by Jessica Rinaudo
SHREVEPORT, LA – On Thursday, Dec. 8, the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans will host a rare Catholic relic – the literal heart of its patron. This special event coincides with the 150th anniversary of the apparition and miracle of St. John Berchmans that occurred in Louisiana.
This is the first time the heart has ever traveled outside of its homeland, modern day Belgium. Accompanied by the pastor of the church where Saint John Berchmans was baptized, the heart will make its way to the only cathedral in the world named for this saint.
Once it arrives, it will stay at the Cathedral from Dec. 8-18, except for one day, Dec. 14, when it will travel to Grand Coteau, La, the site of the apparition and miracle. During the heart’s stay at the cathedral, there are scheduled times for veneration and for Mass, as well as a series of events and talks related to the saint and relics that are free and open to the public.
John Berchmans was born in 1599 in Diest, which is modern day Belgium. In 1615, at age 16, John enrolled in a newly opened Jesuit college. There he felt called to join the Society of Jesus despite his father’s wishes to the contrary. In 1616, he entered the Jesuit novitiate.
After making his first vows in Antwerp, he was sent to Rome to study philosophy. He penned the Chaplet of the Immaculate Conception, which is still prayed today.
In 1621, he succumbed to “Roman fever,” and on Aug. 13, 1621, at the age of 22, he died.
Many stories of miracles have arisen since his death, but the one that led to his canonization took place in Grand Coteau, La. At the convent of the Sacred Heart, novice Mary Wilson had fallen gravely ill. She and a group of sisters prayed a novena for healing through the intercession of the recently beatified Blessed John Berchmans. On the ninth and final day of the novena, he appeared to her in her sickness and she was immediately and completely healed.
Before Berchmans died, he was already well known for his spirituality and sanctity. Father Peter Mangum, rector of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans, likened him to the modern day Mother Teresa. People knew they were seeing a living, walking saint. They would go to Mass to see him serve.
Relics are an integral part of our rich faith tradition. “The veneration of relics is a communion with the heroes of our Christian faith, asking for their powerful intercession,” said Father Mangum. “Many people have reported outstanding blessings and conversions through this ministry, and many have reported healings.”
“The earliest of churches were built over cemeteries because that’s where the body was,” he continued. “These are the people without whom the faith would not be passed down to the next generation.” “Even to this day, a little tiny relic is placed into each altar where we place the Body and Blood of Christ. We no longer build churches over cemeteries, so in a sense we bring the cemetery, or we bring part of the relic to the church,” he added.
There will also be extra parish Masses in the evenings and on Saturday morning in addition to their regularly scheduled ones, during which the heart will be present and parishioners and pilgrims alike will have the opportunity to come forward, as individuals or as a family, to venerate the heart and honor the saint, praising the holiness of God.
The schedule of events, including Masses, speakers and veneration times, is available at www.sjbdevotion.org. Individuals are welcome to all events, but groups should call the cathedral’s office, 318-221-5296, before coming.