Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Today, we celebrate the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Having lived in a Redemptorist Parish for 10 years, I am very familiar with the devotion and have a great fondness for the image and what it invokes.

The Redemptorists have custody of the miraculous and ancient icon in their Church, San Alfonso, in Rome. According to tradition, the icon originally came from Crete, found its way into private hands and in 1499, was displayed in the Church of St. Matthew in Rome.

The icon was rescued when the Church was destroyed by Napoleon’s army and remained in obscurity until until the Redemptorists asked Pope Pius IX for guardianship of it, for they had learned that the site of their new church in Rome, San Alfonso (named after their founder St. Alphonsus Liguori), was built on the site of the very same St. Matthew’s that had once housed the relic. The icon was transferred to the new Church in 1866. As the guardians of the holy icon, the Holy Father entrusted them with the mission to “make her known throughout the world.” During the restoration of the icon about 20 years ago, it was determined that it was about 600 years old.

The symbolism depicted in the icon is most touching and reassuring. Mary is holding Jesus while the Archangels Michael and Gabriel hover in the background.  On the left side, Michael is holding a lance and  a sponge while Gabriel is holding the cross and nails. Jesus’ eyes are fixed on the Cross. Mary’s eyes gaze solemnly at us. One of Jesus’ sandals is loose, indicating that in His haste to get to Mary He almost lost a shoe! Though some say it indicates the Divine and human nature of Christ.

The Handmaids of the Precious Blood in Lake Villa, Illinois, have two beautiful stained glass windows depicting the scene in the icon before Jesus is in Mary’s arms. In one window, Jesus is running to Mary with His loose sandal behind Him; in the other, Mary with outstretched arms is awaiting Him.

Mary is telling us to ponder and keep in mind the salvation her Son has won for us in His Passion and death. Jesus, meanwhile, is telling us to run to Mary. If we stay close to her, we have nothing to fear.

Two beautiful shrines to Our Mother of Perpetual Help are at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston and St. Michael’s Church in Old Town, Chicago. As the patroness of Haiti, may Our Mother of Perpetual Help be of constant help to them and those who are far from home.

Little Sisters of Jesus

Everyone always says that the Church in France is dead or dying but there are always wonderful signs of life. Today, I stumbled across this newish order of women called the Little Sisters of the Consolation of the Sacred Heart and the Holy Face. When I first saw the habit I thought: Charles de Foucauld. There is no mistaking the red heart with the red crucifix coming out of the top.

While Charles de Foucauld did not found any orders of men or women during his lifetime, after his death many Little Sisters or Little Brothers of Jesus have cropped up around the world, taking their inspiration from Charles’ humble and solitary life. These particular sisters were founded in 1989 in the diocese of Frejus-Toulon (Provence-France) and seem to be an active/contemplative order with an apostolate for children, the elderly and the sick. They say the Office in Latin.

Charles is not yet a saint but he continues to inspire people, almost 100 years after his sudden death. His alone-ness, his thirst for Jesus in the Eucharist and the value he saw in silent fraternity with the poor moves people to give Jesus their all.

Charles de Foucauld himself was a child of privilege, born in 1858 in Strasbourg, France. Leading a selfish and irreligious life that was a scandal to his family, he told a priest that he had trouble believing in God. The priest told him, “What is missing now, in order for you to believe in God is a pure heart. Go down on your knees, make your confession to God and you will believe.” This is exactly what happened. Charles left the Church filled with “that infinite peace, that dazzling light, that unfailing happiness.”

Charles eventually became a monk and moved to Algeria where he lived alone in the desert until he was killed in 1916 by rebels. Despite having few companions in life, after death he inspired many to live his life of poverty and solitude in imitation of Jesus in His hidden life in Nazareth. In the 1930’s, the Little Sisters of Jesus and the Little Brothers of Jesus were founded and established their first foundations in North Africa. Today, they are virtually in every country in the world or close to it. I stumbled across a Little Sister in an Israeli desert who gave me cookies and juice from her meager rations.

The evangelization that I am called to live is not through the word but through the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass. It is through prayer and penance and the practice of the Gospel virtues – love, fraternal and universal love, sharing even my last mouthful of bread with every poor person, with every visitor, every stranger, and welcoming each person as a beloved brother or sister. -Charles de Foucauld



Daughters of Elijah

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting the Hermits of St. Mary of Carmel in Houston, Minnesota, a diocesan institute of autonomous right following the Primitive Rule.  I was not planning to spend more than an hour but the conversation was so lively and the tour so interesting that the time flew by like the breeze. We found we had a lot in common, where we grew up, etc., so there was a lot of laughter.

The prioress was a Carmelite for the Aged and Infirm for 25 years. Another sister was originally a Poor Clare until she experienced the call within a call. The youngest sister was a Carmelite in Singapore who felt drawn to the hermit life which took her to Ireland and finally to Minnesota. One sister, in search of the hermit life, worked on Mount Carmel then went to Italy and finally to Minnesota. There is also a postulant and 3 others who will soon be coming to experience their unique life.

Most of the women who “come and see” what the life is like do not stay. Some feel called to live a solitary life as a canonical hermit (Canon 603). Others return to traditional community life. The blend of community life and eremitical life is difficult. St. Bruno said that some amount of community life is necessary to make the life livable. Nevertheless, it is a call for the few.

This is not a place to escape to or a place to escape from problems. If anything, if you come in carrying a lot of unresolved issues, they will be brought to the cold light of day.  Many people come but “few are chosen.”

The center/community building is on a hill overlooking a valley and the individual hermitages. The chapel is in the middle with a bay window overlooking the hermitages. The tabernacle is made of glass containing a large consecrated host in a small monstrance. The tabernacle is lit at night so that all the sisters can see it from their hermitages. It must be quite a sight to see the golden glow of the Lord in the dark of night.

They accept only alms for their support. If the Lord wants their life to continue, then He will provide.

Visitors are welcome but silence and quiet is the norm. You can write to them for more information at 33005 Stinson Ridge Road, Houston, MN 55943. They do not have a website or use email.

I Must Decrease

From the beginning of their foundation, the Franciscan Sisters of St. John the Baptist were inspired by Ven. Archbishop Fulton Sheen to offer a holy hour every day for priests and seminarians. Imagine their joy when their bishop, Daniel R. Jenky, asked them for help in the setting up of the diocesan museum as well as the Archbishop Sheen Museum. The Museum is also only one block away from the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception, where Sheen attended grade school, learned to serve Mass, and was ordained a priest on Sept. 20, 1919.

The Franciscan Sisters of St. John the Baptist are a relatively new community established in 2006. Previously members of another religious congregation, they were inspired to start a new community, modeled after the life of St.  John the Baptist, which is a life of total trust in God and self-renunciation. They are a contemplative-active community who serve the sick and poor, according to the needs of the Church, their bishop and society. Bishop Jenky told the sisters that John the Baptist is “a faithful model of conversion who spent his life preparing the way of the Lord and preaching repentance.”

May the Sisters be blessed on this solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist!

“He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Our Treasure in Earthen Vessels

Many women who believe they have a religious vocation often find the doors shut to them because of age or infirmity. Someone pointed me to the Benedictine Monastery of Jesus Crucified in Connecticut as community who accepts people with disabilities or handicaps. I do not know the particulars but their website says:

All the sisters, handicapped or in good health, put their potential, their talents and their weaknesses in common for all “carry their treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7). Whatever our physical condition may be, it is one of the means by which we follow Christ in His Passover to the Father. It is not in spite of our handicaps and weaknesses that we go to God, but with them.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus always loves and looks after his own. Father Maurice Gaucheron, a priest on the staff of the Basilica of Montmartre, felt deep compassion for the women who came to him who had a sincere desire to enter religious life but were prevented from doing so because of their fragile health. With Suzanne Wrotnowska, aka  Mother Marie des Douleurs, a group of women were formed under the Benedictine Rule.

The Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus Crucified was established in the diocese of Meaux in 1938 and became part of  the international Benedictine Confederation in 1984. Their one location in the United States is the Monastery of the Glorious Cross which has 17 sisters. Their address: 61 Burban Drive, Branford, CT 06405. Their phone number is:  (203) 315-9964 or 315-0106.


The Heartbeat of the Church

Somehow, I don’t equate southern Florida with a cloistered, contemplative community but on that point, I am wrong in more ways than one! The Poor Clares of the Monastery of San Damiano of St. Clare in Fort Myers Beach recently celebrated their 25th anniversary in the Diocese of Venice. They, in turn, are a “daughter house” of the Poor Clares in Delray Beach, Florida, who came to the newly created Diocese of Miami in 1960.

Much like the papal line of succession, the Poor Clares can trace their lineage back to the first monastery that their founder, St. Francis of Assisi, began in Assisi, Italy, in 1212, with their foundress Saint Clare. St. Clare lived with her sisters for 42 years in the monastery of San Damiano in Assisi. Going forward 800 years, Delray Beach was founded by the Poor Clares in Bordentown, New Jersey, which was founded by Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, which was founded by Evansville, Indiana, which was founded by Omaha, Nebraska, which was founded by San Lorenzo Roma, in Italy, which was founded by Ss. Cosmas and Damian Rome, which was founded by San Damiano in 1233. And if this isn’t enough to make you dizzy, their are over 800 Poor Clare monasteries in all parts of the world!

The sisters’ life in Florida revolves around the traditional monastic blend of work and prayer. Their ministry is prayer— for the Church, for the diocese in which they reside and for all God’s people.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane expressed his feelings about the Poor Clares in a letter to the community: “San Damiano Monastery has remained true to the mission of its founding. This Monastery participates each and every day in the same charism which filled and motivated St. Francis and St. Clare… like your two venerable founders, you have left all and given yourselves entirely to living the Gospel life — for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of souls. Your life of prayer and community is the ‘heartbeat’ of our Church.”

Mary Almighty God bless you. May He look on you with the eyes of His mercy and give you peace. 

Here below may He pour forth his graces on you abundantly, and in heaven may He place you among His saints. 

Blessing of Saint Clare

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., Remembered on His Birthday

As a priest called to found the Institute on Religious Life, no one could have set a better example of loving service to religious, utter faithfulness to the Magisterium, and great personal sanctity than Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. His contributions to the Church came at great personal sacrifice, but their fruits lie in his steadfast preservation of orthodox Catholic teaching and its profound benefit to the many he influenced.

With a life spanning from 1914 to 2000, Fr. Hardon’s upbringing, education, formation, and apostolate all took place within the most trying century ever seen by Catholic Christianity. Great wars, the onslaught of heretical theology, and the incredible challenge of properly responding to the Second Vatican Council all provided their difficulties to the “agent of orthodoxy.” Yet amidst it all, Fr. Hardon led a distinguished teaching career, authored dozens of books, and served in an advisory and formative role for many religious orders, all while remaining faithful to prayer and attentive to all those in need around him.

His service to religious orders included (at the request of Pope John Paul II) writing the catechetical training program Mother Teresa used to form her Missionaries of Charity into catechists. The program was later used by the Marian Catechetical Apostolate, which Fr. Hardon also founded.

From the beginning to the end of his life, Fr. Hardon expressed zeal to be a martyr for the Church, and indeed, he lived out a martyrdom of personal suffering and self-sacrifice. His witness provides an incredible model for the Institute on Religious Life as we seek to ever lift up those who live out the beautiful call to the religious life, and we hope for all others as well. Today, on this anniversary of both Fr. Hardon’s birth and his ordination, say a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of this great apostle of the Church.

The Heartbeat of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

On June 1, Cardinal Timothy Dolan presided at the Mass in which six Little Sisters of the Poor made their first profession. The close proximity of the Cardinal to the Little Sisters Novitiate would not necessarily make this an unusual event but what made his presence extra-special was the fact that one of the newly-professed Little Sisters was from his hometown of Baldwin, Missouri and even attended the same grade school that he also had attended. The Cardinal promised to be at her first profession and three years later he kept his promise. He brought along with him Sr. Sister Mary Rosario, RSM, principal of Holy Infant Grade School in Baldwin. Hr truly is a man of the people.

The Cardinal told Sr. Elizabeth and the 5 other sisters making their first profession that they were called to be the heartbeat of Jesus, tenderness incarnate, in receiving God’s love and extending it to others. Also in attendance, were 5 novices who, God willing, will soon take their place at the side of the aged poor.

The sisters new assignments will take them to Ireland, Australia, New Jersey, California and Pennsylvania. I think what is beautiful about the Little Sister’s formation is that they all spend time at the Motherhouse in Brittany, France. There is a great sense of sisterhood among the Little Sisters across the world which comes from this shared time together at the resting place of their foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan.

St. Anthony Comes Around

Last Sunday and Monday, we at the IRL who lodge at the Conventual Franciscan Friary at Marytown, were blessed to be able to view and venerate the relics of St. Anthony of Padua which are on tour from Padua, Italy. Throughout the two days, there were masses, vespers, adoration, and many people who came to be near the earthly remains of this very popular Franciscan priest and Doctor of the Church.

As you can see from the picture, the reliquary is stunning. May this patron saint of lost articles and this so eloquent evangelist for the Faith, intercede for us this day and help us throughout our lives.

Here is a St. Anthony Novena:

Novena to Saint Anthony for Any Need

St. Anthony, you are glorious for your miracles and for the condescension of Jesus Who came as a little child to lie in your arms. Obtain for me from His bounty the grace which I ardently desire. You were so compassionate toward sinners, do not regard my unworthiness. Let the glory of God be magnified by you in connection with the particular request that I earnestly present to you.

[State your request here.]


As a pledge of my gratitude, I promise to live more faithfully in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and to be devoted to the service of the poor whom you loved and still love so greatly. Bless this resolution of mine that I may be faithful to it until death.

St. Anthony, consoler of all the afflicted, pray for me.

St. Anthony, helper of all who invoke you, pray for me.

St. Anthony, whom the Infant Jesus loved and honored so much, pray for me. Amen.



Infant of Prague Returns

When we hear the term “Infant of Prague,” we think of the small statue that adorns many churches and outside shrines. We may not realize that there is a Prague (captital of the  Czech Republic) and there is a statue of the Infant Jesus in the church of Our Lady of Victories in the capital of that country. After you read this story, you will never look at the statue in the same way again.

The Infant Jesus of Prague statue came originally from Spain and was sent to Bohemia (The Czech Republic) as a wedding gift in 1556. The statue was then given to the Discalced Carmelites attached to the church of Our Lady of Victory in 1628. During the Thirty Years War, the statue suffered along with the people and was discovered by a priest, Father Cyril, abandoned in a corner with both hands broken off. It seemed to Father Cyril that Jesus was saying to him:

Have mercy on Me and I will have mercy on you.
Give Me hands and I will give you peace.
The more you honor Me, the more I will bless you.

Father Cyril restored the hands and from then on, the city and the people seemed to be blessed and miraculous healings were attributed to devotion to the Infant Jesus. Many saints have had a love for the Divine Child as an expression of their profound reverence for Jesus in His Incarnation. St. Anthony of Padua comes to mind as well as St. Therese of the Child Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi.

Twenty years ago, after the fall of Communism in then Czechoslovakia, Father Anastasio Roggero, a Discalced Carmelite from Italy, was asked by Archbishop Vlk to take over the ruin of the church housing the Infant Jesus of Prague statue. The family who held the key to the unused Church used the sacristy as a room to hang their laundry. There was rubble everywhere and the miraculous status (can you imagine!) was in a side altar, abandoned and forgotten.

Today, four Carmelite Fathers that guard the Church welcome over 1,000,000 visitors a year to the shrine. Their most famous recent pilgrim was Pope Benedict XVI who visited in 2009. He “canonically crowned” the statue with a new crown that presently adorns the statue. (See YouTude video of the crowning). A Canonical Crowning is the highest honor a pontiff can convey on a statue of Jesus or Mary. It is one of two statues of Jesus in the world to receive such an honor. The President of Aid to the Church in Need, Father Joaquín Alliende, said at the time, “The gesture of the Holy Father is an expression of a profound truth. Even as a Child, Christ is already a King. The Child Jesus is the only King who can bring peace to the world.”

Read the whole story on the Aid to the Church in Need Website.