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News About Saints, Saints Stories

Heroic Layman Killed by Nazis Declared a Martyr

From Catholic News Agency:

Vatican City, Jul 8, 2016 / 01:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis moved eight martyrs a step further on the path to sainthood, one of whom is Josef Mayr-Nusser, an Italian layman killed for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler during the Second World War.

The Pope’s recognition of Mayr-Nusser as a martyr was announced July 8 following an audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Born Dec. 27, 1910 in the northern Italian city of Bolzano, Mayr-Nusser grew up on a farm and was instilled with Christian values by his parents from a young age.

Since his family was poor and his older brother Jakob was in seminary studying for the priesthood, Mayr-Nusser didn’t study himself, but worked on the farm and later as the clerk for the Eccel company in Bolzano.

He dedicated much of his free time to reading, including many religious works. Among his favorites were the works of Frederic Ozanam, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, and the life of St. Vincent de Paul.

At the age of 22 he joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an international Catholic volunteer organization dedicated to serving the poor and disadvantaged, in an effort to imitate the charity of the saint.

Mayr-Nusser was also involved in Catholic Action, and became head its division in the Diocese of Trent in 1934. In 1937 he became president of the Bolzano branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, spending a large amount of his time visiting the poor and providing them with both material and spiritual support.

When World War II flared up in Europe in 1939, Mayr-Nusser wasted no time in joining the anti-Nazi movement “Andreas Hofer Bund.”

However, a few years later civil war also broke out in Italy following the 1943 ousting of Benito Mussolini from power, which led to the German occupation of the northern half of the country.

The Nazi regime had established the “Schutzstaffel,” or “protective squadron.” The regime called not only on local men from Nazi Germany to join the squad, but they also took volunteers and conscripted men from both occupied and non-occupied territories.

Mayr-Nusser was among those conscripted from northern Italy, and so in 1944 was enrolled in an SS unit, forcing him to leave his wife and newborn son for training in Prussia.

However, when it came time for the SS members to swear an oath to Hitler, Mayr-Nusser refused.

According to a fellow comrade, he was “pensive and worried,” but told the general with a “strong voice” that “I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it.”

Although his friends and tried to convince him to retract his statement and take the oath, Mayr-Nusser refused, believing that Nazi ideals could in no way be reconciled with Christian ethics and values.

As a result he was jailed while he awaited trial. In 1945 he was sentenced to death for treason, and was ordered to march to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was to be shot by firing squad.
However, he fell ill with dysentery along the way and died Feb. 24, 1945, before reaching the camp. When his body was discovered on the train, he had both a Bible and a rosary with him.

Mayr-Nusser’s cause for martyrdom was launched by the Diocese of Bolzano and was approved in 2005, allowing him to receive the title “Servant of God.” Now, Pope Francis’ recognition of his martyrdom has paved the way for his beatification.

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Saints Stories

Today’s Memorial: St. Benno of Meissen

St. Benno of Meissen
Memorial: June 16

Today we remember the august German bishop, St. Benno. Like St. Thomas More and many other figures throughout Church history, he is a great example of a Catholic defending the Church’s prerogatives against their usurpation by the State.

Benno (c. 1010 – June 16, 1106, made bishop of Meissen, Germany, ca. 1066) was a nobleman who was faithful to the Church at a time that Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV (1050-1106) was trying to make her subservient to the State. Henry had gone so far as to storm Rome in 1083 and take possession of the Basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano (St. Peter’s).

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Like St. John Cardinal Fisher with Henry VIII of England, Benno refused to go along with the imperial plan to bring the Church to heel. Indeed, he had long opposed Henry on any number of occasions. For instance he supported the Saxon nobility in their 1073-75 revolt against Henry. (See more here.)

Subsequently, when another German, Pope St. Gregory VII excommunicated the emperor, Henry rode to Benno’s cathedral at Meissen and demanded entrance, where he expected to receive the Eucharist.

Benno knew his only hope at thwarting His Majesty’s plans was to lock up the place and throw the keys into the River Elbe. The emperor was furious, but realizing he was foiled, rode off.

The question now for Benno was how would he get back inside? After praying long and hard, he told a fisherman to cast out his net to the spot where he had thrown the key. A fish was caught and the key found inside its belly.

St. Benno of Meissen, pray for us!

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Saints Stories

Getting to Know a Servant of God

This past Friday, I covered a story for CatholicPhilly.com about an assembly held for the students at Monsignor Bonner-Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School in Upper Darby, PA. The purpose was to help students better know former Bonner Prendie student and teacher, the newly minted Servant of God Fr. Bill Atkinson, OSA, who was an amazing, incredible man.

As usual, the comments the speakers made were all fantastic, but too voluminous to include anything but a sample of them in my piece.

So I include them below in the hope that you, too, may find them of interest.

Grace Kane, English teacher, colleague, friend:

Fr. Bill used to say, “Life is like a game of cards. You play the hand you’re dealt.”

He teaches us to never give up your hopes and dreams.

The Fr. Bill Atkinson Foundation has helped 75 students as of last year.

Our whole idea here was to help you understand who Father was, personally. Not just as someone whose name we bring up quite often, but to know him personally. Because to know him personally was the best. It really was.

As Dr. Cooke mentioned, we have very special guests in the room, people who Father loved so much and who love him so much.

I’ll start off mentioning Father’s family. These are the people who took care of him from birth to the end of his life, and we’re very glad they were able to come with him today, his sisters, his brothers, nieces, cousins. All different people were able to come visit with us today.

The second group I want to acknowledge [are] his close friends, Fr. Atkinson’s close friends, all of whom, I think, he met through this community. Father was really good at helping us understand what he wanted this school to be, which was a family. And I know many of you have heard that term used with Bonner-Prendie: Family. In my view he started that.

He led us as a group of his friends to believe in the school and believe in the mission of the school. We took that to heart, and we learned from him.

The next group are representatives from his Augustinian community. Father was so, so proud to be an Augustinian, and he worked hard to become one, too. But these are the guys who welcomed him into their community, took care of him, and they helped to help him here with the mission of Bonner-Prendie.

The last group I want to mention are the students: You. Because one of the things Fr. Atkinson loved most about the school – and I feel the same way – the students here, he just had a real love … First of all he was a student here, so I think he had that in common.

But he really, really tried to reach out to students. I think he knew more students than the teachers in the classrooms at times. He was also a teacher.

So we’re doing this for you. We want you to know who he is. To that end, I’m going to introduce to you the first speaker, and that is Father’s dear sister, Mrs. Joan Alice …

Joan Alice Mullen, Fr. Atkinson’s sister

He was the third of seven children. He liked dry beef on toast for breakfast. On Sunday he liked to watch a football game with a hoagie and a beer. He played a mean game of pinochle. And he put ketchup on everything. How could he be considered for sainthood?

This is what Archbishop Chaput had to say:

This honor is not bestowed because he was a quadriplegic, but because his incredible faith, patience, and hope was beautiful and would be a source of encouragement for people with disabilities and reminds us of the great generosity of his family, his religious community, and all who were called to holiness by their special care for this man.

If you take one thing home from what I said today, just keep this one thought in mind: Bill was your average ordinary teenager, just like you, running to class just like you, sitting in assembly just like you, forgetting his lunch. He experienced frustration, problems in school, SATs, home life, illnesses, just like you may be experiencing. Some of his hurdles were extraordinary but remember, he never surrendered to them.

Now that he is a servant of God, pray [for his intercession] for patience and courage to help you get through and get over the hurdles in your life.

Bill was the epitome of the quiet man, but he was a great listener, and he will hear you. Also pray for him and his journey toward sainthood.

 

Lon Barrone, Classmate

He actually taught me how to run a fly pattern. A fly pattern is pretty easy to describe. The quarterback backs up and throws the ball as hard as he can and as far as he can, and you’re supposed to catch. You run as fast as you can toward the end zone. I saw Bill do it 100 times. It seemed so easy. (Of course it isn’t.) What he told me was, ‘Don’t look over your shoulder when you’re running, because it throws you off balance, and you won’t find the ball that way.’ He said, ‘Look straight up.’ Try that sometime where you’re going full speed. ‘Look straight up and find the ball and then run towards it [at] top speed. Pump your arms and don’t put your hand up for the ball. That’s a mistake everybody makes. Don’t put your hands up for the ball until the ball gets there. You can’t catch what isn’t there. So wait. Because if you put your hand up, that slows you down, too. You won’t make it to the ball.’

I think I successfully executed the fly pattern, uh … once. But it was fun learning.

One time I was playing touch football. You see, Bill and I were in homeroom in our sophomore through senior year together here at Bonner. We both graduated in 1963. And in homeroom we were pretty close. We talked a lot because I sat behind him. We were seated alphabetically: Atkinson, Barrone.

One particular day that comes to mind, I was in a very, very gloomy mood. Bad things had happened to me. My girlfriend had cheated on me. There’s nothing worse than that. I was in danger of flunking two subjects. And I’d just lost my job.

Bill noticed the look on my face as he sat down, and he said, ‘What’s wrong with you? What’s the matter?’

And I told him the story of gloom and doom. And I said, ‘Bill, what do you do? What do you do when it’s all falling apart around you?’

And he kinda shrugged and looked at me and said, ‘Gosh when things get that bad, I just look up and say, “Thy will be done.”’

What? Bill was a lot of things back then, but religious wasn’t the first thing that popped into I thought about him. ‘Thy will be done’ You mean like in the ‘Our Father,’ right? I said the ‘Our Father.’ I had no idea that the words actually meant anything. But they meant something to Bill. ‘Thy will be done.’

Imagine my surprise when I [learned] he was going into the Augustinian seminary. Me, too. I went, too. We were both in the seminary together for a few years.

In fact I was there that day when it happened.

I want to tell you what Bill told me about that day and what it tells us about Bill.

Yes, his chord was severed around the third vertebra. He was in a hospital. He lay on his back. He could not move a muscle. He had a tracheotomy that was cut so he could breath. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t even blink. The doctors worked heroically to stabilize him, to save his life. He was as helpless as a human being could be. But you know what? He could hear. He could hear as well as you can. And he heard the doctors swirling around him. They didn’t know he could hear. There were saying things like, ‘He can’t survive. He can’t make it.’

And they gave him a gift that day. At that moment in his life when he was most helpless, when he had control over absolutely nothing, they gave him a choice. He could prove them wrong. He could choose to survive. He could choose to live. And he did.

The doctors found him alive the next day. They were very generous: They gave him another day. And he lived.

A couple of days later they said, ‘Holy cow, if this keeps up, he’s gonna get bed sores,’ so they brought a special bed in. It was actually two beds. And they flipped him from stomach to back, from back to stomach. He was otherwise totally immobilized.

They were helping him prevent bedsores. He was beginning his rehabilitation. This became evident when it became clear he wanted to be transferred to Magee Memorial to complete his rehabilitation.

This, too, was a difficult thing. He was told, ‘I don’t think you can do that. You can’t do that.’ People with his degree of disability in the sixties … What was there to rehabilitate?

But, see, they were dealing with Bill. And he heard that word, ‘can’t,’ again.

So he went to Magee Memorial, and darn if they didn’t find a few muscles that they could get working up here in his shoulder. He learned how to work an electric wheelchair: Mobility. He learned to feed himself: Dignity.

And then he went to his superiors with the biggie. ‘Father,’ he said, ‘I still want to become a priest.’

Church historians checked it out. Never in the 2,000 year history of the Holy Roman Catholic Church has anyone with his degree of disability, with anywhere near his degree of disability ever been ordained a priest. ‘Can’t do that.’

There’s that word again.

But Bill set it as a goal. And with the help of so many advocates, I was there that day when he was ordained, and John Cardinal Krol told the congregation – he seemed in shock himself – ‘Never in the 2,000 year history of the Holy Roman Catholic Church with this degree of disability ever been ordained a priest,’ almost as if to say, ‘How did this happen?’

And then [Father] came here, to our school, folks, Monsignor Bonner-Prendie and began his ministry. Or should I say continued his ministry.

He was known as, eh, a tough teacher. I know he was a tough teacher because my nephew had him years back, my nephew Nick. I said, ‘Hey, Nick, I hear you have Fr. Atkinson in class.’ ‘Yeah, Uncle Lon, he’s a tough teacher.’ ‘Tough?’ I said. ‘What do you mean tough? He can’t hit you.’ He said, ‘No, no, no, no, no. It’s nothing like that. It’s just so hard to walk up to him and say, ‘I can’t do it.’

There’s that word ‘can’t’ again, huh?

That was a gift to me. Ever since then to this very day, whenever I feel like I can’t do it, I imagine myself walking up to Ats, to Bill, to Fr. Atkinson, walking up to him and saying, ‘I can’t do it.’ And I find that the words won’t come. It usually doesn’t work that way.

That was his gift to me, but it’s also his gift to you.

Bill Atkinson, patron saint of ‘What do you mean I can’t?’

 

Ralph Celidonio, coach, colleague, friend

[As one of his players whom he coached:] He had something different. You should never say you had a favorite student, but of the kids … he was my favorite.

[The principle got on the PA system and said we were going to pray a decade of the Rosary for a former student who had been in a life-threatening accident. Around this time Coach and his wife had just had their first child, a girl.] When [the principal] said [it was] ‘Bill Atkinson,’ it was almost like [hearing something had happened to] my daughter. That’s how hard it hit me.

He would have been a great priest [even] without the accident.

When that [i.e., the accident] happened, I thought to myself, ‘Why would God let something like that happen to a good person?’ And that question comes up often in our lives. You hear about it all the time. Tragedies happen to good people. But yet, you know, when you think about it, it was a blessing. Look at all of the people he helped through the years. Thousands and thousands. Not just Bonner people but people from all around, people from other countries who heard about him going on and becoming a priest and helping others and being able to overcome the tremendous handicap that he had. There is a God, and God does work in strange ways.

Near the end of my career, I happened to walk out the back door. Bill was in his wheelchair at the entrance of the school there. And that day for some reason, no one was there speaking with him. Usually students or parents or somebody would always be stopping by, talking to him.

So I stopped for a second, and I said, ‘Bill, just think about this: Think of how far we’ve come in life: From 69th St. to Garrett Rd. and Landsdowne Ave., about two miles.’ And Bill said, ‘Yeah, but what a great ride.’

 

 

Fr. Rob Hagan, OSA, family friend, Villanova basketball chaplain

Graduations, parties, backyard barbeques, that’s how I knew him.

Before I ever saw him say Mass, in the ordinary, everyday nitty gritty aspects of life is where I built a friendship with Fr. Bill Atkinson. It’s really inspiring to see this auditorium packed, because his story is your story. He’s one of yours. He’s an alum. He’s part of your family. And this story needs to be told. Family. Spirit. Never giving up. Humility. Faith. Universal values. We all read the papers. We all watch TV. We know the world has become a difficult place. We need inspiration.

And so our Church has the Communion of Saints. It’s like the Catholic Church’s version of the Hall of Fame. And there’s a reason why we talk about Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth and people who’ve gone on before us, are examples of greatness. So the Church has its own version of the Hall of Fame and that is the Communion of Saints.

You can pick people out. Ordinary people. People like you me who grew up in Upper Darby and rode the trolley. Who played baseball right out on this field, who walked these very halls, whose lives – in a very real and powerful way – reflected Jesus. Reflected Jesus.

And that’s why we’re here. Because Bill Atkinson, through the hardship, through the joy, through the difficulty, and through the setbacks, filled with the Spirit of Jesus, lived his life with joy and enthusiasm, and when you were in his presence, you were in the presence of something very special. He brought the spirit of Christ to others.

I think a lot of times when we think about the saints, we think about like they were in church 24/7, that they were in their prayers all the time. And then we meet real people, like Fr. Bill, who was a chaplain for the football team, who was a chaplain for the basketball team, who taught religion, who wasn’t [indiscernible] with guys who got in trouble. And he didn’t judge. And he didn’t hold it against him. And he said, ‘You can do better.’

When you looked at him and the way he lived his life, he made you want to be a better person. That, my friends, is a spirit that never dies.

And so now, yes, he’s been designated Servant of God. I’m not an expert on canonization, but what I’ve come to understand from our Provincial, Fr. Michael Di Gregorio, who has been a staunch advocate for this cause – and the Catholic Conference of Bishops now have word about how special Fr. Bill was – is that this isn’t some top down decision. This isn’t something that Pope Francis just decides on his own. This is a movement that comes all the way up from the bottom, from the people in Upper Darby, from the people at Bonner, from people who knew him on the field, from people who had a roast beef sandwich with him at Casey’s. From people who rode on the back of his wheelchair to get into Springfield down at the Sea (indiscernible) to beat the cover charge. Everyday, ordinary experiences of people who said, ‘This man was special, and his life was heroic and worthy of imitation.”

You as Bonner-Prendie students should be very, very proud because his story is your story.

I did not plan on being a priest. I met this man and became friends with him, and his faith was contagious. He lived that gospel message of strength through weakness. Couldn’t get out of his chair, couldn’t brush his own teeth, and he was the strongest man I ever knew. Internal strength. Internal strength is a gift.

I have a great job, and one of the things I do is I’m chaplain for Villanova’s basketball team. And we all know what happened this year.

But I’ll tell you right now, that story was hardly about basketball. And I took great inspiration from a chaplain at Msgr. Bonner who also won two Catholic League championships when Fr. Horn was principle.

The importance of listening and making sure everyone knows that they have a role to play. Whether you’re a starter, whether you’re a star, whether you’re the strongest or a manager, that everyone has a role to play.

Two years ago, when I was talking to the team, and I gave the whole Villanova basketball team a copy of the book called, Green Bananas, which is a book written by another Msgr. Bonner graduate Steve McWilliams, who had a wonderful series of conversations with Fr. Bill about life. It’s not an autobiography. It’s about life. And I will recommend that book to each and every single one of you. It’s an easy read. It’s something you can put on your nightstand. And it has wonderful life lessons in there about never giving up and never judging others and finding forgiveness and understanding that everyone has a vocation.

We talked about Bill as a team. And one of the things we said this year as we went on that championship run is that our strength was our humility. It wasn’t about being the most talented or the strongest, but it was about doing things together. And that when we do things together, we have a strength beyond our own individual strength. Fr. Bill taught us that. And we pass those messages on to every single person we come in contact with along our way. And I’m telling you, our team this year, they latched onto that message. And in an age of power, Big 5 conferences where they say, ‘A little Catholic school in this age. You can’t win a national championship. You don’t have that big football money.’ Little Catholic school does the impossible because they’re inspired by people who understand that strength comes in a lot of different ways.

And you look at Ryan Arcidiacono coming up the court, 4.7 seconds left, as a senior and a captain, and everybody’s dream is to take that last shot, and in humility he passes it up to a teammate who had a better shot.

Fr. Bill Atkinson didn’t get to take a lot of shots in his life, but he made all the passes. He had all the assists. He spent his whole life trying to make sure that you were doing better. And that, my friends, is a story that needs to be told.

He was paralyzed, but he still found a way to move. He moved mountains with faith. And there are times in each and every one of our lives where we feel paralyzed, paralyzed by fear, paralyzed by the inability to make a decision. We’re stuck in a rut, and we feel like we can’t move. …

So let’s remember – as we move forward into our day, the week, and the summer – people who might need some prayers for some extra strength. And through the intercession of Fr. Bill Atkinson, call for a renewed spirit. And our faith tells us, it comes.

I’ll close with Fr. Bill’s own words. Many of you have heard it. It’s a poem that he wrote when people would ask him how he did all that he did with all the setbacks and all the forces working against him.

I would say it’s not just a poem, it’s a prayer.

“How’d you do it?” people would say

So confining, day after day

Having others around for constant care

Ever wonder if life’s unfair?

“How’d you do it?” people would ask.

“Is it better now than in the past?

To see others do what you used to?

Realizing that you cannot do them anymore

“How’d you do it?” people have said

“Needing help in and out of bed.”

Doubts at time, patience wearing thin

Ever wonder how it will end?

“How’d you do it, day after day?”

The path taken wasn’t my way

The choice was Another’s, not my own

He sent me help; couldn’t do it alone

How’d I do it? Let me confide:

Always with others right by my side

Family and friends from the start

Gave me love in no small part

How’d I do it day after day?

Wouldn’t have it any other way

They shared triumphs and setbacks, too

Been blessed when I look back and review

How’d I do it? Let me reply:

On those who helped me, I totally relied

They taught me to live, not just to cope;

With their love, they gave me hope.

How’d I do it, day after day?

The help of others, all along the way.

Vowed and friends, sisters and brothers,

I simply borrowed the strength of others

 

Charlie Gallagher, former colleague

I taught here for 44 years, so all the years Father was here, I was here. That’s how I first came to meet him.

You were talking about his sense of humor. Can you tell me about that.

He would play a practical joke. For example, a teacher had hit a deer [in their car] and was all upset about it. So he had a friend of his in the Springfield Police Department send him a citation. “According to such-and-such, such-and-such, such-and-such, this occurred on such-and-such a date.”

And he let it go for about it week, and then he made sure [the other teacher] knew about it. But it’s that type of practical joke.

He used to write a Christmas poem [each year] about all the stupid stuff faculty did. You know, somebody came in with two shoes that didn’t match. That would end up in the poem.

He was unifying. He was the heart and soul of the school because he … How can you complain about anything when he was able to get through what he did?

You know, no matter what was happening in my life, you know, I looked at him and say, “If he can get through that, I can get through this.”

He was that type of a person and that type of example.

That’s awesome.

Yeah, he was awesome. I mean it was like, you know, he an uncanny knack of helping people. Especially, like, students. If … You know, he … I don’t know what type of power he had, but he had some ability to see what was, you know, whether somebody was happy or sad and if there … If he thought he could do something for them, he would.

What are your thoughts now that his cause is going forward for beatification?

I can’t see anybody, you know, I thought he was a saint when he was alive, and I think he’s a saint, you know. God gave him a job to do, and he did it well, you know, under the most trying circumstances. If you saw him in the bed, he couldn’t move. He couldn’t scratch his head, an itch. But he was able … He got through it all.

A friend of mine was at Magee Rehab Center when he was there, and he just inspired other people. No matter where he went, he was an inspiration.

He would also go to the VA hospital, you know, the quadriplegics and paraplegics, talk to them to show, basically, you know, you can have a life. Like I say, everywhere he went, he was looking to help other people. That was his life’s goal, and that’s what he did.

 

Thank you for planning this day to learn about Father Atkinson.  All those talks from the people sharing their experience with Father Atkinson increased my faith in the Lord and made me feel blessed to have a man like Father Atkinson to walk the halls of Bonner.  Paul Silverio

Thank you so much for orchestrating this inspiring assembly.  It really helped me to see who Father Bill was as a person, and not just a name.  It was so well executed and incredibly sincere, and I think that’s what made it so powerful.  I really did learn a lot and thank you immensely – you really impacted me.  Theodore Greiner

 

Principal John Cooke

The whole reason behind this is that the kids hear about Fr. Atkinson in the news and the media about his journey to sainthood, but – as Grace mentioned today – they just know him on the surface. So this gave them an opportunity to really know him as a person and see how important he really is to our community. So I think it’s a great event to really do that, and to hear it from the family members and the people who knew him.

A lot of these kids come from single parent families. They struggle to meet the tuition. But the kids really love it here. It’s just that the challenges of everyday life. A few weeks ago there were some drugs and a gun found in the building. It was pretty big. Kids very easily can go down that path in this neighborhood and in this day and time, and they turn to that rather than trusting in their faith. So this is a good opportunity for them to turn to somebody who’s from their neighborhood, part of their community. As was said over and over again, this is somebody who belongs to their community who they can really relate to.

About 70% of the students at BPHS are Catholic.

I would say that even though [some] are not Catholic, a lot of our kids do have faith. I mean, we pray twice a day. We do major liturgical event a month, and they have to participate to be part of the community. And I think that that really gives them some faith in some [way]. So even those who are not Catholic, I think have faith. They may not be baptized Catholic, but they’re a part of our community.

 

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Saints Stories

The Poor Kid Who Could Never Catch a Break

Bl. Nunzio Sulpizio
Memorial: May 5

There almost was never a time when Bl. Nunzio Sulprizio’s life was not difficult.

The blessed was born just after Easter on April 13, 1817, during a time of great famine in Pescosansonesco, a village in the province of Pescara, Italy, and he was named after his paternal grandfather.

When the child was just three, his beloved father died. His younger baby sister died roughly four months later. Two years later, his mother Rosa remarried a much older man out of financial necessity (she had no other support), and like many – not all – stepparents, the man had no use for the boy, seeing him as merely the child of his spouse. Along with regular food, he regularly fed little Nunzio “with harshness and contempt.”

It was this time that he began to attend a small school run by the priest Fr. De Fabiis. In addition to their letters, Father taught his pupils to know and love Jesus and desire to serve him.

Because of stepfather’s treatment, Nunzio bonded with his mother and maternal grandmother Rosaria Luciani del Rossi, an illiterate woman of great faith and goodness. Thus when his mother died on March 5, 1823, he went to live with Rosaria. They were very happy together, and would walk and pray, attend Mass, and do housework. He continued to attend school in his new home, this one run by a Fr. Fantacci, who used to take the children to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which Nunzio loved.

Sadly Rosaria died on April 4, 1826. Now his uncle Domenico Luciani, a blacksmith, took him into his home but out of school and made him his apprentice.

Like his stepfather, Nunzio’s uncle was not kind to him. He worked him very hard, and when he perceived the boy needed correction or discipline, his punishment was to not feed the boy. If he needed an errand run or materials transported or fetched, he sent his nephew, not matter how far the distance or how heavy the burden. If he didn’t do the errand to his liking, Domenico would beat and curse him. For anyone but especially a child, this was a great burden.

Instead of despairing, however, the boy would think of Jesus as he beat on the anvil and think of how Our Lord had been beaten for mankind’s sins. As he suffered the “scourge” of inhumane work and treatment, he thought of Christ’s suffering the scourging at the pillar during His sacred Passion. When he suffered, he offered these pains up to the One Who had mastered suffering “in reparation for the sins of the world” and so that he might more perfectly “do the will of God” and to be found worthy of entering into the Son’s rest.

Because of a wound incurred during one errand on a winter morning, Nunzio’s foot became infected. He became so ill, he couldn’t rise from bed. His uncle demanded that he get to work because “if you do not work, you do not eat.”

The lack of proper care led to his contracting gangrene. Still his uncle told him, “If you can not lift the hammer, then you pull the bellows.” The boy was in so much pain by this point that every movement was torture. His sore oozed puss and required constant cleaning. Once he went to a nearby stream to clean his wound, but a woman coming to wash her laundry chased him away saying he would pollute the water. Finally he found his own stream and would pray many Rosaries while letting the water cleanse his sores.

Finally he had to be sent to a hospital, first at L’Aquila and then Naples. All along he offered up his sufferings in union with the cross. He also helped care for other patients who were worse off than he.

It was during his hospitalization in L’Aquila that his father’s brother Francesco Sulprizio, a soldier, heard of his plight and brought him to Naples in 1832. Shortly thereafter he acquainted his nephew with another soldier, Colonel Felice Wochinger. Col. Wochinger, known as “father of the poor” for both his faith and charity, took the youth under his wing and essentially became a second father to him.

It was at this time that a priest came to visit. A good priest asks: “Do you suffer much?”. He responded, “Yes, I do the will of God.”

“What would you like?”

“I wish to confess and receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time!”

“You have not made their First Communion?”

“No, in our area, we have to wait until we are 15 years old.”

“And your parents?”

“Dead”

“Who cares for you?”

“The providence of God.”

So began Nunzio’s preparation for confession and First Holy Communion. His confessor later related that “from that day the grace of God began to work in him in way that was outside of the ordinary, so that you could see him run from virtue to virtue. His whole person breathed love of … Jesus Christ.”

It was around this time that he also met St. Gaetano Errico, the Neapolitan priest who founded the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The holy cleric promised the teenager he could join the order when the time came.

His desire to enter the religious life stemmed out of the fact that from the time he was little, he had attended Mass of his own volition. Not only did he know the person of Jesus Christ, but he worked to mirror him to others in everything he did.

He spent two years at the hospital in Naples and at a spa in Ischia. He would read, pray in the chapel, and teach the child patients their catechism. He would tell the sick, “Always be with the Lord, because from Him comes all that is good. Suffer for the love of God and with joy.”

At first Nunzio’s situation seemed to improve, but then he contracted bone cancer. Doctors believed their only recourse was to amputate his leg. This did nothing. Indeed his situation and suffering worsened, and his pain was acute. He hoped that God might heal him, but he never lost his faith that the Lord was guiding him every step of the way.

He would tell visitors, “Jesus endured so much for us and for his merits awaits us eternal life. If we suffer for a while, we will enjoy in Paradise,” and, “Jesus suffered a lot for me. [So what if] I cannot stand for Him?” or, “I would die to convert even one sinner.”

One of the last things he told the colonel was, “Be cheerful. From heaven I will always be helping you.”

In early May 1836, the youth asked to make his last confession and to receive extreme unction and viaticum. He died May 5.

Following his death, his body was exhibited for five days because of all the Neapolitans who had heard about him and wanted to see “lu santariello” (“our little saint” in the local dialect), and there remained during this entire period the strong smell of roses.

Nunzio became one of the first people beatified by Bl. Pope Paul VI when he was raised to the altars on December 1, 1963, before all the world’s bishops at a session of the Second Vatican Council.

A Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio Shrine exists in Pittsburgh at St. Cyril of Alexandria Church in the Brighton Heights section. It was originally established in the home of the late Delfina Del Russo Cesarespada, who believed Bl. Nunzio saved her from death, but it was moved here in 2006 following first her death and then her husband Francesco’s.

As one source put it, his life shows we “must believe and obey the Crucified and Risen Christ, Who makes all things new.”

A potential miracle needed for his canonization is currently under investigation at the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

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“Let us work, my daughters, we shall rest in heaven!”

Marie-Léonie Paradis

Memorial: May 3

Today we remember an indefatigable worker in the Lord’s vineyard, a Canadian foundress of a religious order, Bl. Marie-Léonie Paradis.

Born Alodie-Virginie Paradis in L’Acadie, Quebec on May 12, 1840, she came from a distinguished Catholic family, descended from a clan that had given the Church several bishops, including an archbishop of Quebec.

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“Élodie,” as her family called her, was homeschooled until age nine, which is when her parents sent her to the boarding school run by the Notre-Dame Sisters. Although the Sisters were quite kind to her, she was often miserably homesick. It was here that she received her First Holy Communion and Confirmation in 1849 and 1850, respectively. Continue reading

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