Tuesday, February 18, 2020


BL ALFREDO CREMONESI was an Italian priest and member from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. He studied in Crema and Milan before setting off from Genoa to Naples and then to the Burmese missions via boat. He pledged that he would never return to the Italian mainland and spent the remainder of his life working with the Burmese people in mountain villages despite the great difficulties he faced.

His brother Ernesto was also a devoted Catholic whom the Nazis arrested and jailed in a concentration camp where he would die in 1945 before the European Theater conflict ended. Bl. Alfredo sent a letter to his parents upon learning this and said that "I am proud to be his brother…Ernesto will be able to do more in paradise than he could have done on earth".

Bl. Alfredo had a great devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, whom he attributed a cure of a childhood ailment. Bl. Alfredo received a special dispensation for his ordination since he had not reached the canonical age required for ordination.

 Near the end of the war he was forced to live in the forest where he ate herbs in order to survive. He wrote of the trials he endured during the war in a letter dated on 20 February 1946; he refers to his lack of food and clothing (limited to what he had on) and noting that villages were devoid of people with marketplaces being abandoned.

 In 1941 he avoided Japanese imprisonment in a concentration camp in India after the Japanese occupied the nation. He lived eating herbs cooked in salt and water during this time but was discovered and caught. In the final month of the war a Japanese officer took him and tied him up for the night before allowing him to leave in the morning where he took refuge in the woods.

Bl. Alfredo did not understand the reason for his release but attributed it to the intercession of God.

The Burmese independence reached in 1948, prompted guerrilla conflict which caused great unrest and destruction to the point that Bl. Alfredo and other missionaries were forced into exile so as to remain safe. But he reached out to the guerillas and received their permission to return to the village he worked in. It was there in that village that government forces mistook him for a rebel - or a supporter of the rebels - and shot him dead alongside the village chief and two girls.

The blessed had a great devotion to  the Sacred Heart and  practiced Eucharistic Adoration each night for one hour before the tabernacle, awaking around 4:00 am in the morning to celebrate Mass.

 Pope Francis approved his beatification which took place in Crema on 19 October 2019.  His feast is celebrated February 7.

Saturday, February 15, 2020


I am always thrilled to find new saints in far away places, especially when they are the first saint of the area. A zealous Italian missionary priest who worked for nearly 3 decades in what is today Myanmar (Burma) and was martyred there among his people, was declared Blessed in October 2019.

PADRE ALFREDO CREMONESI was a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).  He was born in 1902 in Ripalta Guerina in Cremona as the first of seven children. He felt a desire to become a missionary when he was 20, already in the seminary. Despite his zeal, a serious illness stood on the path of his missionary goal. 

Yet, precisely because of that adversity that weakened him physically, his "spirit became young and strong again,” he wrote. "It was in that slow decline of my being that my heart felt the attraction of the apostolate, above all, of sacrifice."

He was finally healed of his illness, which he attributed to St Thérèse of Lisieux, whom he loved. 
He was just 23 when he left for Burma in 1925. His mission proved difficult in an isolated mountain village and he often had to travel long distances to visit the people. 

Bl. Alfredo had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart, having Eucharistic Adoration each night for one hour before the tabernacle.  He then woke each morning at 4:00 am to celebrate Mass.   Proclaiming the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,  filled him with enthusiasm and strength.   

He associated his missionary work, "which is the most varied life, full of people and words, more on the outside and noisier than any high life", to "an insatiable longing to be in front of Jesus in prayer and in constant exercise of divine presence” and “a great desire to consume everything and soon, so that the kingdom of the Sacred Heart could come to these lands."

"Here they call me ‘perpetual motion’ because I never know how to stay still", he wrote in 1947. The new blessed proved to be tireless, oblivious to his health at times.  In 1934 he wrote, "I probably gave myself a hundred quinine shots”.

With the outbreak of World War II, British-run Burma entered the conflict, where Italians were regarded as enemies, as Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini declared his alliance with the Axis powers against the Allies.  

Near the end of the war, Bl. Alfredo was forced to live in the forest where he ate herbs to survive.  "So here we are in the middle of a battlefield,” he wrote in 1945. "Soldiers come and go, shooting . . . villages destroyed by various troops in retaliation ...".

In a letter in 1946, he recounted his suffering, the lack of food and clothing (limited to what he had on), with villages devoid of people and marketplaces abandoned. 

When the Second World War ended, a local civil conflict between the Karen rebels and government forces erupted. Despite the danger, Bl. Alfredo  did not abandon the Catholic villages knowing his presence was often a good deterrent to violence.

In 1950, unfortunately, two other PIME missionaries, Mario Vergara and Pietro Galastri, lost their lives.  
In August of the same year, Bl. Alfredo was asked to leave, and took refuge in Toungoo. Being far from his faithful was a true exile. He went back in March 1952, promising never to leave again. 

“Whatever my death, as long as it is not in exile,” he said after he went back to Donokù. The brief exile had however spared him a possible martyrdom.

On his return, he found that all his belongings at home, in the church, in the school and in the convent were looted. The work of 26 years was all lost. “I shall not run away anymore, whatever happens. At most they’ll kill me," he resolved.

On February 7, 1953, after the Burmese military operation failed to flush out Karen rebels from the region, government troops entered Donokù. Bl. Alfredo and the villagers were accused of supporting the rebels. The missionary tried to convince the soldiers, who then fired their machine guns at him and the village chief. Two girls behind them were also killed in the attack. The village head died while the blessed was still alive. 

The villagers fled into the forest during the attack while the soldiers entered the local church and desecrated it before setting the village ablaze. When the commander found that the priest was still alive, he shot him in the face point-blank, killing him. 

The villagers returned to the following day to bury their dead. Before burying their priest, they sent his bloodied shirt together with a part of his beard to the PIME superiors in Taungngu with a note: "Relics of the martyr Father Cremonesi to be sent to his parents". 

He was "A victim of his charity” and “a good shepherd who gave his life for his flock,” his faithful said of him. 

Friday, February 14, 2020


We associate this day with love but did you know St. Valentine is believed to aid those who call on his intercession to help ensure the sweetness of the season’s honey and provide special protection to those who keep bees

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


THE SEVEN THAI MARTYRS of SONGKHON.  In 1940 before the Japanese invasion of Thailand there was a reaction against things Western and foreign. In this atmosphere there were pockets of persecution of Christians. This led to the martyrdom of seven Catholics in the village of Songkhon in north-east Thailand. They were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1989. Their feast is December 16.

Thailand is the only nation in southeast Asia not to have been the colony of another power. From 1940 to 1944 the Thais were at war with their Indo-China neighbors. To achieve unity on the home front, this officially Buddhist country expelled foreign missionaries and sought to pressure its Catholics to renounce their faith.

The persecution was especially strong at Songkhon. When the Catholic priests were ousted, they left the mission in the charge of Philip Siphong, who was a married man with five children and a teacher and catechist. Because he was so obviously a leader, the government authorities decided to frighten the other parishioners into submission by executing him. On December 16, 1940, they took him outside the village and shot him.

Philip’s death strengthened rather than weakened the faith of the parishioners. The sisters who taught in the school now took over the leadership.

On Christmas, 1940, the local policeman ordered the Catholics to assemble in front of the church. He told them that he had been commanded to suppress Christianity; therefore he gave them a choice between apostasy or death. At that, Cecilia Butsi, a 16-year-old, spoke out, declaring that she was ready to accept death. The policeman did not seem to hear her.

That same night, Sister Agnes Phila wrote a letter in her own name and the name of all who resided in the convent, declaring that they would die rather than abandon their faith. In the note she prayed, “We ask to be your witnesses, O Lord, our God.” Sister Agnes gave the letter to Cecilia to deliver to the policeman.

On December 26, this officer called at the convent and addressed the sisters and laity present. All reiterated their resolution not to apostatize. He therefore had all six of them escorted to the cemetery and shot to death.

Two of the six were nuns: Sister Agnes Phila and Sister Lucy Khambang . Four were laypersons: Agatha Phutta an elderly woman, now the convent cook; Cecilia; Bibiana Khamphai  age 15 and Maria Phon, age 14.

After the execution, the chief of the village somehow got hold of Sister Agnes’ Christmas letter, an important testimonial to the true martyrdom of the six. When priests were readmitted to Thailand in 1943, the letter was handed over to Father Cassetta, the first of them to return. A church investigation was quickly started, and on the basis of this document and the other evidence, the Holy See issued a decree on September 1, 1988, declaring that Philip Sihong and the six women had indeed been murdered out of hatred of their faith.

On October 22, 1989, Pope John Paul II formally beatified the seven Thai Catholics. Deeply touched by their fidelity, the pope said that Blessed Philip (“the great tree” as he was called at Songkhon) exemplified the missionary zeal that is incumbent upon all of us by virtue of our baptism. He quoted Sister Agnes’ letter to the policeman: “We rejoice in giving back to God the life that He has given us…. We beseech you to open to us the doors of heaven… You are acting according to the orders of men, but we act according to the commandments of God.”

Friday, February 7, 2020


This week we have celebrated the feast of St. Paul Miki and companions, martyrs of Japan.  Lesser known saints and martyrs are from Thailand, Burma (now Myanmar) and Laos.

BL. NICHOLAS BUNKERD KITAMRUNG  was born in Sam Phran, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. Raised as a Christian, he entered  the seminary at the age of 13 and was ordained a priest for the archdiocese of Bangkok in 1926.

After serving a pastor of two parishes, he served as a missionary in northern Vietnam from 1930 to 1937, giving special attention to the needs of poor Catholics in that region.

Bl. Nicholas fought for the freedom of worship and the right to profess faith in a culture that was Buddhist.  The authorities regarded him with suspicion and accused him of collaborating with the French,  whom the Thai were hostile towards.  He was regarded as a dangerous individual who wanted to incite Thais to rebel against the government of Field Marshal Plaek. 

In 1941, as tensions were mounting between the French colonials and the anti-French Viet Minh, which would eventually lead to the Indochina Wars, Nicholas was  accused of being a spy for the French and arrested.

Sentenced to ten years in prison, Nicholas contracted tuberculosis which, combined with the harsh conditions in the prison, led to his death on January 12, 1944. It was later revealed that he spent those years in prison still serving as a missionary among his fellow prisoners, baptizing at least 68 inmates.

Nicholas was beatified in 2000 and is honored as the first martyr-priest of Thailand.

Pope St. John Paul II said: “Father Nicolas Bunkerd Kitbamrung’s priestly life was an authentic hymn of praise to the Lord. A man of prayer, Father Nicolas was outstanding in teaching the faith, in seeking out the lapsed, and in his charity towards the poor.”   His feast is celebrated on January 12.

On January 13, 2001 a shrine was dedicated by Cardinal Michael Meechai Kitboonchu to Bl. Nicholas.  The construction was completed in May, 2003. The shrine is located near the place of his birth in Tha Kham sub-district, about 30 kilometers from Bangkok. The shrine contains the Blessed´s relics, along with a museum commemorating his heroic life, in memory of his great contribution to Thailand’s Christian society. At the shrine, on October 11, 2012, Cardinal Kitbunchu blessed the statue of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, erected for the “Year of Faith” to remember the life of the priest, “an example and witness of the faith” in Thailand.

Monday, February 3, 2020


Since Asia (especially China) is so much in the news these weeks with the outbreak of the deadly  coronavirus, I thought I would focus in February on new saints in lesser known areas of this continent. And while most of them are martyrs, I want to start with an artist.

It never ceases to amaze me how there is a thread that runs through life, connecting people, places and ideas, when we least expect them.  Of late, perhaps since the Olympics in South Korea in 2018, we have learned more and more about the people of this country. One of our interns lived in Korea as a child and speaks the language. Their food has always been one of my favorites, since my early days living in Hawaii.

The man who donated our land here on Shaw, 40 years ago gave us a subscription to “Koreana” a magazine, which is published quarterly in 11 languages to promote Korean arts and culture around the world.  We always look forward to it, especially for its lovely art- ancient and new. So I was interested to find a new artist from that country  and to see that he has connections with the state of our Abbey.  I especially like his Good Shepherd and Mary washing the feet of Christ.

KIM YOUNG GIL was born in 1940 while his family was seeking refuge in Jilin province, China. His Christian family fled from Korea under Japanese colonization as they were forced to visit Shinto shrines to worship Japanese spirits.

After Korea became independent, his family returned to Korea. He attended Hongik University to study Visual Arts. While at school, he won the first prize at the Sydney International Art Contest with a painting titled "Upper Room". This had a great impact on his life as he later decided to devote his talent only to draw Christian paintings.

He served as an exchange professor at the University of Connecticut, and at the College of Art, Osaka University, Japan. He then became a professor of the College of Art at Pusan National University, Korea

 He executed a wall painting "Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples" at the Osaka Church and contributed to the construction of the memorial building for the martyrdom of Pastor Son Yang-Won ***,  executing 68 paintings there.

He led more than 2000 seminars and had over 30 inviting exhibitions in Harvard, Yale and Columbia University.

He was granted the honorary citizenship of the city of New Britain, Connecticut, as well as Los Angeles, California.

In his forties, along with his wife, Min Haeng Yang, he opened up his home to people with physical and/or psychological disabilities; his house was named "House of Salt".

Kim Young Gil suffered from high blood pressure in his later life, and died of Parkinson's disease in 2008 at the age of 68.

*** Pastor Yang Won Sohn, who cared for the lepers was imprisoned for refusing to worship at Japanese war shrines.  In October 1948, two of his sons were killed by leftist soldiers in a rebellion against the ruling authorities.   He not only gave thanks that his two sons were martyred and were in Heaven at the side of the Lord, but he forgave the rebel who killed his two sons, adopting him as his own son.
Pastor Yang Won Sohn did not evacuate even during the Korean War. He was eventually martyred by the North Korean communist soldiers at the age of 48.

Saturday, February 1, 2020


February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, is also the 24th World Day for Consecrated Life, a commemoration instituted by Pope St. John Paul II in 1997.

In his message for the 1st World Day for Consecrated Life, the Pontiff explained that the day has three purposes:

In the first place, it answers the intimate need to praise the Lord more solemnly and to thank him for the great gift of consecrated life, which enriches and gladdens the Christian community by the multiplicity of its charisms and by the edifying fruits of so many lives totally given to the cause of the Kingdom …

In the second place, this day is intended to promote a knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God …

The third reason regards consecrated persons directly. They are invited to celebrate together solemnly the marvels which the Lord has accomplished in them, to discover by a more illumined faith the rays of divine beauty spread by the Spirit in their way of life, and to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world.

Immersed in a world which is often agitated and distracted, taken up sometimes by the press of responsibilities, consecrated persons also will be helped by the celebration of this annual World Day to return to the sources of their vocation, to take stock of their own lives, to confirm the commitment of their own consecration.

The World Day for Consecrated Life takes place on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, St. John Paul explained, because “the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus—the chaste, poor and obedient one.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked parishes to commemorate the day.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Yesterday as we commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I decided to present a family who perished at the hands of The Nazis defending neighbors.

SERVANTS  of GOD JOZEF and WIKTORIA ULMA, a Polish husband and wife, living in Markowa near Rzeszów in south-eastern Poland during the Nazi German occupation in World War II, were the Righteous who attempted to rescue Polish Jewish families by hiding them in their own home during the Holocaust.

They and their children were executed on 24 March 1944 for doing so. Despite the murder of Ulmas, meant to strike fear into the hearts of villagers, their neighbors continued to hide Jewish fugitives until the end of World War II. At least 21 Polish Jews survived in Markowa during the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany.

At the beginning  of  the war, Józef Ulma (born in 1900) was a prominent citizen in the village of Markowa. He was a librarian and a photographer, active in social life and the local Catholic Youth Association. He was an educated fruit grower and a bee-keeper. His wife Wiktoria (born Wiktoria Niemczak in 1912), was an educated homemaker. The Ulmas had six children: Stanisława, age 8, Barbara, age 7, Władysław, age 6, Franciszek, age 4, Antoni, age 3 and Maria, age 2. Another child was due to be born just days after the family's execution. 

Wiktoria was born in Markowa, the seventh child of Jan Niemczak and his wife Franciszka. At the age of six, Wiktoria lost her mother. She took courses at the folk high school in Gać.  In 1935, she married Józef Ulma, 12 years' her senior. Through hard work, persistence and determination, the Ulmas were able to purchase a bigger farm in Wojsławice near Sokal (now Ukraine), and had already begun planning to move when the war began.

In the summer and autumn of 1942, the Nazi police deported several Jewish families of Markowa to their deaths as part of the German Final solution to the Jewish question. Only those who were hidden in Polish homes survived. Eight Jews found shelter with the Ulmas: six members of the Szall (Szali) family from Łańcut including father, mother and four sons, as well as the two daughters of Chaim Goldman, Golda (Gienia) and Layka (Lea) Didner. Józef Ulma put all eight Jews in the attic. They learned to help him with supplementary jobs while in hiding, to ease the incurred expenses.

 The Ulmas were denounced by a Ukrainian Blue Police member, who had taken possession of the Szall (Szali) family's real estate in Łańcut in spring 1944 and wanted to get rid of its rightful owners. In the early morning hours of 24 March 1944 a patrol of German police from Łańcut under Lieutenant Eilert Dieken came to the Ulmas' house which was on the outskirts of the village. The Germans surrounded the house and caught all eight Jews belonging to the Szall and Goldman families

They shot them in the back of the head according to eyewitnesses, who were ordered to look at the executions. Then the German gendarmes killed the pregnant Wiktoria and her husband, so that the villagers would see what punishment awaited them for hiding Jews. The six children began to scream at the sight of their parents' bodies. After consulting with his superior, 23-year-old Jan Kokott, a Czech Volksdeutscher from Sudetenland serving with the German police, shot three or four of the Polish children while other Polish children were murdered by the remaining gendarmes. Within several minutes 17 people were killed. It is likely that during the mass execution Wiktoria went into labour, because the witness to her exhumation testified that he saw a head of a new-born baby between her legs. The villagers were then ordered to bury the victims.

When asked why the children were also killed, the German commander  answered in German, "So that you would not have any problems with them." On 11 January 1945, in defiance of the Nazi prohibition, relatives of the Ulmas exhumed the bodies to bury them in the cemetery, and found out that Wiktoria's seventh child was almost born in the grave pit of its parents.

On 13 September 1995, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma were posthumously bestowed the titles of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. On 24 March 2004 a stone memorial to honor memory of the Ulma family was erected in Markowa. Their medals of honor were presented to Józef's surviving brother, Władysław Ulma. Their certificate informs that they tried to save Jews at the risk of their lives, but fails to mention that they died for them, as noted in the book Godni synowie naszej Ojczyzny.

 On the 60th anniversary of their execution, a stone memorial was erected in the village of Markowa to honor the memory of the Ulma family. The inscription on the monument reads:
Saving the lives of others they laid down their own lives. Hiding eight elder brothers in faith, they were killed with them. May their sacrifice be a call for respect and love to every human being! They were the sons and daughters of this land; they will remain in our hearts.

A new museum in Markowa, opened in 2016,  is the first museum in Poland dedicated to all Poles who rescued Jews. Until now, there has been no place in Poland to present – in a broader context – the profiles of heroes who risked their lives to help their fellow Jewish citizens facing the holocaust.

The Museum inspired by the fates of the Ulmas shows the history of Polish heroes from the time of the German occupation in 1939-45.

Before World War II, Markowa – the largest village in Poland – was inhabited by nearly 4,500 people, including 30 Jewish families. The heroic attitude of the Ulmas has become a symbol of the sacrifice of all Poles who would save Jews during the war.

There were many more people like the Ulmas. Besides names well-known around the world, such as Irena Sendler and Jan Karski, there were thousands of nameless Polish heroes who would save Jews and have now become forgotten.

Monday, January 27, 2020


Recently friends visited Malta, which they thoroughly enjoyed. This led me to wonder if that small island had any saints.

 ST. GEORGE PRECA (1880-1962) is the first native saint of Malta and founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine, a group of celibate laypeople devoted to prayer, studying church teaching and instructing the young. As a young priest, he had a vision of the Child Jesus that stimulated his efforts to promote sound doctrine and formation among Catholics. The author of numerous books and booklets, he was also a renowned preacher who drew crowds of faithful wherever he went.
In the 1950s he suggested use of five “mysteries of light” for praying the rosary, an innovation later adopted by Pope St. John Paul II for the universal church.
In Malta, he is affectionately known as "Dun Ġorġ" and is popularly referred to as the "Second Apostle of Malta", after St Paul, who brought the Christian faith to the shores of Malta when he was shipwrecked in 60 AD.

The miracle that contributed to his beatification was the scientifically unexplainable healing of Charles Zammit Endrich in 1964. Zammit Endrich had suffered from a detached retina of the left eye. The healing was declared as miraculous and was attributed to the intercession of Dun Gorg Preca after Zammit Endrich prayed to him and placed one of the priest's belongings under his pillow. The healing took place outside of a hospital, overseen by the personal doctor of Zammit Endrich, the ophthalmologist Censu Tabone, who was later to be appointed President of Malta.

Pope Benedict praised him as a consummate evangelizer, above all through the example of his own life. 
St. George’s liturgical feast is celebrated May 9.

Thursday, January 23, 2020


VENERABLE JERZY CIESIELSKI, a close friend of Pope St. John Paul II,  was born in 1929 in Krakow. They were close for decades until the Venerable’s death in 1970.

The two first met while he was a student and the then Father Wojtyla invited him to join his youth groups out in the country alongside other students and this was how he met his future wife who would later recall: "Father Karol came with us on trips to concerts, to the theater and the cinema ... we talked during excursions, around the fire and at organized meetings which took place in our homes".

Ven. Jerzy was a civil engineer and worked as a professor at the Tadeusz Kościuszko University of Technology as well as at the University of Khartoum

Like his friend- the future pope- he loved the outdoors and was an avid sportsman, playing handball, enjoying canoeing, rowing and camping. He played in a basketball team, representing Poland in international competitions. He was a skiing instructor and organized kayaking races in various parts of the country.

Skiing with the future Pope
In 1957 he married Danuta Plebańczyk officiated by Bishop Wojtyla. The couple had three children.

With his wife & Bishop
In 1968 he first came into contact with the Focolare Movement and became quite impressed with their mode of evangelical life that he and Doctor Giuseppe Santacnhé (part of the Italian branch) went to Cardinal Wojtyla for his blessings and also in the hopes of allowing for a Polish-based branch. He joined Focolare in the summer of 1969 after a week-long vacation he spent in Zakopane.

Ven. Jerzy died  with two of his children, his son and a daughter, on the Nile River in the Sudan where he had been teaching.The oldest daughter, Marysia and another young Polish woman were lucky to be saved, as they were on the upper deck, whereas Jerzy had gone down to the cabin to put his children to sleep. Marysia luckily jumped into water and swam to the shore. Kasia, Piotruś and their father, who was such a good swimmer, drowned.  Danuta had stayed back at their hotel. Cardinal Wojtyła returned from Rome when he heard what had happened and presided at the funerals. 

Danuta, in her book ‘Record of a Road’ mentions that when she was returning through Rome with Marysia and with ashes of her husband and children, Karol Wojtyła went to the airport to pick them up, although there were debates of the Bishops’ Synod. Many years later, in 1993 when he arrived in Sudan as pope, he mentioned his deceased friend to gathered crowds in Chartum.

The archbishop supported the Ciesielski family spiritually after Jerzy died. Danuta appreciated it in the beautiful words: “How much we owed to the Uncle (the family name for their great friend) – it is impossible to express it in words. We survived the next years really thanks to his prayer and presence”.

In the book entitled “Going Beyond the Threshold of Peace”, Pope St. John Paul II described Jerzy as a young man who decisively hoped for sanctity.  “This was the program of his life. He knew that he was “created for great things”, but, at the same time, he did not have any doubts that his vocation was not the priesthood or the religious life

Ven Jerzy lived with the maxim: ‘Each of us received a road to take, which is just our vocation. The sense of my existence depends on my faithfulness to this vocation: Your glory and our merit for the eternal happiness. Lord, help me understand my vocation every day and give me Your grace so that I would be faithful to it…’

Sunday, January 19, 2020


The formal process to begin investigations concerning the possible canonization of the late DR. GERTRUDE BARBER as a saint in the Catholic Church is under way. Gertrude Barber, founder of the Barber National Institute, was a renowned Erie educator and woman of faith who dedicated her life to serving children and adults with intellectual disabilities/autism and their families.

With the opening of her cause, Dr. Barber becomes the first layperson on the list of other Pennsylvanians whose causes for canonization are currently underway. They include Sister Teresa of Jesus Lindenberg, a Carmelite sister from Allentown; our friend, Father Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit priest from Allentown; Father Demetrius Gallitzin, a diocesan priest from Altoona-Johnstown; and Father William Atkinson, an Augustian priest from Philadelphia.

The only Pennsylvania native to date to earn the designation of saint within the Catholic Church is St Katharine Drexel, a sister who founded schools for Native American and African American children, who was canonized in 2000. A Philadelphia native, St. Katharine Drexel died in 1955. Additionally, Saint John Neumann, born in what is now the Czech Republic, served as bishop of Philadelphia and was canonized in 1977. Other Pennsylvania natives whose causes are opened in other states include Sister Cornelia Connelly, founder of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and a native of Philadelphia, and Fr. John Anthony Hardon, a Jesuit priest born in Midland in Beaver County.

Dr. Barber was born in Erie in 1911, the seventh of ten children. When she was seven years old, her father died during the influenza epidemic.
Gertrude is on right
Friends and family encouraged her mother, Kate,  to place her many children in an orphanage. But she was determined to keep them all at home giving them a good education, and instilling  in them the value of serving others which she had shared with her husband. All nine of the surviving Barber children graduated high school, and five earned college degrees.
Gertrude earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Penn State University, where she continued her education and earned a master’s in psychology and doctorate in educational administration. She finished post-doctoral work at Syracuse University, the University of Buffalo, and Adelphi University.
At one time Gertrude expressed a desire to be a missionary in a foreign country, but was encouraged by a superintendent to be a missionary in her home town by becoming an advocate for children with learning and physical disabilities.
In 1933, she became a special education teacher for Erie’s school district. Ten years later, she took the position of home and school visitor for the district, and in 1945 she became the district’s coordinator of special education programs.  As a home and school visitor, part of her job was telling  parents of children with disabilities that their child could not enroll in their local school, and must either be educated at home or sent to faraway institutions.
The experience solidified her convictions to help children with disabilities in a way that kept their families as involved as possible in their lives and education.
In 1952, with a small group of parents, teachers, and volunteers, she opened a classroom for children with disabilities at a local YMCA, and continued to advocate for a more permanent space for her programs. As previously mentioned, this first classroom was the foundation of what is now the Barber National Institute.
In 1958, a former hospital used to treat polio patients was given to Dr. Barber by the City of Erie as a space for both a school for children and a program for adults with disabilities, and her programs quickly expanded. In 1962, she was appointed to President John Kennedy's White House Task Force on the Education and Rehabilitation of the Mentally Retarded, where she helped bring national awareness to the needs of children and adults with disabilities.
As the years went on, the Dr. Gertrude A. Barber Center sprouted satellite locations throughout the region. Legislation protecting the rights of children and adults with disabilities passed, and the Center became a hub for implementing new and improved methods of education and training for the disabled.
In the 1970s, Dr. Barber established local group homes for adults who had been institutionalized for their disabilities as children, the beginning of now more than 50 group homes for adults with disabilities operating in Erie County today. In the 1990s, Barber worked to turn the center into a national institute for the best research, education, training and care available for people with disabilities.
Dr. Barber died suddenly while on a trip to Florida in 2003 at the age of 87. She is remembered for her selfless, compassionate, personal, and groundbreaking care for children and adults with disabilities.

“Dr. Barber served as a model for all of us to become more giving and to see God in one another,” John Barber, nephew of Dr. Barber and president of the Barber National Institute, said at the announcement of the opening of his aunt’s cause for canonization.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


In  November of 2019, Jesuits were able to add another saint to their roster.  BLESSED VICTOR EMILIO MOSCOSO CARDENAS was born in 1846 in Cuenca, Ecuador,one of 14 children.

He studied law in college but felt drawn to the religious life, so abandoned his studies in order to join the Jesuits in 1864. He began his novitiate in Cuenca where the Jesuits had settled since the order was forced to leave Quito due to the anti-religious sentiment and persecution at the time. Father Moscoso studied in the San Luis college where he did his philosophical studies which he did well in.

Father Moscoso first began his duties as a priest and as a teacher in Riobamba  and would go on to teach both rhetoric and grammar. He was a noted philosopher and taught rhetoric and grammar to his students while serving as a professor. He also served as the college's rector from 1893 until his assassination. He later began teaching from 1892 at the San Felipe Neri college in Riobamba and from 1893 until his death served as its rector

He served as a teacher in the COPEM college in Riobamba since 1892 and it was there that he was slain during the Liberal Revolution which had started in 1895.

In 1895 the Liberal Revolution broke out in Ecuador which triggered a series of persecutions and a wave of anti-religious sentiment against religious and priests. His own assassination occurred in this context during an assault of liberal troopers in the Riobamba Jesuit house located near the college where he taught.

The soldiers, who were authorized to take priests as prisoners, broke down the door at 4:30am on 4 May 1897 and barged in and killed several people before coming across and breaking open the tabernacle. The men proceeded to throw the hosts to the ground and drank the wine mocking the sacraments before finding Father in a room kneeling before a Crucifix. They proceeded to kill him at point-blank range. He was shot twice.

The killers tried to transform the scene so that it appeared that the priest was armed and had been shot in combat; a rifle was placed near his corpse. His fellow Jesuits were unaware of the attack which lasted until 8:00am due to being in a separate area and therefore did not hear what was happening until much later. Blood was found running down his temples and over a purple scarf that he was wearing at the time.

Known for a  kind and generous personality, even one of his uncles said about him: “among all his brothers, he was distinguished by docility, moderation and delicacy of his character,” The Postulator to the Cause, Fr. Jose Benetiz, also commented on his character as being “serene, simple, kind, humble; he gave the impression of being shy; attentive and helpful; he always manifested true faithfulness to his obligations.”  These qualities then were his trademark throughout his life and would be evident in the difficult and tragic moments of his last days and antecedents to his martyrdom.