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BY Raymond De Souza
VATICAN CITY – Father Francis Xavier Seelos, Redemptorist mission preacher, parish priest and novice master was beatified Sunday in St. Peter's Square by Pope John Paul II.
He is the second American male to be beatified, joining his fellow Redemptorist, St. John Neumann, with whom he worked at St. Philomena's parish in Pittsburgh from 1844-1850.
Blessed Francis, who was born in Germany in 1819 and immigrated to the United States as a seminarian, was beatified by Pope John Paul II along with four others, Mariano de Jesús Euse Hoyos (1845-1926), a Columbian priest; Anna Rosa Gattorno (1831-1900), Italian foundress of the Institute of the Daughters of St. Anne; Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan (1876-1926) of Kerala, India, foundress of the Congregation of the Holy Family; and Maria Elisabeth Hesselblad (1870-1957), a Swedish convert who came to Rome and founded the Order of the Most Holy Savior of Saint Brigid.
While Blessed Francis spent most of his priestly life in Maryland and preaching missions all across the United States, he died in New Orleans in 1867 only a year after arriving there. Nevertheless, his reputation for holiness encouraged a cult to develop in New Orleans, and he was formally proposed for beatification to the Holy Father by Archbishop Francis Schulte of New Orleans, who led a archdiocesan pilgrimage of about 200 people for the ceremony.
“I had the rare privilege of standing up before the Holy Father in front of tens of thousands of people, and requesting the beatification of one of my priests – and that's an extremely rare privilege for any bishop to have,” said Archbishop Schulte.
The Mass was celebrated on an overcast, cool and windy morning in Rome, with a crowd of some 40,000 in St. Peter's Square. The ceremony was more colorful than usual, with the inclusion of Blessed Mariam Thresia of India's Syro-Malabar rite. The gold, pink and red vestments of the Syro-Malabar bishops contrasted with the otherwise Lenten purple.
Present for the beatification were Matthew Pellissery, whose club feet were miraculously healed in 1970 through the intercession of Blessed. Mariam Thresia, as well as Angela Boudreaux of New Orleans, whose inexplicable cure from terminal liver cancer in 1966 was the miracle approved for the beatification of Blessed Francis Seelos. Boudreaux, along with her husband Melvin, took part in the procession of the gifts, presenting to the Holy Father a donation for the pontifical missions.
After the Pope proclaimed the formula of beatification, the traditional tapestries were unveiled on the façade of St. Peter's Basilica. The image of Blessed Francis evoked the many different aspects of his life. In the foreground was Francis himself, holding aloft a mission preacher's crucifix in his right hand, and a map of the United States, his adopted homeland, in his left.
In the background appear representatives of the different groups to which he gave pastoral care, as well as a Mississippi river-boat, a symbol of New Orleans. Most striking of all though, is the image of a young Father Seelos in conversation with Bishop John Neumann, highlighting the extraordinary fact that both of the United States’ male saints were once in the same rectory.
“This man was a very simple devoted priest,” said Archbishop Schulte after the beatification Mass. “He didn't write any books, he didn't establish any colleges or institutions. But he tended to the poor immigrants, he was a very devoted former of seminarians, and he was a great preacher of missions.
“What an example this will be to the New Orleans seminarians, to have a saint who devoted so much of his time to their formation! What example this will be for the immigrants still coming into New Orleans, that we have a man who is a saint partly because he tended to the immigrants, and he was an immigrant himself.”
Blessed Maria Elisabeth Hesselblad also has an American connection.
Having left Sweden for New York in 1886 in order to search for work, she attended a nursing school at the Roosevelt Hospital. It was at this time that she began to search more intensely for religious truth, and embraced Catholicism. On Aug. 15, 1902, she was received into the Church at the Visitation convent in Washington. Not long after she went to Rome, where she was confirmed, and it was then that she discovered her vocation to stay in the Eternal City, and re-establish there the Order of St. Brigid, devoted to prayer for Christian unity.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans plans to have its first Mass of thanksgiving for the beatification on April 29.
When a new reliquary containing the remains of Blessed Francis is ready, there will be a Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans after which the relics will be carried in procession through the streets of the city to the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption, where a permanent shrine will be established at the parish that was the blessed's final assignment. The event is scheduled for Oct. 7.