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Father Muench Says...

A saintly way to start a brand new year


Jan. 10, 2018

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

We have begun a New Year and I do wish to each and every one of you a Happy New Year.

Something I noticed as the new year began is that the Church celebrates three of my favorite saints during this first week of January.  Two of these saints ministered in the United States and one in Canada.

For us, Catholics, our saints are very important to us.  We celebrate their feast days as a way to honor them for their outstanding lives.

Each of the saints canonized by the Church is celebrated with a special feast day each year.  Many of these feast days are very familiar to you – like St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 and the Feast of St. Francis Assisi Oct. 4. (By the way, as I have mentioned to you before, there are many more saints beyond those who are canonized – outstanding and holy people who have made the Catholic Church better by their lives but are not canonized.  This includes many of my favorite saints.)

But, this past week – on Jan. 4 – the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Elizabeth Anne Seton.  She was a wife, a mother, a widow and an immigrant to our country. She became a religious sister and founded a religious order, the Sister of Charity.  When I think of St. Elizabeth Seton, I think of Catholic Schools.

She and her Sisters were responsible for founding many Catholic schools, especially for the Catholic immigrants who were important in the formation of our country.

When I think of Catholic Schools, I must mention that Catholic Schools were an important part of my young priesthood.  I was asked by Bishop Navagh to teach in a Catholic high school and I found it a most important part of my priesthood.  In addition, I served as a pastor in a few parishes where there was a Catholic School.  The schools truly added a great deal to the life of the parishes.  Even now I meet folks who have graduated from a Catholic School and continue to be grateful for all they experienced through Catholic education.

The next saint – whose feast day is Jan. 5 – is St. John Neumann, a priest and Bishop.  John Neumann immigrated to this country from Bohemia in 1836 and was ordained as a priest.  He acted as pastor in western New York State in the village of Williamsville.  His parish stretched from Lake Ontario in the Niagara area to Pennsylvania.  It was said he traveled on horseback constantly visiting the sick and needy of his parish. 

Father Neumann then joined the Redemptorist Fathers serving in many parishes in Maryland.  In 1852, he was chosen as the Bishop of Philadelphia. 

In those days there were large numbers of Catholics who immigrated from Germany, Ireland and Italy.  His diocese was growing rapidly.  They say that he began to form new parishes at the rate of one a month.  Bishop Neumann is also responsible for organizing a diocesan Catholic School system – reaching out to the many immigrants, helping to make them ready for life in this country.

Bishop Neumann was known for his own personal poverty and simplicity of life.  He died at the age of 48, well known for his sanctity.

And also during the first week of January – on Jan. 6 – the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Brother Andre Bessette.  This is a saint most Catholics living in the North Country know a great deal about.  Brother Andre lived his religious life in Montreal as a Holy Cross Brother. He lived a very humble, simple, yet prayerful, life as the porter for the Holy Cross Religious House in Montreal. Brother Andre was known for his holiness, his prayerfulness and for his healing ministry.  They say that those who came to seek his blessing and were healed by Brother Andre were innumerable.

I remember my own father, who traveled to Montreal on business, telling me about Brother Andre.  I have learned also the stories of Brother Andre’s visits to our diocese.

Brother Andre died in 1936. Through his persistence and prayers a magnificent shrine and basilica was built in Montreal and dedicated to St. Joseph.  I know that many of you have visited St. Joseph’s and prayed at the shrine to Brother Andre.  I also remember taking groups to visit St. Joseph’s and have been privileged to celebrate Mass at the Shrine. And, of course, our parish in Malone has been dedicated to St. Brother Andre.

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