Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Shrine
Thursday, 13 May 2010 from the Gulf Pine Catholic (Diocese of Biloxi )
Story By: Terry Dickson
NEW ORLEANS – Joyce Bourgeois sees miracles all the time at the National Shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos where she serves as administrator.
“People come from all over. Some of them come here and, if they’re ill, they feel like their case is hopeless and they come here with total despair. Then, first thing you know, we pray with them and they come back and they keep coming back,” she said.
“It’s a spiritual healing that a lot get, although we see a lot of physical and psychological healings. I just love being a part of this. It has been an experience and I can tell you that I’m a better person and a stronger person because of Father Seelos.”
Bourgeois’ connection to the German-born priest who was beatified, or proclaimed to be “Blessed”, in 2000 by Pope John Paul II, which is the last step before canonization, stretches back nearly half a century.
Bourgeois recently shared her story and the story of her daughter with a group of pilgrims from Blessed Francis Xavier Parish in Biloxi who traveled to the shrine, which is located in the Redemptorist Church of St. Mary’s Assumption, where Father Seelos, who died of Yellow Fever in October of 1867 at the age of 48, served as pastor and is now buried.
“Back in 1961, my daughter, Christine, was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis. She was born deaf and crippled (Christine was not born deaf and crippled - that part is incorrect) and the doctors transferred her from the old Algiers General Hospital to Charity Hospital and, when we got there, the doctors were waiting for her,” said Bourgeois. “Meanwhile, my husband’s cousin called the convent and asked the nuns if they would please pray for the baby cousin who was dying. The nuns said that, ‘if someone can pick up a relic of Father Seelos, we can’t promise you a miracle but it won’t hurt to pray.’”
It certainly didn’t
“My daughter stayed in the hospital for almost three months. She had major brain surgery,” Bourgeois said.
“The last time the doctors went in, they removed a bone flap from the skull because she had developed bacteriema and septicemia, either of which could have killed her, and, the day before she was discharged after being there for almost three months, the doctor said he didn’t if I was going to have her for a week, month or a year, but, for however long I was going to have her, she was going to be totally dependent upon me.”
Christine, who said a special prayer of blessing over the visitors from Biloxi
during their visit and sang a song about Blessed Seelos, will turn 50 in October, defying the odds and surprising the doctors who gave Joyce the grim diagnosis. Along the way, she has had other close calls.
“The ball of her hip had deteriorated and the doctors thought that it was going to get even worse and she would have to have surgery,” said Bourgeois.
However, after many prayers for the intercession of Father Seelos, further x-rays revealed that Christine’s hip was healed.
“She walks with a limp but that’s because of the meningococcal meningitis,” said Joyce Bourgeois.
Joyce was 21 when she had Christine.
“My walk with God wasn’t quite where it was then and it where it is today,” she said.
“It was through this wonderful blessing that I have grown so close to my Lord. I just think we’re all so blessed as Catholics because we have the Eucharist and that’s why we have to pray for our priests because, without our priests, we can’t have Jesus come alive on the altar. Father Seelos is such a holy, holy, humble, humble priest and you just get to know him and he becomes a very dear friend, a family member.”
After Christine’s healing in 1961, Joyce Bourgeois drifted apart from the priest, whose intercession she so desperately sought, but that would soon change.
“One day, I was in a religious bookstore and they had the old Seelos Sanctity newsletters and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is the priest that I had asked for to intercede on our behalf that Christine would live a long life,’” she said. “So, when that happened, I was with a bunch of nurses and we came and we found St. Mary’s.”
That was almost 22 years ago and Joyce has essentially never left.
“We see prayers answered every day,” she said. “It’s just amazing how we see God work in all of this. Father Seelos was truly a very holy man. When you get to hear the stories and how all the priests, seminarians and people in general looked up to him, they knew they were dealing with a saint before he ever became a saint, before he ever died. He just stood out.”
Redemptorist Father Byron Miller, who is the vice-postulator of the Seelos Cause, said just one miracle separates this holy priest from sainthood.
“To be declared “Beatified,” is to belong to an elite group – many holy men & women don’t progress to that penultimate step if their canonization wasn’t imminent; nevertheless, the issue is more of timing, so that some of the Beatified can remain “in waiting” for an indefinite period of time until a miracle is declared,” Father Miller said.
“We hope and pray that Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos’ time will be relatively short, even according to Vatican standards! There is a case currently in the official Process, but it has not yet reached the Vatican . It is at the Inquiry stage, in this case, under the guidance of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”
The Archdiocese of Baltimore is involved in Blessed Seelos’ canonization efforts because of the case of Mary Ellen Heibel, who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2004.
According to Father Miller, Heibel sought Blessed Seelos’ intercession and asked her surgeon to wear a Seelos relic at the time of her surgery.
“With her local pastor’s permission, a weekly Novena to Blessed Seelos was started by the faithful after the weekday Mass once a week; she and her husband were daily communicants, and parishioners prayed for Blessed Seelos’ intercession on her behalf,” he said.
“Long story short, no cancer remained in her body.”
Father Miller said The Official Inquiry began on May 19, 2009 at an opening Mass in the Baltimore Cathedral (the oldest in the United States , and where Seelos himself was ordained a subdeacon).
“The Panel took their oaths, witnessed by Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore and Cardinal William Keeler and all those in attendance. Then, it was the task of the Panel members to follow stringent Vatican guidelines in taking the testimonies of those key witnesses to Mary Ellen’s case, including the star witness herself, Mary Ellen,” he said. “Over the last year, this has been done and the transcribing is in the final stages. When the Inquiry is wrapped up, the ACTA (all those sworn testimonials, and pages of medical records, and other key documents) will be sent to the Vatican for scrutiny and investigation by the Congregation of the Causes of Saints. So, now it is not a foregone conclusion. It is their evaluation and recommendation that determines if it is declared a miracle. Nevertheless, the Redemptorists and the Baltimore Archdiocese would not have proceeded this far, if we did not feel that there was some merit to the case.”
Father Seelos – loved by all
Adele (Sis) Pertuit, who was born and raised in St. Mary’s Assumption Parish and leads tours of the church, one of three served by the Redemptorists during the time of Blessed Seelos. In addition to St. Mary’s, which dates back to 1858 and was built by German immigrants, St. Alphonsus, which was built by the Irish, is located across the street and a French Church, Notre Dame Bon Secours, was torn down in 1925.
“Father Seelos ministered to all these immigrants of this area,” Pertuit said. “He spoke German so he could do a Mass in German at St. Mary’s. He spoke English. He had a very heavy German accent, but he could celebrate Mass at the Irish church across the street. And, with his educational background in Europe , he also spoke French, so he could celebrate Mass at Bon Secours,” she said.
“He was multitalented and multi-loved,” she said. “Everybody was so put at ease because he was doing the Mass in their own language.”
It should be noted that Father Seelos’ remains were moved to St. Alphonsus after St. Mary sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Betsy in 1965, but was returned to the St. Mary 12 years later after the church was renovated.
Father Seelos’ body was exhumed once again in 1999 to be prepared for beatification.
“A beautiful reliquary was built in Rome- Italian walnut with silver panels depicting his life – and there was a beautiful ceremony at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans and the reliquary, which contained his body, was brought here to St. Mary’s and people walked 28 blocks to see it placed in the Shrine,” she said. “It’s here now and we hope it never moves again.”
To learn more about the St. Mary’s Assumption Church , Seelos Shrine & Museum, located at 919 Josephine Street , visit www.seelos.org or call 1-504-525-2495 or 1-504-525-2499.