The Miraculous Medal is Miraculous!

Grave of Alphonse
Grave of Alphonse

Today is the Feast of the Miraculous Medal and tomorrow we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Catherine Laboure who propagated the devotion. It testifies to the power of the Miraculous Medal that an “inanimate” object gets its own feast day!

One of the most famous converts due to Our Lady’s intercession via the Miraculous Medal is Alphonse Ratisbonne (1814-1884). While I was living in Jerusalem at Ecce Homo Convent (run by the Sisters of Sion) on a sabbatical from my computer job, I visited the Sisters of Sion’s convent in Ein Karim. While wandering through their incredible garden of Eden of fruits and foliage, I stumbled across Alponses’ grave in a remote corner of the garden. How did his remains get there? I was so driven to find out that I ended up writing a book called “A Spiritual Pilgrimage to France.”

Anyway, Alphonse, a Jewish non-believer, was dared by a friend while visiting Rome to wear a Miraculous Medal and to pray the Memorarae twice a day. He did so and while in the Basilica of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte had a vision of the Blessed Mother and was instantly converted. His brother Theodore, a Catholic convert and priest, had the joy of announcing in the Basilica of Notre Dame des Victoires in Paris that his brother had become “a fully believing Catholic.” This is the same Church that filled St. Therese of Lisieux with delight as she made her journey to Rome before her entrance into Carmel. Sant’Andrea delle Fratte is also the Church where St. Maximilian Kolbe celebrated his first Mass, at the very altar where Alphonse experienced his vision. We at the IRL are privileged to be housed at Marytown, the National Shrine of St. Maximilian, a great proponent of the Miraculous Medal. Life is full of twists and turns and coincidences.

Ecce Homo Covent Chapel
Ecce Homo Covent Chapel

To wind things back up, Alphonse after his conversion became a Catholic priest and with his brother Theodore co-founded the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion and came to the Holy Land to bring the Good News to the Jewish people. He built Ecce Homo convent on the Via Dolorosa, run by the Sisters of Sion, which today is a pilgrim house and hosts a biblical studies program. I was there as a volunteer for three months, an experience I highly recommend.

Alphonse died in Ein Karim and was buried inside the walls of the Sisters of Sion’s convent. His room at Ecce Homo is left as it was when he was alive. Maybe if you ask the sisters, you can have a private viewing.

God bless all who wear the Miraculous Medal with faith. May the Blessed Mother be their protectress and intercessor for all their needs, all through their lives.

Carrying the Divine Message

tallonOn November 13, 2013, Mother Mary Teresa Tallon’s cause for sainthood was approved by the US bishops during their assembly in Baltimore. Mother Mary Teresa is the foundress of the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate who conduct door-to-door, person-to-person ministry in New York, New Jersey, Phoenix, Nigeria and the Philippines.

This kind of evangelization is just the sort that Pope Francis loves. It is a face-to-face meeting with suffering humanity. As one person in England said on the internet: “In all my years, I never knew of a person to person ministry. Let alone an order of nuns, dedicated to this cause….Truly, she is a beacon of light to behold in this universe. Deo gratias.”

pvmiAn example of the kind of work they do can be found in their latest newsletter. Sr. Mary Vivian had corralled a large group of children, ages fourth grade through eight, whose parents had been lax in instructing them in the Faith. Amongst the group who would be receiving their first Holy Communion was Emmy. When the big day came, she came alone; no family bothered to come with her and she was in her every day clothes. If the sisters had known, they would have bought her a special dress to wear. But Emmy didn’t mind. She thanked Sister Mary Vivian for introducing her to God and gave her a little pin that she had bought at a dollar store that said: “Mary.”

As the Sisters said, “Such a touching gift of thanks, from a child who had so little!”

Pray for vocations to this important ministry and for the cause of Mother Tallon whose witness is so needed in our isolated and fractured world. Mother Tallon is buried in Monroe, New York, at the Motherhouse of the Parish Visitors. She is a powerful intercessor, especially for spiritual healings.

“There is another class, so estranged, as to live beyond hearing the message of the Church unless it is carried to them….  Such a mission is the special privilege of the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate….  Carry the divine message of the Gospel to neglectful families.” Mother Mary Teresa Tallon

Get Ready For Your Christmas Novena!

st andrew November 30  is the Feast Day of St. Andrew the Apostle, younger brother of St. Peter and martyr of the Church. From the Gospels we know that Andrew was a follower of St. John the Baptist and it was he who led his brother Peter to Christ, telling him, “We have found the Messiah!”(John 1:41).

Tradition tells us that St. Andrew evangelized Turkey, the fringes of Russia, Malta, Cyrpus, Greece and other lands. He was crucified in Patras, Achaia (in Greece) on an x-shaped cross and bound not nailed to it so as to suffer more. His relics (including a finger, part of the skull and his cross) were returned to the Greek Orthodox Church in Patras by the Catholic Church in 1964 and 1980. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Russia and Scotland.

The Saltire (the Scottish flag with the cross of St. Andrew)

Something new to me is that this is also the day to start the traditional novena prayer to St. Andrew, also known as the Christmas Anticipation Novena or the Christmas Novena. Unlike the typical 9-day novena, this one runs through Christmas Eve. I don’t know the origin of the prayer but it appears to be popular and powerful. The faithful are asked to recite it 15 times a day (all at once or throughout the day as you see fit!). It is a beautiful meditation focusing us on the real meaning of Christmas. Here it is:

Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment at which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayers and grant my desires (mention your request), through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

For those of you who would like to say the prayer with some meditative pictures, check out this YouTube video. The Dominican Nuns in Summit, NJ, also have a little card that you can print out.

A Tranquil Oasis

nazarena-6NazarenaYesterday, Pope Francis met with Camaldolese Nuns at the Monastery of Sant’Antonio Abateas (St. Anthony the Abbot) in Rome as the Church celebrated Pro Orantibus “(For Those Who Pray”) Day. The Camaldolese family is one of the ancient monastic orders in the Church, founded by St. Romuald a thousand years ago. They follow the Rule of St. Benedict (but also check out St. Romuald’s brief Rule) and most but not all of the communities existing today are part of the Benedictine Federation family.

The Holy Father greeted the 21 sisters and celebrated Vespers with them. The monastery was once noted for its resident American anchoress, Sister Nazarena of Jesus, who was born Julia Crotta in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Before entering religious life, she studied music at Yale and received a degree from Albertus Magnus College. She became an anchoress in 1945 and lived for 45 years in a tiny room attached to the chapel.

In sister’s cell was a plank for a bed, a small bathroom, a table and a chair (see old story in newspaper done while she was alive). For food, she lived on bread and water with an occasional grape or boiled carrot as a treat. She had a small window to the outside world and another opening into the chapel when she, unseen, participated in Mass ( a priest gave her daily communion).

When the abbess was asked if Sr. Nazarena was insane, she said, “Sister Nazarena is fully sane and has all her faculties. In a wild, self-seeking world, she has found an oasis that has given her tranquility and made her happy. She is the most serene person I have ever met.” Sister died in 1990 at age 82. Pope Francis went to her cell during his visit.

A book on her life by Thomas Matus is available at




Many Hearts Have Need of Prayer

In this beautiful prayer composed by St. Maximilian Kolbe, he meditates on the unknown prayers that have lifted the burdens of the bewildered, the hurt and the distressed. On this Feast of the Presentation of Mary, let us give thanks for the cloistered and monastic religious for their selfless prayers.

One nun said to me, “It is rare that we hear how are prayers have borne fruit.” Perhaps this day, thank a religious for their prayers for you, for our priests, for those who have no one to pray for them.


Clear Creek Abbey
Clear Creek Abbey
The day was long, 
The burden I had borne
Seemed heavier than I could longer bear
And then it lifted-but I did not know
Some one had knelt in prayer;
Had taken me to God that very hour,
And asked the easing of the load, and He,
In infinite compassion, had stooped down
And taken it from me.
We cannot tell how often as we pray
For some bewildered one, 
Hurt and distressed,
The answer comes, 
But many times those hearts 
Find sudden peace and rest.
Some one had prayed, and Faith, a reaching hand,
Took hold of God, and brought Him down that day!
So many, many hearts have need of prayer.
Oh, let us pray!














Here is Peter!

Pope Francis Praying at the Tomb of St. Peter
Pope Francis Praying at the Tomb of St. Peter

The Year of Faith is going out with a bang!

For on Sunday, the bones of St. Peter will be on display for the veneration of the faithful in St. Peter’s Square for the first time in history. This momentous event will take place during the concluding Mass for the Year of Faith on November 24.

It was in 1950 that Pope Pius XII made the announcement that “the tomb of the prince of the apostles” had been found. For those of you who have visited Rome and toured the Scavi (excavations of Peter’s tomb), you know what an emotional impact that this viewing will have on the faithful. I will always remember the goosebumps I had while traveling on the subterranean ancient Roman floors beneath the Vatican crypt and hearing the guide say: Here is Peter!

Looking down to the tomb of St Peter, over the altar in St. Peter’s

The controversial story of the finding of Peter’s bones is told in a riveting and recently republished book by Fr. James Evangelist Walsh. Whether the bones are truly Peter’s can not be known for certain (though I am convinced), but let us say that the bones were found directly under the altar of St. Peter’s, they are of a robust man 60 or so years of age, the bones were wrapped in purple cloth interwoven with gold-thread (a sign of the  great dignity of the person) and the location of St. Peter’s was built over the awkward location of this tomb. What is known for certain is that pilgrims have venerated this location from the beginnings of the Church.

Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”



Straightening the Wayward Path

visitation e-bookWhat can you buy for 99¢? Probably not even a candy bar! So, it is a tremendous gift to find an e-book available on discerning a vocation for only ninety-nine cents!

Entitled Straightening the Wayward Path, Online Chats about Discernment, this e-book was compiled by the Visitation Sisters from conversations occurring during their weekly discernment chat room called “The Living Jesus Chat Room.” Topics include: discovering and discerning God’s will, signs of a vocation, finding a religious community and other subjects.

Every Sunday evening from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (EST), a Visitandine sister and chat room guests talk about deepening one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. St. Frances de Sales, the founder of the Visitation Order, continues to draw people to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What he had to say hundreds of years ago is extremely relevant today!

O love eternal,
my soul needs and chooses you eternally!
Ah, come Holy Spirit,
and inflame our hearts with your love!

I just went to Amazon and today at least, the e-book is 99¢ off, that is, it is FREE! Don’t wait!

I Have Given My Angels Charge Over You

pbwatertownToday, the Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of their foundation in Watertown, New York. Bishop Terry LaValley of Ogdensburg will offer Mass in thanksgiving. Seven sisters came to Watertown from their newly built monastery in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1963 at the invitation of Msgr. R. J. McCarthy who had a deep devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus.

The sisters also rejoice today as Sister Mary Pham receives her Habit during this Jubilee Mass at St. Patrick’s Church. Sister Mary was born in Vietnam in 1966 and vividly remembers the explosions of bombs and the firing of guns as Saigon fell to the Communists. Even though her parents had only a grammar school education, they were determined to give their children a good education and a country where they could practice and openly keep their Catholic faith.

So her parents sacrificed their own family life in order to make this happen. Mary and 3 of her siblings became part of the “boat people.” They and 54 others went by river and ocean in two small fishing boats in the hope of reaching Thailand. Mary was in one boat and her 2 brothers and sister were in another. She was teary-eyed as she left her parents, siblings, friends and country for the unknown.

When the reached the ocean, the tiny craft waddled like humpty dumpty in the waves and everyone was sick. When gun shots were fired at the vessel, they became separated from the other boat. Later she learned that it had been captured by the Communist Vietnamese Coast Guard but bribes bought their freedom. After 5 days on the ocean, Mary’s boat reached Thailand and she was taken to a refugee camp. It would be five months before she was reunited with her siblings. All four of them arrived in California in 1981 to live with an aunt. It would not be until 1992 that Mary was reunited with her parents and the rest of her brothers and sisters, the year she graduated from college.

Her vocation story is a whole other story. Sr. Mary says of today, “I would not have the joy of being where I am – or being who I am, today, had I not endured the past.”


Joh Paul II and the Beggar Priest

JPIIDr Scott Hahn shared the following true story on April 25, 2001, on “Mother Angelica live.” This story was related to Dr. Hahn by his spiritual director. He heard the story while in New York City visiting a priest who is in the Archdiocese of NY. This priest related the story of what happened on his last trip to Rome.

The priest was scheduled to have a private audience with John Paul II. On the appointed day, the priest decided to stop in a basilica to say a prayer. On the steps of the church, he thought that he recognized one of the beggars. After entering the sanctuary, he knelt down to pray and then it hit him. The priest rushed out and approached the beggar: “I know you. Didn’t we go to seminary together?” The man gave a nodded. “So you are a priest then?” he said to the beggar. The man replied, “Not anymore.” He said that he had “crashed and burned” in his vocation. “Please leave me alone,” the beggar said. The priest was mindful of his approaching appointment with the Holy Father. “I’ve got to go — I’ll pray for you.” The beggar replied, “A lot of good that will do.”

The private meetings with the Pope are typically very formal. There are a number of people who have been granted a private audience at the same time, and when the Holy Father makes his way toward you, his secretary hands him a blessed rosary, and the pope in turn hands it to you. At this point, one would probably kiss the Pope’s ring and say something heartfelt. However, as Pope John Paul II approached, the priest gave in to a holy impulse, got down on his knees and implored the Pope: “Pray, Holy Father, for this particular man. I went to the seminary with him and now he is a beggar. He’s lost. Pray for him.” The priest told the Pope the entire story. The Holy Father looked concerned and he assured the priest that he would pray for his friend. As he moved on, he whispered something to an aide.

Later that day, the priest was contacted by the Vatican. They told the priest that he and the beggar – the former priest – were invited to see the Pope for dinner. Excited, he rushed back to the church where he last saw his classmate. Only a few beggars were left, and as luck (or grace) would have it, his former classmate was among them. He approached the man and said, “I have been to see the Pope, and he said he would pray for you. And there’s more. He has invited us to his private residence for dinner.”

“Impossible,” said the man. “Look at me. I am a mess. I haven’t showered in a long time… and my clothes …” The priest said, “I have a hotel room where you can shower and shave, and I have clothes that will fit you.” Again, by God’s grace, the beggar priest agreed. The Pope’s hospitality was wonderful. At the close of dinner, the pope’s secretary whispered to the priest, “He wants us to leave,” at which point the priest and the secretary left the Holy Father alone with the beggar. After quite some time, the beggar emerged from the room in tears. “What happened in there?” asked the priest. The most remarkable reply came. “The Pope asked me to hear his confession,” choked the beggar. After regaining composure, the man continued, “I told him, ‘Your Holiness, look at me. I am a beggar. I am not a priest.’”

“The Pope looked at me and said, ‘My son, once a priest always a priest, and who among us is not a beggar. I too come before the Lord as a beggar asking for forgiveness of my sins.’ I told him I was not in good standing with the Church, and he assured me that as the Bishop of Rome he could reinstate me right then and there.”
The man relayed that it had been so long since he had heard a confession that the Pope had to help him through the words of absolution. The priest friend asked, “But you were in there for some time. Surely the Pope’s confession did not last that long.”

“No,” said his friend, “But after I heard his confession, I asked him to hear mine.” The final words spoken by Pope John Paul II to this prodigal son came in the form of a commission. When the NY priest was invited back in from the hallway, the Pope asked him about the beggar, “Where was the parish where you found him?” The priest told him and then the Pope said to the beggar priest. “For your first pastoral assignment, I want you to go to the pastor there and report for duty because you’ll be an associate there with a special outreach for your fellow beggars.”

And that is where the beggar is today, fulfilling his new priestly role ministering to the homeless and the beggars on the steps of the very church from where he had just come.

Standing With Mary at the Foot of the Cross

toe 25thA growing order celebrating its 25th anniversary this year are the Franciscans Sisters T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother. The letters T.O.R. mean Third Order Regular which is a significant addition to their name because the founding sisters wished to live anew St. Francis’ call to the TORs to be contemplative penitents committed to prayer and works of mercy.

In a spirit of prayer, poverty and conversion as well as “Under the patronage of our Sorrowful Mother and with the Eucharist as the focal point of our daily life,” they stand with Mary at the foot of the cross, offering their lives with Christ as a holocaust of love for the salvation of souls. What a beautiful summation of their charism.

Their community’s name is a mouthful but no word is there by accident. Penance is most important for “it is penance that frees us from self-oriented preferential love and instead inclines us to give ourselves fully to love God and neighbor.” They fast on Wednesdays for the renewal of religious life and on Fridays for world peace.

They are truly taking to heart Pope Francis’ admonition to go out to the world. In addition to their more local apostolates of running a soup kitchen, engaging in campus ministry, conducting retreats, helping the poor, and visiting the sick and elderly, they also have completed recent mission trips to Ireland and Nicaragua. Their day begins with adoration at 5:30 a.m. All told, the sisters spend 3 to 5 hours in prayer each day.

tor prof crucifix
Sr. Agnes Therese kissing profession cross

Recently, they were featured in the Imagine Sisters new film, “Light of Love,” on religious life.

If you would like to see the sisters in person, come to St. Bernard’s Parish in Pittsburgh on November 16th for a 7:00 Holy Hour or St. Monica’s Parish in Beaver Falls, PA, for a December 1-3 Advent parish mission.

And on August 11th, they welcomed 5 new candidates. What a beautiful 25th anniversary gift! Check out their anniversary video as well!