Sexism, Saints & Statues

St. Therese74334586_16bf493924_z

(Left: Dawn Nakaya, flickr.com, right: Garry Wilmore, flickr.com)

My favorite church in New York City is St. Agnes on 43rd Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenue. I have a weekly lunch hour routine: light a candle at St. Therese’s station, the Little Flower of Jesus, kneel in front of her and pray. The 1:10 p.m. mass is in progress when I visit her; she’s posted on the right side of the church directly behind the confessional box. But this time she wasn’t there! She had been replaced by a statue of the newly canonized Pope John Paul II. Now I have nothing against John Paul, but he isn’t Therese. I took Therese as my confirmation name; she was my inspiration as a child in Catholic school, the mistress of little, good deeds that go unnoticed, but not by God. My mother gave me a St. Therese statuette as a gift. How could they take her away?

After my initial upset and shock, I noticed a sign under the St. John Paul II statue, “St. Therese has been re-located to the opposite side of the church, right next to St. Francis of Assisi.” I hightailed it over to St. Therese’s new station, hoping the other churchgoers did not sense my dismay. There she was—cramped—with another favorite of mine, St. Francis. It didn’t seem fair; it seemed sexist, in fact. So they stuck my Little Flower and the beloved patron saint of animals, merchants, stowaways, cub scouts, Italy and the environment together to make room for the deceased pontiff. Did you know that Therese and Francis are two of the most popular saints in the history of the Catholic Church?

Performing a minimum of two miracles is one of the criteria for sainthood. I didn’t think that John Paul had performed any, so I did some research. The Vatican confirmed that he was responsible for “the inexplicable healing of Sr. Pierre, a French nun suffering from Parkinson’s disease.”[1] Okay, one miracle down, one to go. The process by which the Catholic Church declares someone a saint entails: “investigation into the person’s life and writings for holiness and orthodoxy, a ‘debate’ among a panel of theologians at the Vatican, and an examination of the corpse.”[2] According to U.S. Catholic, a miracle “is considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede with God.” Sadly, Pope John Paul had Parkinson’s disease also, and died three months after the nun was cured.

Miracle #2.  Floribeth Mora Diaz of Costa Rica said that John Paul cured her of a brain aneurysm after doctors told her she had only a month to live. She began praying to the late pope, clutching a magazine with his portrait on the cover, and she was healed. So clearly John Paul is worthy of sainthood. He also endured two assassination attempts, one of which required emergency surgery.

St. Therese performed four miracles, so she trumps John Paul by sheer numbers. These are her miracles:

(1)  Sr. Louise Germain was cured of stomach ulcers that she had from 1913-1916;
(2)  Charles Anne, a 23-year-old seminarian, was cured of TB;
(3)  Gabrielle Trimusi of Parma, Italy was cured of arthritis of the knee and tubercular lesions on the vertebrae; and
(4)  Maria Pellemans of Belgium suffered from pulmonary TB, which had spread to the intestines. All signs of intestinal ulceration vanished. Coincidentally, St. Therese also suffered from TB, which spread to the intestines.

Ecclesiastical authorities confirmed that St. Francis of Assisi performed over 40 miracles in his lifetime, including:

(1)  Bringing a drowned boy from Capua back to life; and
(2)  Aiding a thief whose eyes had been gouged out. Apparently the thief “sprouted” new eyeballs after crying at the altar of San Francesco (St. Francis), begging for the saint’s intercession.

The combined total of miracles between St. Therese and St. Francis is 44, 22 times the number performed by John Paul. Therese died at the age of 24, Francis at the age of 45 (that’s almost one miracle for every year of his life), and John Paul at the age of 85. If you ask me, Therese and Francis are entitled to a little more space, judging by the volume of supernatural deeds committed in their considerably shorter life spans. Well, at least St. Therese wasn’t removed altogether.

I won’t begrudge St. John Paul, though. He was a good and holy man, a peacemaker, beloved by the people. He lived a life of splendor in comparison to T and F: popes do. But I must take the higher road and ask, “What would St. Therese do?” Surely she would not mind being moved next to St. Francis to make room for the pope. She was humble and kind, doing good deeds in silence throughout her short life. Perhaps she enjoys sharing a cubby with St. Francis, and he with her. They could share stories in her native tongue, as St. Francis spoke some French. She loved nature and flowers, and he loved animals and nature. That’s a good place to start. It took some time, but I’m reconciled to St. Therese’s re-location. Nothing stays the same. We all have to move on at some point in our lives, and like so many of us have learned, no position is secure.

[1]           U.S. Catholic, January 2012, Vol. 77, No. 1, p. 54.

[2]           U.S. Catholic, January 2012, Vol. 77, No. 1, p. 54.

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