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Canonization cause for Franciscan foundress closes locally

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANERY — The Franciscan Sisters of the Poor marked the closing session of the diocesan inquiry for the cause of canonization of their foundress, Blessed Frances Schervier, on Dec. 14.

The ceremony, at which Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk presided, took place in the context of a sung vespers service in the St. Clare Convent Chapel. The Sisters were joined by the community’s associates and friends.

Blessed Frances’ cause for canonization was introduced in 2008 in Rome, when Franciscan Father Luca M. De Rosa requested that an inquiry on the alleged miraculous healing of Thomas Siemers, a Cincinnati man, be initiated in the archdiocese.

Members of the tribunal who conducted the local inquiry for the cause of canonization for Blessed Frances pose with several of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor after the closing ceremony. Pictured from left are Father Raymond Larger, Father Richard Klug, Dr. Paul Sweeney, Father Joseph Binzer, Father Christopher Armstrong, Sister Tiziana Merletti and Sister Joanne Schuster. Seated are Sister Mary Jacinta Doyle and Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk. (Courtesy photo)

The alleged miracle attributed to Blessed Frances occurred in March of 1989, when Siemers was healed from a massive brain hemorrhage. Siemer’s family members were initially informed that his neurological condition would be fatal. During his illness, Siemer’s wife, Susan, found an image of Blessed Frances given to her years before by a neighbor, Dorothy Connelly, with a healing prayer printed on the back. Susan Siemers put the prayer in a drawer, only finding it again when her husband was hospitalized.

She felt prompted to pray the novena and asked for the intercession of Blessed Frances. Shortly thereafter, her husband’s condition began to improve; he woke from his coma and recognized his wife. Ten days later, Tom Siemers, who was able to walk and feed himself, was transferred to a rehabilitation ward. Siemers eventually became fully independent and healthy.

After the alleged healing, the prayer to Blessed Frances again remained hidden in a drawer. Finding it again in 1999, Susan Siemers discovered an address to write to regarding miraculous healings and contacted Sister Jeanne Glisky, who was then congregational minister.

Blessed Frances, who established the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in 1851 and was known for her dedication to the sick and poor, was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1974. According to Sister Mary Jacinta Doyle, the congregation had not planned on pursuing Blessed Frances’ cause of canonization.

“We were going to leave it with her beatification,” she told The Catholic Telegraph.

The opening of the diocesan inquiry, which took place in April, gave the community “a renewed burst of energy and enthusiasm,” Sister Mary Jacinta said.

Since that time members of the tribunal appointed to conduct the diocesan inquiry have interviewed witnesses and prepared their findings to be forwarded to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.

As the closing session began, Sister Tiziana Merletti, congregational minister, spoke of how fitting it was for the service to occur on the 133rd anniversary of Blessed Frances’ death. She also praised the work of the tribunal and stressed that the results of the investigation are confidential. “Our part now is to pray for the steps that follow,” she said.

Archbishop Pilarczyk noted how much he had learned throughout the historic process, the first time a diocesan inquiry for the cause of canonization has taken place in the archdiocese.

“I learned that it’s not easy, takes a long time and never goes according to schedule,” he said. “We don’t know what the outcome will be, but what matters is that Lord is in this somewhere, and for that tonight, we give the Lord our thanks.”

Archbishop Pilarczyk went on to declare, by means of a decree inserted into the acts of the last session, that the inquiry is closed. The carrier of the documents, Sister Mary Jacinta, then swore an oath to fulfill her task faithfully, and the archbishop and other members of the tribunal — the episcopal delegate, promoter of justice, notary and vice postulator of the cause — each swore separately that they have faithfully fulfilled their tasks and will maintain the secret of office.

The minutes of the last session were then added to each of the three packages containing the documents of the process. The packages were closed and sealed. The original copy will be kept in a safe place in the archdiocesan archives. The two packages with the copies have been hand carried to Rome by Sister Mary Jacinta. After reviewing the documents, the Congregation for Causes of Saints will make the decision as to whether the alleged healing was a miracle. If their decision is yes, they will then recommend to Pope Benedict XVI that Blessed Frances be declared a saint.

Sister Joanne Schuster, congregational councilor for the United States, said her community hopes to receive word of the decision by 2012.

“For us the healing of Mr. Siemers is so relevant to our healing charism,” she said. “It’s an affirmation of how important the healing charism of Mother Frances is today, not just physical healing, but healing in so many different ways.”

Siemers said he feels the diocesan inquiry was handled in an “exemplary way. The members of the tribunal worked hard and steadily for eight months. The opening and closing ceremonies were beautiful and very gratifying. I still feel very strongly that everything that happened truly was a miracle.”

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