George Weigel

To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II

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Recognizing American Saints

Most attention-paying U.S. Catholics are aware of the beatification causes for Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Catholic Worker co-foundress Dorothy Day. Five more causes, currently in the works, illustrate the rich diversity of American Catholicism and the extraordinary ways in which the Holy Spirit enlivens “heroic virtue”—the mark of a saint.

The Servant of God Vincent Capodanno, M.M., was born on Staten Island and ordained for Maryknoll in 1957. After seven years of missionary service in Taiwan, he volunteered for the Navy Chaplain Corps and was posted to the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam in 1966. During a battle in the Que Son valley in September 1967, Fr. Capodanno, already wounded while administering the Last Rites to the dying, tried to save a wounded corpsman who had fallen near a North Vietnamese machine gun. The “Grunt Padre” was killed in the midst of his act of mercy and posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Venerable Solanus Casey, O.F.M. Cap., entered the diocesan seminary in Milwaukee in 1891 and was dismissed on grounds of academic incapacity in 1896. On Christmas Eve of that year, he entered the Capuchin monastery in Detroit, where he again encountered difficulties with the pre-ordination course of studies. Recognizing his impressive spiritual and moral qualities, his superiors permitted his ordination in 1904, but he was not granted faculties for preaching or hearing confessions. Despite the limitations placed on his ministry, he became a beloved spiritual director and counselor, and the vehicle of many cures, physical and spiritual, during fifty-three years of priestly service in New York, Detroit, and Huntington, Indiana. His example is one of the inspirations of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.

The Servant of God Walter Czisek, S.J., a Polish-American, was something of a hellion when he was growing up in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town in the early 20th century. So he surprised everyone when he entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1928; a year later, he volunteered to go to Soviet Russia as a missionary, inspired by Pius XI’s efforts to rekindle Catholic life in the Stalinist USSR. Trained at Rome’s Russicum and ordained in 1937, Ciszek made his way to the Urals in the chaotic early days of World War II, where he worked as a logger while conducting an underground ministry. Arrested by the Soviet secret police and charged with being a Vatican spy, Ciszek spent almost twenty-three years in captivity, including hard time in the Gulag. Swapped for two Soviet agents in 1963, he spent the last two decades of his life in New York, giving spiritual direction and writing two books of memoirs, before dying in 1984.

The Servant of God Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in 1854, his master’s wife standing as godmother at his baptism in Brush Creek, Mo. After the Civil War, Tolton began his education at a parochial school in Quincy, Illinois, over the objections of racially prejudiced parishioners. Despite the support of his pastor, Tolton was denied admission by the American seminaries of the day and eventually completed his studies for the priesthood at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome. Ordained in 1886, he imagined he would serve in the African missions, but was instead sent back to Quincy, where his ministry met with considerable resistance from bigots. Transferred to Chicago, he built St. Monica’s at 36th and Dearborn into a thriving African-American parish before dying of heatstroke in 1897 on his way to visiting the sick.

And then there is the Servant of God Francis X. Ford, M.M., about whom I’ve written before. A Brooklyn native and Maryknoll’s first seminarian, Ford was ordained in 1917 and immediately went to China where, after serving as priest and later bishop for over three decades, he died in a communist prison on February 21, 1952; his remains were scattered by his persecutors lest his tomb become a pilgrimage site for Chinese Catholics. As there is no question that Bishop Ford was martyred, one can only hope that Vatican nervousness about ruffling feathers in Beijing will subside so that Ford’s long-overdue beatification can be celebrated.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center. His previous articles can be found here.

This article was originally published on The Catholic Difference


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