An Italian nun who founded a religious order may be one step closer to beatification as the Catholic Church investigates her possible intervention in the remarkable recovery of a young Campbell boy who nearly drowned five years ago.
A Canonical Investigation is underway in the Diocese of Youngstown after Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., heeded the request of Father Luca M. DeRosa, postulator for the Cause of the Beatification and Canonization of the Venerable Servant of God, Mother Maria Teresa Casini, foundress of the Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Oblates’ only headquarters in the United States is in Hubbard, Ohio, where they operate a priests’ retirement facility and a preschool/kindergarten program. The order also serves in Italy, Brazil, India and West Africa.
The case for Mother Maria Teresa Casini’s sainthood began 57 years ago in Frascati, Italy, which was her birthplace. She was first deemed a Servant of God, and then declared Venerable in 1998. "Venerable" is the Church’s way of saying Mother Maria Teresa was an exceptional woman in terms of her morals and actions, so prayers and intercessions to her are encouraged, explained Oblate Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Joyce Candidi. Sister Joyce is director of the diocesan Office of Vowed Religious.
Teresa Casini was born in 1864 into a wealthy family. Her father was a devout Catholic; her mother, a Russian socialite. In her autobiography, she recalled her childhood awareness of God and how she would ponder His greatness alone in her room while her family hosted parties. Her love of prayer and concern for the poor were nurtured by her father, who died when she was nine. After his death, when her mother resumed her social life, Teresa would often accompany her, although the parties and dinners did not make her happy.
After committing herself to religious life, she founded the Oblates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a religious order that began as a cloister but grew into service, all in the name of increasing priestly vocations and sanctifying the clergy. She created schools for "The Little Friends of Jesus," which were pre-seminary institutions. She started the League of Priests, which she said was requested of her by Jesus to offer reparations for those priests who do not fulfill or appreciate their vocations. Today, the League of Priests is formed at the diocesan level, and members meet for prayer and fellowship four times per year.
"Of all her virtues, what really struck me was her obedience ... to God’s will," Sister Joyce said.
The event that is being investigated as a miracle was accompanied by a number of coincidences.
Late on the evening of June 25, 2003, one Oblate sister was sleeping at the order’s novitiate house rather than the convent. The telephone number to the novitiate is the first Oblate listing in phone books, Sister Joyce noted. That was the number that Jacob Sebest’s father called to tell the sisters of the boy’s accident and ask some of them to meet his family at a hospital emergency room. Jacob was 3-years old at the time and enrolled in the Oblates’ preschool, Sister Joyce said.
When Sister Teresina Rosa, general superior of the local Oblates, was told of the phone call, she first prayed in their chapel, and then left with another sister for the hospital. Some priests also had gathered there with nervous family members. Sister Teresina said she suggested they pray the Rosary to the intercession of Mary and Mother Maria Teresa Casini.
Jacob was placed in an induced coma because of swelling in his brain, Sister Joyce said. Doctors told the family that if Jacob survived the first 48 hours, they should not expect him to be the same boy he was before the accident, she added.
The rest of the Oblate sisters were told of Jacob’s condition the following morning. "We’d better pray and pray hard that the Lord would spare this boy," Sister Teresina recalled telling them. Thus, they prayed together at morning Mass. Two sisters who went to visit the family at the hospital took with them one of Mother Maria Teresa Casini’s holy cards to leave in Jacob’s hospital room. Jacob’s mother made copies of the card, which included a prayer, and priests helped to distribute them at parishes in Campbell, Lake Milton and Hubbard, Sister Teresina said.
Common prayer by a large number of people is a key point in the Church’s investigation of miraculous events, Sister Joyce said.
The feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that year fell on June 27, and it’s an important feast day for the Oblates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. While they prayed for Jacob during Mass, his father left a simple telephone message at the sisters’ house. Please call back, he said. His voice sounded flat and serious, and the sisters didn’t know what to expect, Sister Teresina said. That was when they learned that Jacob had been moving his arms and legs on his own. After he was brought out of the coma, he was able to eat solid food and, within three days, was sent home with no permanent injuries or effects. "He went from intensive care to well. There was no in-between," Sister Teresina said.
The Oblate sisters believed that Mother Maria Teresa had interceded as asked, but Sister Teresina told them not to get too excited. She first wanted to hear the opinions of Jacob’s doctor, a Muslim by faith. The doctor told her he has had a great deal of experience with these types of cases, but he could not explain Jacob’s rapid, complete recovery. He must have had help from above, the doctor told Sister Teresina, and he agreed to offer his testimony.
From that point, the case for beatification began to be built. With help from Jacob’s mother, the Oblates got permission for Jacob’s clinical file to be released and sent to Church officials in Rome, Sister Teresina said. Everyone who was exposed to the event, including medical staff, was invited to talk about their experiences. Twenty-four persons agreed to be interviewed. Their testimony also was sent to Rome, Sister Teresina said.
Some time passed before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints told Bishop Murry in 2007 to begin an investigation. Bishop Murry appointed a diocesan Ad Hoc Tribunal, with Msgr. Michael Cariglio, judicial vicar of the diocesan Tribunal (and pastor of Youngstown Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish), as judge delegate and Dr. Robert Cuttica, permanent deacon at Youngstown St. Christine Parish, as medical expert.
No one knows for sure how long the review process will last. Sister Joyce finds it interesting that Bishop Murry and Msgr. Cariglio have proposed making their presentation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on April 3. They didn’t realize that is the day that Mother Maria Teresa Casini died in 1937. If she is beatified, the Church will assign a feast day for her. Feast days usually are the dates on which holy people entered eternal life, Sister Joyce said.
The Church must verify another miracle if Mother Maria Teresa Casini is to ascend to sainthood.
Regardless of the outcome, Sister Joyce and Sister Teresina believe Jacob’s experience is of great value. "It becomes part of the history of our congregation [and] it’s a tool to encourage people," Sister Teresina said.
"Have faith in the intercession of the saints of our Church," Sister Joyce said. "They are our friends." The event also is a reminder to her that "God is so present around all of us. Sometimes we just don’t see."
If beatification is granted, Sister Joyce would like to make one more appeal to the Church. Unlike canonization, which must take place in Rome, beatification rites can occur where the blessed person lived or where the miracle took place. She would lobby for the event to take place in the Diocese of Youngstown, she said.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Exponent, newspaper for the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio.