Pope Francis to Canonize New Female Saint Known as an ‘Apostle of the Holy Spirit’

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Elena Guerra, foundress of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit, friend of Pope Leo XIII and teacher of St. Gemma Galgani.

Blessed Elena Guerra

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Elena Guerra, paving the way for the canonization of a new female saint known as an “apostle of the Holy Spirit.”

A friend of Pope Leo XIII and teacher of St. Gemma Galgani, Elena Guerra (1835-1914) is known for her spiritual writings and her passionate devotion to the Holy Spirit.

Guerra wrote more than a dozen letters to Pope Leo XIII between 1895 and 1903 in which she urged him to exhort all Catholics to call upon the Holy Spirit in prayer.

The Pope heeded her request and published three documents on the Holy Spirit during their correspondence, including a letter asking the entire Church to pray a novena to the Holy Spirit leading up to Pentecost in 1895 and his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Divinum Illud Munus, in 1897.

“Pentecost is not over,” Guerra wrote. “In fact, it is continually going on in every time and in every place, because the Holy Spirit desired to give himself to all men and all who want him can always receive him, so we do not have to envy the apostles and the first believers; we only have to dispose ourselves like them to receive him well, and he will come to us as he did to them.”

Blessed Elena is the foundress of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit, a religious congregation recognized by the Church in 1882.

Pope John XXIII called her “a modern-day apostle of the Holy Spirit” as he beatified her in 1959.


A Holy Life

Born into a noble family in Lucca, Italy in 1835, Elena Guerra was well-educated and formed in her faith.

For much of her 20s, Guerra was bedridden with a serious illness, a challenge that turned out to be transformational for her, as she dedicated herself to meditating on Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers.

Guerra felt the call to consecrate herself to God during a pilgrimage to Rome with her father after her recovery. She attended the third public session of Vatican I in St. Peter’s Basilica in April 1870 and later met Pope Pius IX on June 23, 1870.

“At the sight of Pope Pius IX she was so moved that, upon returning to Lucca, she vowed to offer her life for the pope,” according to the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.

Against the wishes of her family, in her mid-30s, Guerra formed a religious community dedicated to education, which eventually became the Oblates of the Holy Spirit.

One of her students, St. Gemma Galgani, wrote in her autobiography about the strong spiritual impact of her education by the Oblate sisters. Blessed Elena personally taught Galgani French and Church history and exempted St. Gemma from the monthly school fee when her father fell into bankruptcy.

During her correspondence with Pope Leo XIII, Blessed Elena also composed prayers to the Holy Spirit, including a Holy Spirit Chaplet, asking the Lord to “send forth your Spirit and renew the world.”

The religious founder faced difficulties in the last years of her life, when some of her sisters accused her of bad administration, leading her to resign from her duties as superior.

She died on Holy Saturday, April 11, 1914. Her tomb is located in Lucca in the Church of Sant’Agostino. The Oblate sisters continue her mission today in Italy, Cameroon, Canada, Philippines and Rwanda.


The Miracle

Pope Francis recognized a miracle attributed to Blessed Elena’s intercession that involved the healing of a man named Paulo in Uberlândia, Brazil, in 2010, after he fell from a tree and ended up in a coma with a serious brain injury. After undergoing a craniotomy and decompression surgery, the man’s situation worsened, and 10 days after his fall, there was a declaration of brain death, according to the Vatican.

While he was in a coma, members of the Charismatic Renewal organized prayer for Paulo’s recovery, asking everyone to pray for his healing through the intercession of Blessed Elena. On the 10th day after they began praying to Blessed Elena, doctors found an unexpected improvement in his condition; and within less than a month, he was discharged from the hospital in good condition.

The Pope officially approved the miracle during an audience with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, on April 13.

During the audience, the Pope also approved the martyrdom of Servants of God Cayetano Clausellas Ballvé, a diocesan priest, and Antonio Tort Reixachs, a layman and father, both killed during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The Pope also recognized the heroic virtues of Sister Teresa Lanfranco, an Italian religious from the Congregation of the Daughters of Santa Maria di Leuca, who died in Rome in 1989.

The Vatican will announce the canonization date of Blessed Elena at a later time.

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