The Kansas City Star
Scrutiny of a saintly life finds a home here
By EDWARD M. EVELD
The Kansas City Star
A portrait of Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey is displayed at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception during the Jan. 21 ceremony. The edict posted on the cathedral doors proclaimed the “cause of beatification and canonization of the Servant of God.”
Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey ministered to the poor and the sick in France and Turkey for decades. She died 95 years ago, but her work at the site of ruins in Ephesus brings Christians and Muslims together today, which seems miraculous in these times. Clearly she was a saintly woman. But was she a saint?
Answering that question requires an elaborate church investigation. In a peculiar and historic turn of events, the scrutiny of Sister Marie for possible canonization will take place not in Paris or Ephesus but in Kansas City. The reasons are many and unexpected.
At precisely 7 p.m. on Jan. 21, after the final notes of an organ fanfare, Bishop Robert W. Finn made this pronouncement at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception downtown: “I formally declare that the trial shall begin.”
Posted on the cathedral doors at the opposite end of the sanctuary was the bishop’s edict proclaiming the “cause of beatification and canonization of the Servant of God Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey.”
“It’s the first time I’ve issued an edict,” Finn said later. “It sounds kind of heavy, but we were required to do that.”
This also is believed to be the first time the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has led the investigation of a potential saint. Sister Marie isn’t well-known here. Often, tourists on Mediterranean Sea cruises hear her story at stops in Ephesus.
It’s an inspiring one. Born into a noble and wealthy French family, Marie de Mandat-Grancey entered the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. After caring for people in Paris, the nun answered a call by Pope Leo XIII for assistance in Turkey, serving at a hospital in Izmir, then called Smyrna.
Here’s where, for many people, the story takes on special meaning.
The power of Mary’s House
While in Turkey, Sister Marie encouraged an expedition by a group of priests to find the house of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Ephesus. According to tradition, the apostle John built a small stone house for Mary there after Jesus’ death.
The ruins of a first-century house were found on a site that also was the location of a fourth-century church. With financial help from her family, Sister Marie bought the property in 1891 and restored the house, which sits atop a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea.
It’s known as Mary’s House, or in Turkish as Meryem Ana Evi, a pilgrimage place for Christians and Muslims. Mary is mentioned many times in the Qur’an, and Muslims revere her as the mother of Jesus. Although Christians believe Jesus is God, Muslims view Jesus as a prophet but not divine.
“Three years ago,” Finn said in his homily at the cathedral service, “I, too, knelt in that holy place and felt I had arrived at our mother’s house.”
Finn never sought the task of Sister Marie’s investigation, but his presence in Ephesus in 2007 hints at the local connection.
Bill Quatman organized the trip to Mary’s House that included Finn. Quatman is general counsel at Burns & McDonnell in Kansas City and is originally from Lima, Ohio. That’s where his grandfather, after a pilgrimage to Mary’s House in the 1950s, founded the American Society of Ephesus to restore and preserve Christian sites there.
Because of their work with the Ephesus society, he and two family members were among 200 people invited to attend an outdoor Mass at the site with Pope Benedict XVI in 2006. Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, and authorities severely limit the number of such events.
“It’s one of the only places in the world where you can see so many Muslims and Christians praying side by side,” Quatman said.
On the 2007 trip, which became a group of 28 Americans, Finn was struck by something Quatman and thousands of others had experienced: a prayerful unity among faiths.
Muslims have a tradition of writing prayers on pieces of cloth or slips of paper. A wall at Mary’s House is covered time and again with thousands of written prayers from Muslims, Christians and others.
“It’s amazing,” Finn said. “It’s a very hopeful sign.”
Quatman said he had witnessed other such signs: “I personally saw a Muslim family approach a Catholic priest and ask them to bless their daughter and pray for her healing. It goes across religious lines. It’s faith in God and the intercession of Mary.”
Kansas City and the call
One of the most high-powered engines on Sister Marie’s behalf has been Erin von Uffel, a New York mother of five who met family members of the nun in Europe while the von Uffels were living in London. She was enthralled by the story.
“My first response was, ‘She’s a saint,’ ” von Uffel said.
With the help of a priest, von Uffel prepared and then distributed a Sister Marie prayer card after securing the imprimatur, or permission, of the archbishop of Izmir. She took on speaking engagements and made a documentary. Her friend Lorraine Fusaro developed a website and blog at www.sistermarie.com.
Von Uffel had made several trips to Turkey, and she knew that Izmir Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini couldn’t initiate a cause for Sister Marie. The church’s small staff there lacked time and resources.
But Franceschini felt strongly that Sister Marie’s cause should begin, von Uffel said. And he wondered, given the devotion to her among some American Catholics, whether an American bishop would step in.
Von Uffel had met Quatman at the pope’s visit in 2006, and she was part of the group at Ephesus in 2007 with Quatman and Finn. After follow-up communication with Franceschini, she said, the road seemed to point to Kansas City: the possibility of an American bishop, Finn’s recent visit and the strong local connection with the Quatman family.
And so, a year ago this month, von Uffel traveled to Kansas City with former Izmir Archbishop Giuseppe Bernardini. They delivered a letter from Franceschini asking Finn to initiate the cause for Sister Marie. Finn accepted.
Von Uffel returned for the Jan. 21 ceremony, thrilled that more than 10 years of talking, working, praying and traveling were bearing fruit.
"During the ceremony my husband said, ‘Your feet aren’t touching the ground,’ ” von Uffel said.
“It is so exciting. I am so grateful to Bishop Finn for accepting this authority into his hands.”
She’s quick also to credit “God’s plan” — and Mary.
“She doesn’t see the differences between religions and cultures,” von Uffel said. “She sees us all as her children.”
While Kansas City seems an unusual choice for the investigation, Finn said, ultimately the cause of Sister Marie is well worth pursuing. The examples of saints in people’s lives help them grow in their own holiness, he said.
People often must deal with the painful realities of human frailty, Finn said. Catholics have experienced such frailty and sin in recent years, for example, in the church’s sexual abuse scandal. For the diocese to take on a study of the life of Sister Marie provides a great opportunity, he said.
“I think it’s very uplifting,” Finn said.
The church’s investigation
Sainthood is meant to go beyond a hall of fame or who’s who, and so the church’s investigation is exhaustive. The process at the diocese level can take two to three years, Finn said, and some research and collection of testimony will be done in Paris and Turkey. Donations will pay for the costs, and volunteers will assist.
A historical commission will gather writings and other materials by Sister Marie, and a theological commission will evaluate them.
A “postulator” will create a list of witnesses; a tribunal will receive testimony; a “promoter of justice” will ensure that no objections are overlooked; and a notary will assure proper documentation.
The case then goes to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican, and the congregation would make a recommendation to the pope.
But before a recommendation can be made, two miracles attributed to Sister Marie would have to be authenticated, one before beatification — the step before sainthood — and one after. Many cures have been associated with Sister Marie, von Uffel said.
The church says that saints have lived lives of such heroic virtue that they can be held up not only as examples, Finn said, but also as intercessors or “spiritual friends” in heaven who will pray for people’s needs if asked.
“I think Sister Marie could be a patron for us, if God wills it, to grow in closer union with Muslim people.”
To reach Edward M. Eveld, call 816-234-4442 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
Posted on Fri, Feb. 18, 2011 10:15 PM
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" I am not a priest and cannot bless them, but all that the heart of a mother can ask of God for her children, I ask of Him and will never cease to ask Him." ~ Sister Marie