the NCEA convention in April. (CNS photo/Chuck Fazio, courtesy NCEA)

By John Franko
PITTSBURGH (CNS) – The new evangelization is not a new Gospel, but refocuses the faithful on the good news of Jesus and involves the renewal of faith and the willingness to share it, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington told the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA).

“We bring a fuller vision,” Cardinal Wuerl said of the Catholic faith during his keynote address at NCEA’s annual convention. “We need to admit that and be proud of it.”
Hosted by the Diocese of Pittsburgh in partnership with the NCEA, Catholic Library Association and the National Association of Parish and Catechetical Directors, the convention drew about 6,000 participants during its April 22-24 run at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, including four representatives from the Diocese of Jackson.

Karla Luke, operations and support services coordinator for the Office of Education in the diocese, said the conference was a wonderful opportunity.
“The sessions I attended included Joy in the Vocation of the Educator, which focused on the demands of teaching and how to bring joy to our vocations by contemplating Christ,” she said. “I also attended two sessions on Advancing the National Standards for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools. There was robust discussion among school administrators, teachers and diocesan administrators using self-assessment as a means to school improvement and strategic planning,” Luke added.

As a bonus, the conference introduced a smartphone app allowing attendees to bring resources and some presentations to their home dioceses.
Cardinal Wuerl, a native son and former bishop of Pittsburgh, presented his remarks in light of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” (“Evangelii Gaudium”) and the pontiff’s call for a new evangelization within the church and around the world. In the exhortation, the cardinal noted, the pope invites people to focus on the blessing that is the love of God in their lives.

“His energy is a bright ray breaking through the secular darkness,” Cardinal Wuerl added. While the church is the home of the new evangelization, he said, Catholic education is an instrument of it.

The cardinal explained that it can involve “ordinary” areas of evangelization, something as simple as teaching a child the sign of the cross and that it can focus on outreach to those who have fallen away from the church.

“The church brings to our world today an invitation to faith, an encounter with the Lord Jesus and a whole way of living,” he said. But the secular world is often overwhelming, Cardinal Wuerl noted, and many markers of the faith have been taken away. He expressed concern that secularism has also diminished appreciation of the faith.

Passing on the faith highlights the importance of Catholic schools and religious education programs, he said, explaining that if the new evangelization is to be successful, children must be firmly grounded in an authentic faith. Only then will children be able to live their faith and daily existence with Christ, he added.

Expressing his belief that Catholic education must present a real vision of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God, Cardinal Wuerl said the authentic proclamation of Christ begins with a clear declaration of who God is. The faithful, he noted, must understand how essential the church is in their lives. The work of building the kingdom as just the beginning, he said.

Cardinal Wuerl said that evangelization involves the work of disciples who share the good news. It involves a bold new courage, a connectedness to the church and a sense of urgency that reminds people it is their time to pass on the message of Jesus.
“Our message should be one that inspires people to follow us,” he said.
(Franko is a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Catholic Review, newspaper of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.)Maureen Smith contributed to this article)