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Saints in the News, July 2021

Fr. Augustus Tolton’s cause gains attention, Archbishop Peralta asks for prayers, and the U.S. bishops approve two causes.

An 1887 rendering of Father Augustus Tolton.

Fr. Tolton’s cause gains attention

QUINCY — The Quincy Herald-Whig reports that dozens of area Catholics gathered on the afternoon of July 9 at the town’s St. Peter Church to commemorate the passing of the Father Augustus Tolton on July 9, 1897.

“For the fifth year, those gathered had a welcome and a prayer before walking up Maine Street to 33rd Street and then to the St. Peter Cemetery on Broadway where Father Tolton is buried.

“The Rev. Daren Zehnle from Ashland led the procession. He said this commemoration is an opportunity to reflect on the life of Tolton and try to emulate America’s first recognized black priest.

“‘It means to call his life to mind,’ Zehnle said, ‘to remember his example as a Christian witness. And not only to pray that he becomes a saint — soon, we hope — but also that we learn from him how to follow Jesus more closely and more faithfully.’”

In the meantime, EWTN has announced it is producing a show about the former slave and one of the first blacks to become a priest in the United States. The show will be an episode in its series “They Might Be Saints” and will feature interviews and actor reenactments.

Also, during a retreat on racial reconciliation, Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Pérez was quoted by Catholic News Agency as saying that Tolton is a model for how to overcome racism and persecution.

“The way Tolton internalized and processed hurt, rejection and injustice” shows “a way that we can do so ourselves,” His Excellency said.

Archbishop asks for prayers

MANILA – According to Business Mirror newspaper, Archbishop Marlo M. Peralta of Nueva Segovia, Philippines, is asking for prayers for the beatification cause of the Servant of God Alfredo F. Verzosa. The remarks came on June 27, the anniversary of Verzosa’s death.

The paper notes, “Verzosa was among the first native priests to be ordained during the American rule.

“His priestly ministry in Nueva Segovia was characterized by his preservation of Roman Catholicism in Ilocos. He was sent as a missionary to the schismatics of Ilocos Norte, and through his efforts, he convinced a number of Ilocanos to return to the faith.

“The Servant of God also reestablished Roman Catholicism in the schismatic town of Bantay in Ilocos Sur, where he served as its parish priest for 10 years.”

He served as bishop of the Lipa diocese from 1919 until his retirement in 1951. During this time he founded the Missionary Catechists of the Sacred Heart, a women’s religious order.

Bishop Verzosa’s cause started in 2013 and the diocesan phase of the investigation was completed in 2016. The process has been moved to Rome.

U.S. bishops approve two causes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During their June meeting, the US bishops gave their approval for the advancement of two beatification causes.

The first was for the Servant of God Joseph Verbis Lafleur, an Army chaplain from Louisiana, who was made a prisoner of war by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II.

Like another Army chaplain, the Servant of God Emil Kapaun, Lafleur worked diligently on behalf of his fellow prisoners, obtaining for them food and medicine, even though he was malnourished and frequently sick. Against his captors’ wishes, he built a chapel in his prison camp, and he kept the law of “survival of the fittest” from taking hold.

Near the wars end, the Japanese decided to transfer POWs from the Philippines to the Japanese mainland, using merchant vessels as their primary mode of transportation. Not knowing that their countrymen were aboard, American submariners torpedoed several of these vessels.

One carried Fr. Lafleur. Although he could have escaped off the ship, he instead spent his last moments trying to get as many of his fellow prisoners off the boat and to the relative safety of the sea. He is presumed to have gone down with the ship. His body was never recovered.

The other cause the bishops advanced was that of the Servant of God Leonard “Marinus” LaRue, who once served as a U.S. Merchant Marine captain. According to National Catholic Register, “During the Korean War, LaRue headed what became — and remains — the largest humanitarian rescue operation by a single vessel in history, whether during war or civilian conditions. In a single trip, he evacuated 14,000 refugees to safety in a freighter designed to carry 47 officers and only 12 passengers, along with the cargo.”

LaRue went on to enter St. Paul Benedictine Abbey in Newton, New Jersey, in 1954. There he served as dishwasher, bell ringer and gift-shop worker. Brother LaRue died Oct. 14, 2001, at age 87.

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About BK O'Neel 29 Articles
BK O’Neel writes from Pennsylvania.

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