A captivating model of Marian devotion and Christian charity

One of the most important signs of maturity, hope and health in the Church in the United States is the number of candidates now being proposed for canonization. On September 23, Father Stanley Rother will be beatified in Oklahoma City and on November 18, Father Solanus Casey in Detroit. Presently the Church in the United States humbly boasts of 14 saints, seven blesseds, 17 venerables (whose heroic virtue the Church has declared), and 75 servants of God (whose heroic virtue is now being studied). 

One of the most fascinating causes is being promoted by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. It’s of someone who has never set foot in the United States: Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey (1837-1915), a French religious Sister famous for helping to rediscover the ancient house in Ephesus, Turkey, where many scholars and several recent popes plausibly conclude the Blessed Virgin Mary spent the last years of her life and from which she was assumed into Heaven. 

The Archdiocese of Smyrna, Turkey, where Sister Marie died, has wanted to promote her cause since then-Archbishop Giovanni Zucchetti unofficially canonized her during her 1915 funeral, asserting that Christ has already beatified the merciful (Mt 5:7) and promised to call to His Father’s Kingdom those who have cared for Him in the poor and needy (Mt 25:31-46), as she so notably did. But two World Wars, persecution of the Church in Turkey, and the lack of financial and canonical resources in the Archdiocese of Smyrna have made it impossible for the diocese where she died to advance the cause. 

In such circumstances, it is possible for one diocese to ask another to take over. So the Archdiocese of Smyrna, knowing that none of the dioceses in Turkey were adequately equipped, asked the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph if it would be willing officially to assume the promotion. The Missouri diocese has a rich history of Vincentians and Daughters of Charity, has a new Benedictine monastery dedicated to imitating Our Lady’s hidden life in Ephesus, is the headquarters for The Ephesus Foundation and has some of the leading members of the American Society of Ephesus. Then-Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph happily agreed and the diocese has moved the cause forward quite competently and expeditiously. 

What can Catholics in America and faithful everywhere learn from Sister Marie? 

First, she is a tremendous lover and apostle of Mary’s Divine and ecclesial maternity. In 1831, Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labouré, a Daughter of Charity, with the revelation of the Miraculous Medal and asked that associations of the Children of Mary be formed. When Sister Marie became a Daughter 26 years later, that’s precisely what she did, forming thriving Children of Mary groups in France and in Turkey to promote the devotion of children to the Mother God the Father chosen for His Son and that Son from the cross chose for us. “Be like Mary,” she would say to the ever-growing groups of children. 

When Sister Marie read Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s revelations on the “Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” which among other things, included a very detailed description of where Mary’s long-lost house in Ephesus would be located, she desired out of ardent Marian piety for it to be found. Transferred to Smyrna, she perseveringly lobbied initially skeptical Vincentian priests to take up the hunt. When they succeeded, using Emmerich’s revelations almost as a map, Sister Marie used her family’s resources to buy the mountain on which the house was built, funded its rehabilitation, and then oversaw its development as a place of prayer and pilgrimage. Even if one has questions about private revelations or the historical case for Mary’s House in Ephesus — visited by the future John XXIII and Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI — there’s no question about Sister Marie’s heroic filial love for the Blessed Mother.  

Second, she is also a model of vocational receptivity and response. She was born to a very wealthy and noble French family that numbered among its ancestors two French popes and three saints and blesseds. To set aside her situation of wealth, status and privilege to serve the poorest of her day took a lot of courage, as did overcoming the strong opposition from her eldest brother when saying yes to a vocation that meant one might never see one’s family again. But she prayed at 13, “Grant me, I implore, my God, a vocation to religious life. Give me the grace, O my God, to completely detach myself from the things here below and to aspire only to Heaven.” And God heard that prayer. 

Third, she’s a compelling example of heroic Christian charity. In her first assignment, in Aire-Sur-La-Lys, she cared for 55 orphans, ran a sewing workshop for 60 girls, directed the pharmacy, cared for the sick in neighboring towns, founded the Children of Mary, and showed special love for children with lice and scurvy, overcoming her revulsion to help them heal so that they wouldn’t be ostracized from other children. 

After her transfer to Le Pecq as superior, she directed an orphanage that, because of the brutal Franco-Prussian war, trebled in size, leading her, born noble, to beg shamelessly for food, clothing, beds, medicine, school supplies and for another building to house them all. When huge numbers of new children would arrive — totally alone after their parents were killed — she would welcome them first with love, before figuring out where to lodge and how to feed them. She was so successful in her 16 years in helping the orphans find new families and forming a culture of loving acceptance that she was able to put the orphanage out of business. 

The final three decades of her life were spent in Smyrna, Turkey, where she responded to Pope Leo XIII’s call for missionaries. She and her fellow Daughters of Charity took over the French hospital, where she cared for wounded sailors and everyone else, used her family’s resources to renovate the institution, established classrooms to provide first sick children and then everyone a basic education and catechism, inaugurated two sewing workshops for girls, and once again founded an association of the Children of Mary. 

Throughout her 58 years of religious life, she valiantly and joyfully fulfilled her fourth vow of service, following the example of St. Vincent and St. Louise in serving Christ in the poor. 

Those wanting to know more about her inspiring life can turn to Father Carl Schulte’s 2011 biography “The Life of Sister Marie de Mandat Grancey” or visit www.sistermarie.com, where prayer cards can be downloaded or ordered to pray for miracles through her intercession. 

If her cause succeeds, her beatification would almost certainly take place in Missouri, with celebrations likewise in France and Turkey, the three continents in which there’s already devotion to her. That would be a confirmation that she’s already celebrating eternally in the place to which from Ephesus the mother she loved was assumed body and soul. 

Anchor columnist Father Landry can be contacted at fatherlandry@catholicpreaching.com.

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