October 13, 2006

Path to sainthood goes through tribunal

The records of the investigation of a possible miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin, packaged precisely according to the norms established by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, sits on a table in May 2003 in the archdiocesan Metropolitan Tribunal at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis.

Photo caption: The records of the investigation of a possible miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin, packaged precisely according to the norms established by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, sits on a table in May 2003 in the archdiocesan Metropolitan Tribunal at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis.

By Sean Gallagher

In just a few days, Pope Benedict XVI, in the presence of thousands of people at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, will solemnly declare Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin to be a saint.

This solemn papal liturgy on Oct. 15, filled with pageantry and attended by hundreds of thousands of worshippers from around the world, will be, in part, the direct result of a series of meetings held in a simple conference room in the basement of the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis.

From Jan. 23, 2003, through April 7, 2003, staff members of the archdiocese’s Metropolitan Tribunal oversaw a canonical investigation of a purported miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Mother Theodore.

They did this on behalf of the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, according to the strict norms it has established for such investigations. After the investigation was completed, the congregation’s officials reviewed the findings and ultimately affirmed the authenticity of the miraculous healing of Philip McCord.

For the people involved, the investigation was many things: a new dimension in their devotion to Blessed Mother Theodore, a deliberate and scientific investigation into a possibly supernatural event and an opportunity to grow in the life of faith.

Full circle

Father James Bonke, archdiocesan defender of the bond and promoter of

justice, was charged with questioning the witnesses in the investigation.

He admitted that he could not have foreseen taking on such a role when he began his study of canon law 16 years ago.

Yet gathering evidence for the possible canonization of the foundress of the Sisters of Providence was somehow appropriate for the priest, whose devotion to her began 56 years ago when members of her order taught him in the first grade at the former St. Catherine School in Indianapolis.

“Mother Theodore was always held up to us as a model of a saintly person, as a holy woman,” Father Bonke said. “And we had prayer cards even then in 1950. I can remember the sisters passing out prayer cards with Mother Theodore’s picture on it, and a prayer on the back for her cause for canonization.”

Later, as a high school seminarian at Bishop Bruté Memorial Latin School of Indianapolis, Father Bonke heard stories told by the now-deceased Msgr. Joseph Brokhage who, as a member of the tribunal in 1957, helped oversee the exhumation of the remains of Blessed Mother Theodore as a part of the process of her beatification cause.

When he questioned the witnesses involved in the healing of McCord, a circle had somehow been completed for Father Bonke.

“I consider it all part of God’s providence that I’ve been able to be involved in this,” he said.

Miracle man

The primary witness that Father Bonke questioned was Philip McCord.

Five years ago, McCord had been told that he needed a corneal transplant. Soon after seeking Blessed Mother Theodore’s intercession, the condition of his eye improved dramatically.

McCord said that when he answered questions in the basement of the Catholic Center, he couldn’t have imagined that it would eventually lead to the canonization Mass in Rome.

“Frankly, almost every step of this has been a surprise,” he said. “And it’s been a real learning experience for me as to really just figuring out how enormous the impact of this is. First of all, she’ll be only the eighth saint in America. That’s a big deal.

“And as the acceptance of the healing grew, it just began to sink in that this really is of note, and I’m kind of a part of it.”

As a man with an engineering background, McCord appreciated and was impressed with the rigor of the investigation, which included gathering testimony from four physicians to see if any natural explanation for his cure could be established.

“In engineering, you talk about rubber coordinates where you kind of massage the data to fit your conclusion,” McCord said. “That didn’t happen [here]. I wouldn’t say that it was adversarial. But there wasn’t any opportunity to fudge things to get the outcome.”

A meeting of faith and science

Five doctors in all took part in the canonical investigation. More in Rome would review its findings.

Dr. Nicholas Rader, an ophthalmologist and member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, was

originally asked by Providence Sister Marie Kevin Tighe, vice postulator of Blessed Mother Theodore’s canonization cause, to review and explain the medical records related to McCord’s cataract surgery and subsequent treatment.

After doing this, he volunteered to be a witness in the investigation.

“I offered a number of possibilities [of natural causes

for the change in McCord’s condition],” said Rader, who co-founded the Indiana Eye Clinic in Greenwood in 1985.

“I think I provided an objective assessment of how and why the eye acts as it does after surgery, and mechanisms by which the eye could have problems, and mechanisms by which the eye could heal itself. In my opinion, I had not seen a case that suddenly cleared very precipitously as this did.”

Rader, who plans to attend the canonization Mass in Rome, said that his participation has had an impact upon his professional life and his life of faith.

“In medicine, we have both the scientific approach and then there’s a more spiritual approach,” he said. “And as physicians, we’re aware that there are many things that occur that are beyond our ability to understand. And I think that this reinforces that.”

Going to extremes

In December 2002, Msgr. Frederick Easton, archdiocesan vicar judicial, had just completed work for the Canon Law Society of America in helping the organization compile a booklet that helped dioceses across the country implement Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved by the U.S. bishops in June earlier that year in Dallas in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

It was at that time that he was notified that the Metropolitan Tribunal that he leads would have to investigate a possible miracle related to the canonization cause of Blessed Mother Theodore.

“We were working with both ends of the spectrum of canon law: holiness and evil,” Msgr. Easton said.

The more than 40 years of experience that Msgr. Easton had in canon law helped him ensure not only that the investigation was carried out correctly, but that it was also documented according to the precise norms established by the congregation, which included placing a wax seal on a ribbon wrapped around the records, all printed and bound in triplicate.

But beyond taking care of the canonical details of the investigation, Msgr. Easton acknowledged that it had a significant impact on his life.

It made miracles real for him.

“Notionally, I know that they happen,” Msgr. Easton said. “[But] it’s almost like we experienced the miracle with Phil [McCord] by hearing him, hearing his wife give her view, hearing his son and the others that we talked to.”

As proud as he is of the work that the tribunal did in carrying out the investigation that led directly to the canonization Mass in Rome that he plans to attend, Msgr. Easton knows that its role was minor in the broad scheme of things.

“It’s all really about what God did in Phil [McCord] through the intercession of Mother Theodore,” he said. “That’s kind of what my focus is.”


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