ROME – When the world celebrates the canonization of Blessed John Henry Newman on Sunday, the 19th-century British cardinal will be elevated to the altar alongside four other individuals known for their humility and closeness to the suffering of Christ.
Perhaps the most famous Anglican convert to Catholicism and one of the Church’s most revered modern theologians, for the English-speaking world Newman is the most recognizable of the five people who will be canonized Oct. 13.
However, while Newman is celebrated for his intellectual contributions to Catholic theology, the other saints are being recognized in great part for their mystical contributions, with two having experienced the stigmata, meaning they developed wounds like those of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion.
One of these is Blessed Dulce Lopes Pontes, known to Brazilian Catholics simply as “Sister Dulce,” who is Brazil’s second native-born saint.
A member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, Dulce was born in 1914 and was best known for her work with the poor, sick and disabled. Early on she gave up the comforts of her middle-class life, and later founded the first Catholic workers’ organization in the state of Bahia.
She also launched several initiatives including a health clinic for impoverished workers, a school for working families, a hospital, an orphanage and numerous care centers for the elderly and disabled.
In 1988 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Eight years prior, during a visit to Brazil in 1980, St. John Paul II praised her work as “an example for humanity.” When he returned in 1991, he visited Dulce in the hospital. She died in 1992 at the age of 77 and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.
Also to be canonized is Blessed Marguerite Bays, a Swiss laywoman known as a spiritual powerhouse, particularly in her approach to physical suffering.
Born into a simple farming family in La Pierraz, Siviriez, near Fribourg, Switzerland, Bays entered this life on Sept. 8, 1815 – the feast of the nativity of Mary.
Locally educated and trained as a seamstress, she often spent her time visiting the poor, sick and dying, and she was known for her dedication to children and young women, to whom she would teach catechism in her spare time.
Bays was also active in her parish, introducing several different projects. She also had a hand in founding a Catholic press operation during the time of the Kulturkampf – a conflict between the German government and the Catholic Church between 1872 and 1878, largely over control of appointments in the educational and ecclesial fields.
When Bays developed intestinal cancer at age 35, she asked the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for her in exchanging her suffering for a different type of pain enabling her to share more directly in Jesus’ own suffering on the cross. After this prayer, she was healed of her cancer on Dec. 8, 1854 – the day Pope Pius IX declared as the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
She then developed a “mysterious condition” in which she fell into ecstasy every Friday as she relived Jesus’ crucifixion and death. She also developed the stigmata, which she sought to hide.
Bays died at 3 p.m. – the hour of Christ’s death – on Friday, June 27, 1879 on the Catholic feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus after a long and painful illness.
There is another person to be canonized Sunday who received the stigmata: Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, the Syro-Malabar religious and foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family.
Born in the Indian State of Kerala, where the majority of Christians in India live, Chiramel Mankidiyan lived in an impoverished family, largely because of the pricey dowries her family had to pay for her older sisters.
When Chiramel Mankidiyan’s mother died as a child, her father became an alcoholic, prompting her to spend increasing amounts of time outside of her home visiting the sick and the poor and serving those in her parish community.
Eventually several other women began to join her in her service, and they would travel together to assist those in need.
Chiramel Mankidiyan later began to have mystical experiences, including the stigmata, which was initially interpreted as a form of demonic possession. She was forced to undergo exorcism several times between 1902 and 1905, however, the priest performing the exorcisms believed that her experiences were a sign of holiness, and he served as her spiritual director for the remainder of her life.
In 1913 Chiramel Mankidiyan was given permission by her bishop to build a house of prayer where she and her companions lived. A year later the bishop gave them formal permission to establish a new religious order, calling it the Congregation of the Holy Family, since Chiramel Mankidiyan had entrusted the sister’s safety to the Holy Family during their travels.
Within 12 years three convents, two schools, two hostels, and an orphanage were set up and run by the sisters. Chiramel Mankidiyan died due to complications from diabetes June 8, 1926. She was beatified in 2000.
The last of this weekend’s new crop of saints is Blessed Josephine Vannini, co-founder the Daughters of St. Camillus, known for her work with the sick and elderly.
She was born in Rome in 1859 and orphaned at the age of seven. She was then separated from her two brothers and raised by an order of Vincentian nuns.
Vannini eventually entered the novitiate with the order in Siena but was forced to leave because of poor health. It was after this that, while on a retreat in 1891, she met Blessed Luigi Tezza – the man who would eventually help her establish a new women’s congregation dedicated to serving the sick.
In March 1892, she and two other companions decided to take Tezza up on his offer to form the new congregation and made private vows with the Camillian order. In 1895 Vannini made her perpetual vows with the new order she and Tezza had established, the Daughters of St. Camillus, and was named its first superior general.
In 1900 Tezza was sent to Lima, Peru after suffering slander at home as well as a ban that year from Pope Leo XIII on the opening of new religious orders. Vannini was then left on her own to lead the congregation, which received papal approval in 1931. She died February 1911 and was beatified by St. Pope John Paul II in 1994.
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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