Archive of June 25, 2011

Three priest-martyrs of Nazis beatified in Germany

Hamburg, Germany, Jun 25, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Three Catholic martyrs executed under the Nazi regime were beatified in Germany today, June 25. The event was also noteworthy for its rememberance of their Lutheran companion.

Fathers Hermann Lange, Eduard Müller and Johannes Prassek, along with Lutheran pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink, were guillotined in a Hamburg prison in November 1943. The Nazi regime found them guilty of “defeatism, malice, favoring the enemy and listening to enemy broadcasts.”

At a ceremony in the northern German city of Lubeck, Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, declared the trio of Catholic clergy to be ‘blessed.’ He also expressed an ‘honorable remembrance’ for the priests’ fellow Christian martyr, Pastor Stellbrink.

“What distinguishes these four also is the fact that in the face of National-Socialist despotism they overcame the divide between the two faiths to find a common path to fight and act together,” says the official history which accompanied the ceremony.

It’s estimated that over 9,000 pilgrims – both Catholic and Protestant – attended today’s ceremony. Twenty Catholic and four Protestant bishops planned to attend.

On June 24 Lutheran Vespers were prayed for the martyrs at Lubeck’s Memorial Church. Former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, spoke at the ceremony.

The official history recounts that the men would copy and distribute the anti-Nazi sermons of Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen of the Catholic Diocese of Munster.

“They felt, like many others, the liberating tone of these sermons, which broke the silence and proclaimed aloud the thoughts many had in their hearts, when the Nazi action for the ‘destruction of unworthy lives’ began, the euthanasia of innocent mentally retarded persons,” the history says.

The men’s last letters, written just hours before their deaths, have been preserved and were put on display this weekend. Father Johannes Prassek wrote his family:

“I am so happy, I can hardly explain how happy. God is so good to have given me several beautiful years in which to be his priest.

“Do not be sad! What is waiting for me is joy and good fortune, with which all the happiness and good fortune here on earth cannot compare.”

Father Eduard Muller wrote to his bishop:

“It gives me great pleasure to be able to write a few lines to you in this, my last hour. Whole-heartedly, I thank you first of all for the greatest gift which you gave me as a successor of the apostles, when you placed you hands on me and ordained me as God’s priest.

“But now we must embark upon this – in human terms difficult- final walk, which is to lead us to Him, whom we served as priests.”

Beatification is public recognition by the Catholic Church that a deceased person has entered Heaven. It is the third of the four steps towards canonization and confers the title “blessed.”

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Rome to consider possible miracle of ‘Rosary Priest’

Albany, N.Y., Jun 25, 2011 (CNA) - A possible miraculous cure attributed to Catholic media pioneer Fr. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., could advance the beatification cause of the “Rosary Priest” known for his motto “The family that prays together, stays together.”

A tribunal based in the Diocese of Albany has investigated the alleged miracle and will forward its findings to Rome on June 28.

The details of the possible miracle cannot be shared at this point, explained Fr. John Phalen, C.S.C., president of Holy Cross Family Ministries. However, he did report that the case involves a man in his sixties who was admitted to the hospital with “life-threatening, multiple organ failure.”

“His family prayed to Father Peyton and they strongly felt that he was healed through intercessory prayer.  The medical community has offered information to support this belief,” Fr. Phalen said.

The man’s family is from the Albany area and was “very well aware” of the famous local priest, said Susan Wallace, director of external relations at Holy Cross Family Ministries.

“We all love Fr. Peyton dearly. There are many people who tell me every day ‘Oh he’s a saint, he doesn’t need all that paperwork,” she told CNA on June 23.

“But it is important for us to move this forward. Any time we make any progress, we celebrate. We’re very, very pleased. We’re excited to be moving forward and meeting these milestones.”

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany and Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, the postulator of Fr. Peyton’s cause, asked the tribunal to conduct a thorough review of all aspects of the possible miracle. The tribunal findings will be forwarded to the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints in Rome.

Bishop Hubbard will celebrate a closing liturgy for the tribunal at Albany’s St. Vincent de Paul Church at noon on June 28.

Fr. Phalen said Holy Cross Family Ministries, which Fr. Peyton founded, hears frequently from people around the world who believe they were healed by the priest’s intercession.

“Many others simply share stories of being touched by his holiness,” Fr. Phalen explained. “While they may already consider him a saint, we are all pleased to see progress in his cause.”

Wallace said Fr. Peyton’s entire ministry was rooted in the Family Rosary prayed in his home growing up.

“He knew how strong that made his family,” she said, deeming his motto about family prayer to be “still relevant and powerful.”

“There’s a great need for families to come together and pray,” she added.

Fr. Peyton emigrated from Ireland to the United States in 1928 at the age of 19. Ordained to the priesthood in 1941, he founded the Family Rosary apostolate in Albany, New York the following year. He conducted Rosary crusades in 40 countries and drew 28 million attendees.

In 1947 he created Family Theater Productions, which has produced about 600 radio and television programs featuring hundreds of actors and celebrities. More than 10,000 of these programs have been broadcast.

The priest died in 1992 and was declared a Servant of God in 2001.

Holy Cross Family Ministries runs a website about Fr. Peyton and his cause for beatification at

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Amid abuse controversy, KC diocese appoints new vicar for clergy

Kansas City, Mo., Jun 25, 2011 (CNA) - Two weeks after announcing a series of reviews and changes to his diocese's abuse procedures, Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn appointed Father Joseph Powers as his new Vicar for Clergy on June 22.

“With Father Powers assuming the duties of Vicar for Clergy, we strengthen our administrative oversight of the diocese and draw upon Father Powers’ pastoral experience in urban, rural and suburban parishes throughout the diocese,” Bishop Finn said in a statement announcing the appointment.

Fr. Powers, pastor of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, will be the new liaison between diocesan priests and the bishop, in charge of coordinating priests' assignments and ensuring their pastoral effectiveness. He will also be responsible for handling any allegations of misconduct against local clergy, and will serve as a member of the review board advising the bishop on the status and future of accused priests.

The new vicar for clergy is taking over these responsibilities from Monsignor Robert Murphy, who will continue to serve as vicar general of the diocese. In his June 22 statement, Bishop Finn explained that Msgr. Murphy “will continue to have responsibility for general diocesan administration, directly supervising Chancery employees and serving on a number of diocesan boards and committees.”

Msgr. Murphy has come in for criticism, along with Bishop Finn, for their handling of suspicions about Father Shawn Ratigan, a priest arrested in May 2011 on child pornography charges.

The vicar general went to the police with his own suspicions about Fr. Ratigan in December 2010, five months before the priest was arrested. After Fr. Ratigan's arrest, however, it emerged that the vicar general had received a letter in May 2010 voicing concerns about the priest's behavior with children.

According to Bishop Finn, Msgr. Murphy spoke with Fr. Ratigan at that time and obtained the priest's promise to change his behavior. Bishop Finn did not read the original letter, relying instead on his vicar general's brief verbal summary of its contents and the ensuing conversation with Fr. Ratigan.

Bishop Finn has said he regrets not reading the letter himself. The bishop has also acknowledged that he should have begun a full investigation of Fr. Ratigan after suspicious photographs were found on his computer last December. Instead, Bishop Finn removed Fr. Ratigan from ministry and placed him under a series of restrictions that he failed to obey prior to his arrest.

On June 9, Bishop Finn announced several steps to improve his diocese's response to cases of suspected abuse.

The plan involves the appointment of Todd Graves, a former co-chair of the U.S. Department of Justice Child Exploitation Working Group, to conduct an independent investigation of recent events and diocesan procedures. Bishop Finn said the review would “help us to determine the effectiveness of diocesan policies and procedures in a very troubling situation.”

The diocese will also undergo an independent review of its current code of ethics and sexual misconduct policy, while reviewing its staff’s familiarity with those policies.

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Special students taken under wing of ‘special’ woman

Milwaukee, Wis., Jun 25, 2011 (CNA) - Who could blame Susie Fieder Kelly for not recognizing God’s voice calling her through the 1981 parish bulletin? After all, she was a brand spankin’ new member of St. Gregory the Great parish in Milwaukee, Wisc. and had little experience with “God speak.”

Besides, she had just finished her master’s degree in special education: learning disabilities, from Cardinal Stritch College  her life was suddenly less hectic, and besides, she just found a comfortable spot in the pew.

“I didn’t grow up in this parish so I was not one of the frozen chosen,” she said, laughing. “No one knew me, and I didn’t know them and it was just fine with me.”

The first time it happened, Kelly was sitting in her pew and reading the Sunday bulletin. Like a magnet, her eye caught an ad that said, “Help needed with special religious education program.” As soon as she returned home, she tossed the bulletin in the trash, convinced that this ad was designed to somehow taunt her.

“I felt very personal with that,” she joked. “The next Sunday it was in the bulletin again and of course, I threw it away again.”

After the ad made it to the bulletin for the third time, Kelly began to identify with Samuel and nearly felt inclined to respond, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” Instead, she phoned the church and inquired about the job.

The position entailed assisting the woman who ran the special religious ed program in existence since 1957. Classes met Saturday mornings and Kelly’s job was to help the coordinator/teacher work with the four to five special needs students.

While the teacher did a great job with the students, Kelly’s experience was that not all students learned at the same pace, especially in a more abstract subject as religion. She was also interested in reaching out to special needs adults who had not been instructed in Catholicism or received the sacraments. The following summer she took a class in special religious education curriculum to learn more about teaching methods, and suddenly another path unfolded that would absorb 30 years of her life.

“The coordinator decided to retire and I interviewed for her position,” said Kelly. “I explained what I would do differently and she offered me the job. At first I wanted to scream that I didn’t know anything about this, but then as I worked to individualize the program for kids, teens and adults, and a parent support group, the program began to fall into place.”

Using traditional materials and adapting each to the personal needs of the students, Kelly designed the program to rely on volunteer catechists to work with students on a one-to-one basis. Rather than focusing on the student’s disability, catechists learned to look for the strengths of each student and adapt materials for individual learning. The program was so successful that other parishes wanted to enroll their students in the St. Gregory the Great program.

“At first, St. Gregory paid for everything, and then in 1992, we decided to collaborate with other parishes to financially support the program as well as to help in supplying volunteers for the program,” she said. “We renamed the program ARISE, which stands for Association for Religious Instruction Special Education and includes St. Rita, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. James, Holy Assumption, St. Augustine and St. Alphonsus parishes.”

The mission of the ARISE program is to provide quality religious education for parish children, teens and adults who are challenged with disabilities. ARISE serves students with varying degrees of learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and emotional disabilities, including but not limited to Down syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Autism Spectrum and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Classes meet on Monday nights from October through May, with individualized instruction for children and teens. Adults meet in a small group setting taking courses similar to a college setting; it is another way Kelly goes out of her way to ensure each individual is treated with dignity.

“I wanted to set this up so the adults didn’t feel like they were going to class like the children, so they begin classes a little later on Monday evenings,” she explained. “I sent out fliers with a choice of three course offerings. They pick out the one they want for each semester. It works very well. We also have some involved in the RCIA program, and that has been very successful.”

After 30 years of juggling the ARISE program with her vocation as a wife to husband Jack, mother of three children, and working fulltime for Milwaukee Public Schools as a substitute teacher, and the School to Work Transition Program, Kelly retired May 2, from her position at St. Gregory the Great.

Mandi Bottomley, a member of St. Catherine Parish, Milwaukee, has been hired to coordinate the ARISE program.

“I have been thinking about this for a couple of years,” Kelly admitted. “I knew I didn’t want to do this until I was very old. I am in my 50s now – I just have the desire to do something else, try another area of ministry, and while it is very hard to let go of this program, it is time for me to work in the background and let someone else be in charge.”

Despite her decision, leaving the ARISE program is difficult for Kelly, who has written countless grants to fund educational materials, worked side-by-side with long-term catechists, and, of course, the many special needs students ingrained on her heart.

“The volunteers have been fantastic over the years,” she said. “I respect them completely. It is a big commitment to be there every Monday night and some have been with me more than 15 years. I have grown very attached to the families and the students and will miss not seeing them every week. Of course, I will probably pop my head in there now and then to see if they need any help – I’m not sure if I can stay completely away.”

Kelly’s hard work was rewarded each year through the shining eyes of students making their first reconciliation, first Communion and confirmation.

“Seeing their faces and how happy they are brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “Some of these parents thought their child would never have the sacraments and we may have helped it happen. You can really see the face of Jesus in our ARISE students’ faces. Now we know what God looks like as we are all created in the image and likeness of Christ.”

For St. Gregory the Great parishioners Cheryl and Kevin Stanke, having a program for their 14-year-old son, Daniel, who has Down syndrome, has brought him closer to God than they ever thought possible.

“I cannot say enough about the program or Susie,” said Cheryl. “She is so compassionate, kind and caring and goes out of her way to organize and arrange things to fit our schedules and whatever we want or need – she makes it happen.”

In April, Daniel made his first reconciliation after four years in the program.

“She accomplishes amazing things and has a calling from God for them – everything is always for the kids,” she said. “Daniel loves her so much; we had a closing program on May 2, and the deacon asked us to raise our right hands to bless Susie. Daniel stood right by her side; he adores her, she is just a fantastic person.”

While St. Gregory the Great parishioners Kathy and John Konetz are confident the next ARISE coordinator will do a wonderful job, it is too soon to think of Kelly’s replacement without shedding a few tears. Their son Andrew, 14, has attended the program for the past eight years and has thrived with the one-on-one attention from the catechist who has been with him from the beginning.

“Andrew is autistic; we are a Catholic family and have two other kids who have gone through the sacraments and we wanted him to learn about God and the sacraments. Because of the program, he has been able to receive the sacraments of holy Communion and reconciliation.”

Thanks to the compassionate and gentle guidance of Kelly and the volunteers, Andrew knows how to make the sign of the cross, has learned his prayers and is able to participate in Mass more often.

“This program has been super for him,” said Kathy, choking back tears. “She has such dedication, is compassionate, kind, and most of all patient. The kids all love her and shower her with hugs when they see her. Susie will be greatly missed and I think she will miss all of the kids too.”

Printed with permission from the Catholic Herald, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

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