Canonization cause opened locally for Franciscan foundress
May 6, 2009
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
ARCHDIOCESE — In a ceremony filled with joyous music and reverent prayer, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor marked the opening session of the diocesan inquiry for the cause for canonization of their foundress, Blessed Frances Schervier, on April 17.Held in the context of solemn vespers, the ceremony took place in the St. Clare Convent Chapel. In addition to Sisters from the local Franciscan community, members of the congregation from throughout the United States were also present, already gathered in Cincinnati for an assembly.
Also on hand was Sister Tiziana Merletti, congregational minister visiting from Italy, many of the community’s associates, other women religious, collaborators in ministry and friends.
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, who presided, expressed his pleasure at being involved in the historic process, which marks the first time a diocesan inquiry for the cause of canonization has taken place in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
“This is not just significant for us, but also for the universal church,” Sister Tiziana said.
Sister Mary Jacinta Doyle, who has been appointed vice postulator and will serve as the liaison between the archdiocese and the Vatican, said Blessed Frances’ cause was introduced last fall in Rome.
Franciscan Father Luca M. De Rosa, named general postulator, requested that an inquiry on the alleged miraculous healing of Thomas Siemers, a Cincinnati man, be initiated in the archdiocese.
In his remarks during the ceremony, Archbishop Pilarczyk reminded those present that the responsibility of the local tribunal is to gather witness testimony, not to decide if a miracle has been performed. That decision rests with the Congregation for Causes of Saints in Rome.
The opening session was led by Father Joseph Binzer, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, who asked Sister Mary Jacinta present the petition for the initiation of the diocesan inquiry.
Father Binzer then read the petition and the decree establishing the inquiry. This included biographical notes on Blessed Frances, who established the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in 1851. The community soon spread, and the first U.S. foundation was made in 1858. Known for her dedication to serving the sick and poor, Blessed Frances was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1974.
The alleged miracle attributed to Blessed Frances occurred in March of 1989, when Siemers was healed from a massive brain hemmorage. Seimers’ family members were initially informed that his neurogical condition would be fatal.
During his illness, Siemers’s wife, Susan, found a image of Blessed Frances given to her by a neighbor, Dorothy Connelly, years before with a healing prayer printed on the back. Susan Siemers saved 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 improving; 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, and recent neuruological testing was positive.
After the alleged healing, the prayer again remained hidden in a drawer. Finding it in 1999, Susan Siemers noticed an address to write to regarding miraculous healings and wrote to Franciscan Sister of the Poor Jeanne Glisky, who was then congregational minister.
Sister Mary Jacinta said the congregation had not planned on pursuing Blessed Frances’ cause for canonization.
“We were going to leave it with her beatification,” she said.
During the opening session, Father Binzer presented many other documents, naming each and following the protocols of the Congregation of the Cause of Saints. He asked Archbishop Pilarczyk and other members of the tribunal to take the prescribed oath. The other members of the tribunal include Father Christopher Armstrong, episcopal delegate; Father Richard Klug, promoter of justice; Dr. Paul Sweeney, medical expert; Father Raymond Larger, notary; and Sister Mary Jacinta.
She said the members of the tribunal have begun contacting witnesses to set up interviews. Their findings will be forwarded to Rome upon completion of the diocesan investigation.
She said the Franciscan Sisters will be praying for the tribunal as they go about their work. The opening of the diocesan inquiry has given the congregation “a renewed burst of energy and enthusiasm,” Sister Mary Jacinta said. “The Spirit is truly at work as this came to light while we are celebrating our 150th anniversary.”
Siemers recalled what he describes as the “seemingly unrelated events,” that led to the alleged miracle, In 1971, he purchased a portrait of Blessed Frances at a charitable auction. Although the Siemers were unaware of the identity of the the Sister, the portrait was prominiently displayed in their home. Connelly recognized the person as Mother Frances during a visit and gave Susan Siemers the prayer to the Franciscan foundress.
“When I think about it and recall Dr. John Tew’s (his neurosurgeon in 1989) explanation to me, there is no doubt that Mother Frances and the good God were on my side. I am truly blessed,” he said.
“I’m very, very pleased to see this process move forward,” added Susan Siemers. “My husband’s health is a miracle.”