Saturday, June 24, 2017


As we hit summer with soaring temperatures, our skin can take a beating from the sun and insects. For myself I would rather have pain than an itch. I am reminded of this holy nun of our order who suffered much, and gave it all for others.

SERVANT of GOD SISTER MARY ANNELLA ZERVAS was born in Moorhead, Minnesota in 1900.  She was an American Benedictine nun who died after a three-year battle with the skin disease Pityriasis rubra pilaris. Prior to the 1960s, Sister Annella's grave in St. Joseph, Minnesota was considered a place of pilgrimage.

Her father, immigrant from the village of Immekeppel, Germany, was a butcher and ran a local meat market. Her mother, Emma was born in Saint-Theodore-d'Acton, Quebec.

Anna was raised as part of a large family which attended St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Moorhead, where her father was the choir director and a member of the Knights of Columbus. At the time, the parochial school from St. Mary's was looked after by priests and nuns of the Benedictine Order. According to Father Alfred Mayer, O.S.B.,"She sought only to please God and do His Holy Will in all things, and thence labored but for God's honor and glory. She sought to please God by an ardent desire and an earnest will to acquire virtue and perfection, a total renunciation and forgetfulness  of the world and its vanities, and an invincible fortitude in her sufferings... It was during the summer vacation of 1915 that she one day called on me and expressed to me her desire of going to the convent at St. Joseph and becoming a sister. I told her that I thought she had a religious vocation and advised her to carry out her holy design. She seemed to be so convinced of her religious vocation that she expressed no doubts or fears regarding it. After I had spoken some words of encouragement and explained to her, in short, the excellence of the religious state, she left happy and contented."

Hubert and Emma Zervas were reportedly very reluctant to part with their daughter at such a young age. Father Alfred, however, advised them, "Don't put anything in her way; she is not too young to give herself to God." Hubert Zervas wrote several years later that he and his wife had then "gladly consented to give back the child to Him from Whom they had received her."

Anna entered Saint Benedict's Monastery as a postulant in 1915 and entered the novitiate in 1918. She was remembered as a quiet and unassuming nun who was fond of reading The Following of Christ by Geert Groote.

In 1918, she received the habit in a ceremony conducted by Bishop Joseph Francis Busch of St. Cloud, Minnesota. This was the day which Anna had so eagerly awaited; in a simple, beautiful ceremony, she exchanged her bridal gown for the religious habit. Her expression of happiness upon returning from the sanctuary that day was termed 'angelic' by one eyewitness.

Anna rushed to tell her parents her new religious name, Sister Mary Annella. Her mother remarked, not unkindly, 'But there is no Saint Annella,' to which Sister Annella, concealing her slight disappointment at this reaction to the name by which she would henceforth be known, replied, 'Then I shall have to be the first one!'"  She took her final vows in 1922 and was assigned as a music teacher and organist to St. Mary's Convent in Bismarck, North Dakota.
During the summer of 1923, Sister Annella noticed a small reddish brown patch on her arm which itched terribly. Despite attempts to quietly bear the disease, the spreading rash soon proved impossible to conceal and soon covered the majority of her body.

In April 1924, her parents were summoned to her hospital bedside. When her mother reached the door, she looked in, but she said, ‘I looked in and I saw someone’s head on the pillow and I thought, oh, it can’t be.’ She didn’t even ask, she just turned to Sister Annella and said, ‘Excuse me, I got the wrong room.’ And Annella broke down; she just screamed, ‘Mama, don’t you know me?!’ Mother said never could she have dreamed that she could change that much in that time. She said she though she was seeing an old man. Her hair was nearly all gone and her face looked terrible, blotchy. She said, ‘I couldn’t ever believe that my Annie could look like that.’

After their shock wore off, Hubert Zervas recalled, "Her parents were highly edified at her composure, her resignation to her condition… [and] her joyful bearing of an affliction sent by a loving Providence. They remained with her two days, and had many good laughs at Sister Annella’s witty remarks."
In June 1924, Sister Annella was transferred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. According to Brendan D. King,

In Rochester, the doctors noticed that, as she undressed, Sister Annella’s skin was exfoliating in a manner similar to falling snow. After carefully comparing her symptoms against the rare diseases in obscure medical textbooks, the doctors reached a verdict. Sister Annella was suffering from Pityriasis Rubra Pilaris, a skin condition so rare that only six other cases were known to exist in the entire United States. P.R.P., as it is known for short, is an inherited disease usually passed down from parent to child. In the most serious cases, the skin becomes overactive and is unable to regenerate. The blood vessels dilate, which causes the body to hemorrhage moisture. This leaves the weakened immune system quite vulnerable to secondary infections. In some cases, P.R.P. can be fatal. 

After her diagnosis, Sister Annella was transferred to the Worrell Hospital, where all skin diseases were treated. She was given a great deal of rest and fed a special diet consisting mainly of fish and vegetables. Every one of her nurses expressed revulsion at the task of changing her bandages and asked to be reassigned. There was little improvement, however. Sister Annella’s skin had grown so sensitive that lukewarm water seemed scalding hot. By the beginning of June, a grayish purple coloring began spreading outward from her face. Even hot packs could not stop her teeth from chattering. With the period of examination over, Sister Annella was transferred to St. Raphael’s Hospital in St. Cloud.
During the worst fits of pain, however, Sister Annella would repeat, "Yes, Lord, send me more pain, but give me strength to bear it.”

 In the summer of 1924, with permission from the Mother Abbess,  the Zervases took Sister Annella home to care for her.  This in no way altered her status as a religious sister, as the abbess remained carefully informed of Sister Annella's condition. Furthermore, the Benedictine nuns visited regularly, regarding Sister Annella as a part of their community.

In the fall of 1924, careful dieting and osteopathic treatments brought about a remission of Sister Annella's symptoms. Her family was certain that it was only a matter of time before Sister Annella experienced a complete cure and the remission of her symptoms. Sister Annella, however, was unconvinced. She told her mother, “When this disease leaves me, God will have taken it away and he will not want me to have it anymore. I do not want anything but what God wills. God did not see fit to answer the Little Flower's prayer with a sudden cure. What He has in store for me, I do not know, but all He does is well, so there is no need to worry. God has given me the grace to be resigned, and I thank him heartily for this, but also for all else He has given me with my illness.”

In the summer of 1926, the disease returned full force. As a novena was offered for her at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, New York, her condition seemed to enter its final phase. According to Hubert Zervas,"Lying on her left side, her head slightly bent forward, her eyes partly open, her mouth... drawn in a faint smile, her knees bent, the entire form presenting a picture like the stations where Our Lord lies prostrate under the cross, Sister Annella peacefully breathed her last on the Vigil of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 14, 1926. 

 Within seven months of her burial at St. Benedict's Convent, Bishop Joseph Busch was hearing rumors of cures and favors granted through Sister Annella's intercession. He asked Father Alexius Hoffmann, OSB, St. John's Abbey, to collect information on 'the circumstances of her sickness and death and the origin and progress of the cultus, if any, in her regard and any evidences there may be of miraculous intervention through her intercession.

"In April 1927, Father Alexius reported to Bishop Busch that five cures had been reported. He also submitted a biographical sketch written by Sister Annella's parents. While there is no evidence that Bishop Busch took further steps in the case, devotion to Sister Annella spread through the efforts of her father and a priest from St. John's Abbey, Father Joseph Kreuter, O.S.B.  Interest in Sister Annella dwindled during the 1960s, but she still has some fans. At least one of them, no one seems to know who, puts flowers on her grave regularly. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


On 3/12/17 we introduced Servant of God Isaac Hecker from Tennessee and now another has been introduced from that same state.

SERVANT of GOD FATHER PATRICK RYAN was born in Tipperary, Ireland, in 1845. He was of a good family, but his parents were evicted from their home by a ruthless landlord and forced to emigrate. They settled in New York.  Pursuing his desire to be a priest, he entered St. Vincent's college, Cape Girardeau, Missouri  in 1866,  Although he was no genius, says one of his schoolmates, he was one of the soundest and most reliable students in the seminary and was noted for his common sense.  He excelled in athletics, and few could equal him in hand ball.

Father Ryan served as pastor of Saints Peter and Paul parish (now a Basilica) in Chattanooga from 1872 to 1878 and was instrumental in founding Notre Dame High School in 1876.

Father Ryan had already faced many difficulties in his administration of the parish.  When he arrived the city was just recovering from a series of disastrous fires that had destroyed much of the business  district. A cholera epidemic threatened the population in 1873. In 1875 a big flood came.  And now the horrible "yellow jack" appeared on the scene!

Because it had escaped previous visitations of the plague, Chattanooga considered itself protected by its mountains.   In offering hospitality to people of neighboring cities, where the fever has broken out, it gave refugees a chance to introduce the scourge within its own limits.

In September 1878, a yellow fever epidemic broke out in Chattanooga, in which 366 locals died. Four-fifths of the population fled from the city, but Father Ryan remained “going from house to house in the worst-infected section of the city to find what he could do for the sick and needy.” He himself became ill on September 26 and died on September 28. The heroic priest died September 28, after having received the last sacraments from the hands of his younger brother, the Reverend Michael Ryan.  Father Michael, who had just ordained, had come to Chattanooga a few days before to spend a short vacation with his brother.  The shock of his brother's tragic death so undermined the young priest's health that, after a few years service in Nashville, he retired to St. Louis, where he died shortly afterwards.

In 1886 when his body was transferred to the new Mount Olivet Cemetery, the city turned out in force to honor his memory. The funeral procession included more than 100 carriages.

Friday, June 16, 2017


SERVANT of GOD FATHER PAUL WATTSON  was born in  Maryland in 1863 to a devout Episcopalian family. His father was an Episcopalian priest.  He himself was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood in 1886; but he was deeply influenced by the life of St. Francis of Assisi.  He saw a need for a preaching order which emphasized service to the poor; he also sought to repair the breach which divided Christianity.

In 1900, Father Wattson was professed as a Franciscan friar in the Episcopal church, bringing  with him a number of other people.  Nine years later, in 1909, Father Wattson–together with his Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, was received into the Roman Catholic Church.  The group was the first religious community to be received corporately into the Catholic Church since the Reformation.

He was ordained to the Catholic priesthood by Archbishop John M. Farley in 1910.

Among his many contributions to the faith, Father Paul founded St. Christopher’s Inn, a refuge for homeless men, The Lamp, a monthly magazine devoted to Christian unity and the missions, The Ave Maria Hour, a radio program that broadcast stories about the life of Christ and the lives of the Saints, and the Union-That-Nothing-Be-Lost, an organization founded in 1903 to disperse donations to other charitable organizations.  

He began the Church Unity Octave, commonly known among Catholics as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in 1907, before he had been received into the Catholic Church.  He also co-founded the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

The friars continue their focus on ecumenical work. In this many serve as resource people to dioceses throughout the world. 

Their motherhouse continues to be Graymoor in the United States, but they have houses in BrazilCanada Italy, and the United Kingdom. As well as running parishes in the United States, the Friars are engaged in ministry to those in prison, in hospitals and in nursing homes.

The Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement have established catechetical and daycare centers all over North America, serving rural communities throughout the western United States and Canada, as well as inner city locales, such as Harlem in New York City. Several accompanied the Japanese-American communities they served into the forced resettlement conducted during World War II. Today, the Sisters serve in the United States, Canada, Italy, Japan, and Brazil.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Last April 30 (2016) I introduced a laywoman who can be an example to all called to sanctity in the Church.  She was a  Benedictine Oblate. On June 10 of this year she was beatified in her native town of La Spezia, Italy.

Following the recitation of the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on June 11, Trinity Sunday, Pope Francis said that BL. ITALA MELA grew up in a family that was far from the faith. In her youth she professed herself  an atheist after the death of a brother. She later converted following an intense spiritual experience. She was committed among Catholic university students; then she became a Benedictine Oblate and undertook a mystical journey focused on the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity taking the name Maria of the Blessed Trinity.

“May the testimony of the new Blessed encourage us, during our days, to turn our thought often to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who dwells in the cell of our heart.”

Saturday, June 10, 2017


June, with no laid out plan, seems to be dedicated to missionaries, who were from the USA, or served here and lived within our lifetime.  This next was also a Jesuit. 

SERVANT of GOD BISHOP ENRIQUE SAN PEDRO, SJ was  a native of Cuba and a former missionary. He became the fourth bishop of the Brownsville Diocese (Texas).

He was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1926, where he lived until he left in 1946. He entered the Society of Jesus on Dec. 7, 1941 and was ordained a priest on March 18, 1957. 

Bishop San Pedro was appointed the first Hispanic auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston in 1986-  until 1991. At the time of his ordination as bishop, he was only the third Jesuit to be named a bishop in the United States.

Prior to his ordination as a priest in 1957, he received a master’s degree in Classical Literature from St. Stanislaus College, Salamanca, Spain in 1947, and a Licentiate in philosophy from the Pontifical University of Comillas, Santander, Spain in 1950.

Bishop San Pedro continued his studies earning a Licentiate in Theology from the Leopold-Franzens University, Innsbruck, Austria in 1958 and a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the same university in 1965. He also did postgraduate work at the Franz-Joseph University in Vienna, Austria from 1958-1959. From 1960 to 1964 he attended the Pontifical Biblical Institute where he obtained the Licentiate in Holy Scripture in 1962 and finished the following year as a candidate for the doctorate in Rome.

Bishop San Pedro spoke seven languages and served as a missionary in the Philippines and China.

Following his studies, he taught at various universities until this appointment as auxiliary bishop of the Galveston-Houston Diocese. He was in Vietnam from 1963 to 1975 but left because of the Communist takeover. He also served in Suva, Fiji, 1978-1980; and Boynton Beach, Florida, 1981-1985.

Lydia Pesina, director of the Family Life Office, said Bishop San Pedro “was an educator ‘par excellence.’ In the tradition of the Jesuits, he believed in education and formation for all involved in parish ministries.”

Bishop San Pedro had few possessions other than his books, as he was an avid reader, learner, and teacher. He said that he read whenever he had a chance such as waiting at airports.

He quipped that he gave his day to service to the Lord, but after his night-time prayers he would say something like, “I did what I could today for your people, but now I leave them in your hands, Lord; I am going to bed.”

In March 1993, Bishop San Pedro was part of a bishop’s delegation to address the United Nations on the plight of refugees, many of whom had been sent from south Florida to his diocese.

Bishop San Pedro, age 68, died of cancer on July 17, 1994, in Miami Beach, Fla. He was buried in a section reserved for bishops and priests in the Catholic cemetery “Our Lady of Mercy” in Miami.

Bishop San Pedro’s motto: “Most gladly I will spend myself and be spent for your sakes.” – 2 Corinthians 12:15

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


1941 At Her Desk

Our Last Blog dealt with a member of Maryknoll.  This Blog  introduces the foundress of the women's branch of that missionary order.

SERVANT of GOD MOTHER MARY JOSEPH ROGERS was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1882. Mollie was the fourth child and first daughter in a family of eight. Mary Josephine attended public schools in Boston, then Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she specialized in zoology, graduating in 1905. She also spent a year at Boston Normal School in a special program for college graduates that earned her a teaching certificate. After two years at Smith College, where she was an assistant in the biology department, she taught in Boston’s public schools, at both the elementary and high school levels. 

At the suggestion of Elizabeth Hanscom, a faculty member, and with the encouragement of the Rev. James A. Walsh, director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Boston, Mary Josephine organized a Mission Study Club for the college’s Catholic students in 1906. From 1908, when she returned to Boston until 1912, she devoted her spare time to assisting Father Walsh in the work of mission education–editing, translating and writing for The Field Afar, a mission magazine begun by Father Walsh in 1907 and now called Maryknoll.

In 1911, Father Walsh and Father Thomas Frederick Price, a seasoned home missioner in North Carolina, were commissioned by the Bishops of the United States to begin a seminary to train American young men for mission service abroad. Later that year, they went to New York to make their foundation, the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, more commonly known as the MARYKNOLL Fathers and Brothers.

Mary Josephine was not able to go with the first small group of three women who offered their services to the young organization. But in September 1912, when the family obligations that prevented her from leaving Boston had been satisfied, she joined them in their temporary home in Hawthorne, New York.

Secretaries (First Maryknoll Sisters) -  MMJ front 2nd from right

Mary Josephine was chosen by Father Walsh and the “secretaries,” as they were called, to direct the group under Father Walsh’s guidance. She continued in that capacity until 1920, when the group, then numbering 35, was recognized as a diocesan religious congregation: the Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic, generally called the Maryknoll Sisters.

At the first General Chapter in 1925, Mary Josephine was elected Mother General. Mother Mary Joseph (her religious name) was re-elected to that office at subsequent General Chapters until her retirement in 1946 at the age of 64.  At that time the Congregation numbered 733, and the Sisters were working in China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Panama, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, as well as with ethnic and racial groups in the United States
When she sent the first sisters to China on mission, she followed them spending several months immersed in the culture, experiencing the hardships, and learning firsthand the ways of a new culture.

From the beginning, she accepted sisters from any culture of the world where Maryknoll worked. That represented an amazing openness to other races and cultures for the time.

1923 Departure for China

The reverence and esteem for Mother Mary Joseph extended far beyond the religious community she founded, as is shown by the honorary degrees which were bestowed on her: Doctor of Laws by Regis College in Boston in 1945 and Trinity College in Washington D.C., in 1949 and Doctor of Letters from her alma mater, Smith College, in 1950.

Manila, Philippines  194

The Maryknoll Sisters became a Pontifical Institute in 1954 and the name of the Congregation was changed to Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic.

Mother Mary Joseph died in 1955.  She often spoke of the Maryknoll Spirit “as being a reflection of the love of God, nothing more nor less than that, a reflection of the love of God.” 

Saturday, June 3, 2017


We start the month of June with some American missionaries who have been declared Servants of God. They all set an example for us, and the world, as they gave their lives in service of others.

SERVANT of GOD FATHER JOSEPH CAPPEL died on May 31, 2004 in Curepto, Chile. He was 95 years old and a Maryknoll priest for 68 years.

Joseph Henry Cappel was born in Covington, Kentucky on November 16, 1908, son of Joseph and Eleanora Farfsing Cappel, he has six brothers, one of whom wa also a Maryknoll priest, Father Charles Cappel.

He attended St. Matthew’s grade school in Norwood and graduated from St. Mary’s high school in Cincinnati in 1927. He attended the University of Dayton in Ohio for two years before beginning studies to be a Cincinnati diocesan priest at St. Gregory’s Seminary. He entered Maryknoll in 1931 and was ordained in 1935.

After ordination Father Cappel was assigned to Masan and then to Chinnampo Mission, Peng Yang, North Korea, and in 1937 transferred to the Chu Ko Chin Mission, in a mountainous area near the Yalu River. In 1941, he was interned by the Japanese and returned to the United States. The following year, he was assigned to Chillan, Chile, and appointed Group Superior for the Region. In 1944, he was appointed second assistant to the Society Superior, and pastor of Parroquia San Vincente in Chile.

In 1947, he served for a year in the United States as assistant spiritual director at Maryknoll Seminary in Ossining, New York, returning to Chile in 1948, as assistant pastor of the Catholic parish in Temuco.

In 1949, he was made pastor of Parroquia De Nuestra Senora Del Rosario in Curepto, an extensive parish with a grade school, an asylum and five mission chapels. Father Joseph was beloved by the people,  traveling by bicycle to serve all their needs.

Thirteen more chapels have developed since he first went there. Father Cappel continued to serve in that parish until his death in 2004.

The funeral  Mass was held in the Plaza due to the great number (3,500) of people in attendance. The Bishop of Talca presided and forty priests concelebrated.

"It is an absolute necessity to keep constant close contact with the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ as a sure way to discern the opportunities that can build the kingdom of God," Father Cappel said at his Golden Jubilee.