Modern Day Witness is written by Father Richard Jasper, Associate Pastor of St. Ann Church in Wilmington, Delaware, to highlight the lives and work of Catholic men and women, many of whom have lived and worked in recent years, who are models of discipleship. Father Jasper will present a new edition of Modern Day Witness most weeks on the Catholic Forum radio program/podcast, beginning April 27, 2019.
Here are a few Modern Day Witnesses:
Mattie Stepanek was born in Rockville, Maryland, in 1990, he and his older siblings as well as his mother suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy. After the death of his brother Jamie, he began writing poetry by age 4 in
order to express his heart and his grief.
As he entered elementary school, he faced the divorce of his parents as well as the deaths of his remaining siblings from the same neuromuscular disease. Despite the fact that it was continuously weakening him and his mom, he kept the faith and continued writing.
By age 8, he was a best-selling published author, an inspirational speaker about the power of peace, a frequent guest on ‘Oprah,’ and had still managed to obtain his Black Belt in martial arts while keeping up with school work.
Mattie Stepanek died in 2004, a few weeks short of his 14th birthday. To this day, his Mom carries on her son’s peace mission for all humanity while she is still able. Mattie’s personal philosophy? “Play after every storm.”
Members of “Mattie’s Guild” based in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. have begun gathering information about this young man in order to open his cause for canonization. Quite a few believe he was given mystical gifts due to his willing embrace of suffering.
Born in Lithuania in 1880, Sister Maria Kaupas immigrated to the United States at age 17 to work as a housekeeper for her brother, a priest at St. Joseph’s Parish in Scranton, Pa.
Overcome by homesickness, she returned for a while to her homeland but not before she was inspired by two significant experiences while living in Scranton: she loved the nuns who taught in her brother’s parish, and her Lithuanian countrymen living in America desperately needed help in learning both English and the faith.
Told by her brother that local priests were willing to sponsor a new community of religious sisters in America, she trained with nuns in Switzerland in 1902 and then came to the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., to begin her own community after spending more time learning American customs with the Sister, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In 1907, Sister Maria Kaupas began a new community known as The Sisters of St. Casimir, whose original purpose was to teach in Lithuanian schools throughout the United States. Locally, Villa Joseph Marie High School in Holland, Bucks County, Pa., was begun by Sister Maria’s congregation and is still going strong.
Sister Maria died in Chicago (at her mother house) in 1940 at age 60. She was recently declared ‘venerable.’
Born the 8th and final child of Catholic converts in 1860, Father Thomas Frederick Price was raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, and was deeply influenced by his parish priests, one of whom later became the bishop of the entire
Feeling called to priesthood, he was scheduled to enter St. Charles College Seminary in Baltimore in 1876. While traveling there by ship along the Eastern seaboard, however, the boat he was sailing on sank, killing many on board. Thus, he was forced to return home to Wilmington.
Making a second attempt at seminary formation a year later, he was eventually ordained for the Diocese of Raleigh at the pro-cathedral in Wilmington. He was the first native North Carolinian to be ordained to the priesthood.
As a missionary in his own state, Father Thomas Frederick Price eventually felt called to begin a seminary to train Americans for priestly service in the foreign missions. Along with Boston’s Father James Walsh, Price began what is now known as the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America (popularly known as Maryknoll).
Father Price eventually went to China himself as a missionary with his newly-formed society. It was here in Hong Kong in 1919 that he died at age 59 from a burst appendix. Now declared a ‘Servant of God,’ his heart rests alongside the body of St. Bernadette of Lourdes, to whom he had great devotion.
Born in 1928 in the former Czechoslovakia, Anna Kolesarova was the youngest of three and baptized the day after her birth. Her parents were farmers, and she was known as a simple, modest and hard-working girl.
When she turned 10 years of age, her mother died suddenly and it fell upon her to assume care for the household and her siblings. She would attend daily Mass with friends each day after completing her chores.
By 1944, the final and deadliest phase of World War II began, and when Red Army soldiers entered her town, she and her father and siblings hid in the basement under the kitchen. When they were discovered by a soldier, her father told her to prepare the soldier something to eat in order to prove that the family only wanted peace.
Obeying her father’s wishes and returning to the kitchen, 16-year-old Anna Kolesarova refused the soldier’s sexual advances while making him a meal. Forcing her back into the basement and jumping on top of her, the soldier shot Anna twice in the face and chest (in front of her father and siblings) for not submitting to being raped. Her final words were, “Goodbye, Dad. Jesus, Mary and Joseph…”
Witnesses later claimed that Anna had received both Communion and Reconciliation the day she was murdered. The Church last year declared her a ‘Servant of God,’ and quite beautifully, her family home has recently become both a place of pilgrimage and a holy hangout for Catholic teens of Slovakia.
Born in 1990 in southern Italy along the coast, Matteo Farina was raised by two loving parents (a bank clerk and a homemaker) and had great devotion to Saint Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio even from his youth.
Developing a passion for music from his father, he learned to play several musical instruments and started a high school rock band with his friends called “No Name.”
Known lovingly by his friends as “the Moralizer” (his nickname) due to his love of God and desire for peace, he had a passion for chemistry, was great with technology, wanted to be an environmental engineer, and dated a young woman named Serena, whom he considered “the most beautiful gift the Lord could give me.” He also requested all gifts for his birthday and Christmas go to the African missions.
Experiencing severe headaches in the Fall of 2003, Matteo Farina underwent many tests and experienced a seizure that impaired his vision, which ultimately led to the removal of a brain tumor in 2005. Many operations followed in the years to come, leading to partial paralysis and the use of a wheelchair until his untimely death from cancer at age 18 in 2009.
Matteo’s canonization process began in 2016 when he was named a ‘Servant of God’ by his home diocese.
Born in Utah in 1904, Cora Evans was raised Mormon and married in the Salt Lake City Temple. In her first ten years of marriage, she and her husband had three children, one of whom died at 10 months of age.
Never feeling truly fulfilled with the Latter Day Saints, she discovered Catholicism one day when, too sick to get out of bed, she was forced to listen to a Catholic radio program on a Utah AM station. From that day, she began to invite the local Catholic parish priest to debate theology with several Mormon bishops.
Ultimately convinced of Catholicism’s truths, she was baptized on March 30 in 1935. Her family soon followed her into the Church, as did many Mormon neighbors. (Some estimates claim more than 200 converts due to her evangelization efforts.)
By 1938, Mrs. Cora Evans (now living in California) began experiencing mystical encounters with Christ, but she never made them public (except to her local priest) and hid both the stigmata and bi-location ability she received from our Lord. Cora eventually died from stomach cancer in 1957 at the age of 52 on the actual anniversary of her Baptism into the Catholic Church.
The Diocese of Monterey, California, has recently opened Cora’s cause for canonization, naming her a ‘Servant of God.’
Born in April 1916, Emil Kaupaun was the son of Czech immigrants who settled in Kansas, he worked on the family farm growing up.
Entering seminary after graduating from Pilsen Public High School, he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of
Wichita in 1940. He was an associate pastor for a few years before enlisting as a chaplain in the U.S. Army.
Sent to serve a number of posts in his early days as chaplain, he eventually was stationed on the front lines in the
Korean War. In late 1950, he was captured by the Chinese military after refusing to leave wounded American soldiers and subsequently sent to a prison camp where he sang songs to boost morale among the POWs, offered them his food portions, and held starving and delirious soldiers in his arms until they died.
A year later, Father Emil Kapaun was suffering from dysentery, pneumonia and a blood clot. He was isolated and left alone to die, which he did a month later at the age of 34.
The Diocese of Wichita opened Father’s cause for canonization in 2015, and he has recently been named a ‘Servant of God.’ President Obama also awarded Kapaun the Medal of Honor posthumously for his acts of valor in 2013.
Born in Paris in 1866, Elisabeth Leseur contracted hepatitis as a child and suffered from the disease throughout her life.
Falling in love with a Catholic physician, she found out shortly before they were married in 1889 that he no longer practiced the faith and considered himself an atheist.
Grieved by the fact that they would remain childless, she remained devoted to her antagonistic husband whose verbal attacks of Christianity only led her deeper into her own faith. As she became bedridden in her 40s due to cancer, she devoted her final years to prayer and hidden sacrifice — especially for the conversion of her husband.
When Elisabeth Leseur died in 1914 at the age of 47, her husband found a letter addressed to him in which his wife predicted he would one day come back to Catholicism and be ordained to the priesthood. At first, he fought back, going so far as to travel to Lourdes to prove the entire place fraudulent. Instead, he had a profound conversion while there, eventually leading him to become a Dominican priest. Fr. Leseur died in 1950 after 27 years of priesthood, much of it spent sharing his wife’s story and journal entries.
Elisabeth was recently declared a ‘Servant of God,’ with a likely feast day of May 3.
Born prematurely to a farming couple in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, in 1944, James Miller grew in time to be 6’2″ and 220 lbs. with a hearty laugh and powerful voice that never failed to attract others’ attention.
After encountering the Christian Brothers as a student at Pacelli Catholic High School in Wisconsin, he became a
novice in the community in 1962 and took the religious name “Brother Leo William.”
Beginning his teaching career as a Brother in Minneapolis-St. Paul, he taught English and Spanish and coached football. In 1969, he was sent to Nicaragua where he helped build schools and even a paved road system in the rural areas of that country. Due to the Sandinista revolution in the late 1970s, he returned to the Twin Cities for awhile before being reassigned to Guatemala.
It was here in 1982 that Brother Leo was assassinated for his work in educating and improving the lives of the native Guatemalan Indians.
Brother Leo’s beatification is set to take place sometime this year in the Twin Cities.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1918, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Santiago, was the second of five siblings, one of whom eventually became a Carmelite nun and another a Benedictine monk.
Around the age of 7, a fire destroyed his family home and business, forcing them to live with his mother’s parents. He attended Catholic schools in Puerto Rico and wanted to be a priest, but ulcerative colitis kept him from being accepted to seminary.
Forced to abandon high school due to poor health, he became an office clerk in order to support himself. However, his real passion was evangelization, and he began Catholic publications related to Liturgy, started faith-sharing groups, and taught high school CCD (catechism class).
Perhaps Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Santiago’s greatest gift to the local Church was increasing others’ devotion to and attendance at the Easter Vigil. “We live for that night,” he often said.
Carlos died at age 44 after an operation related to rectal cancer. He is the first person to be beatified from Puerto Rico (2001).
Born in Turin, Italy, in 1901 to an agnostic newspaper editor (father) and a noted painter (mother), Pier-Giorgio Frassati was k
nown even from early childhood as one who had great compassion for the less fortunate.
An average high school student known more for his love of mountain-climbing, authentic piety and sense of social justice, he was once arrested in Rome for protesting with a Catholic youth organization against Facism and the Mussolini regime.
In college, he chose to study engineering, and when offered the choice of a car or money to aid his education, he picked the money in order to assist the poor instead of himself. He also fell in love with an outspoken and genuinely good young woman, but never pursued her over concerns of what his parents would think of her.
In 1925, Pier-Giorgio Frassati was diagnosed with polio after complaining of severe back pains while boating with friends. He died in the arms of his mother on July 4th after receiving Last Rites, his final words being: “May I breathe forth my soul in peace with You.”
It was the poor of Turin who immediately began calling for Pier-Giorgio’s canonization. He was finally beatified in 1990, and has since become a patron for Catholic young adults, Catholic men’s groups, and Catholic sports programs.
Born a slave in Haiti in 1766, Pierre Toussaint was raised Catholic and educated by the tutors of the plantation owners. When a
slave rebellion began in 1787, the family who “owned” him took him to New York, where they began a new life.
Trained as a hairdresser to the wealthy once he was settled in the United States, he voluntarily took on the financial support of his master’s wife upon the death of her husband. On her own deathbed a few years later, she demanded that he be set free, and in so doing, he was then able to pay for the freedom of his sister.
Falling in love with a slave girl 20 years his junior, he purchased her freedom, married her, and then adopted his deceased sister’s daughter and raised her as his own. Together, this family supported many New York City charities, including bringing orphans into their home and raising them.
Pierre Toussaint attended daily Mass for 66 years at St. Peter’s Church, very rarely missing a day. He also helped train other Haitian immigrants to cut/style hair, and he was the one responsible for raising funds to build the original cathedral in New York.
Pierre died in 1853 at the age of 87, and remains the only lay person buried in the crypt at the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. He was declared ‘venerable’ in 1996.
Born in Sassello, Italy, in 1971 to a couple who prayed for 11 years to have a child, Chiara Badano became their greatest blessing. By all accounts, the family of 3 had a strong, healthy relationship with occasional typical teenage outbursts.
Teased for her faithfulness during her high school years and nicknamed “Sister” by her peers, she struggled academically and failed her freshman year. However, she also made some good friends, loved coffee and ’80’s pop music, and was an avid tennis
Shortly after joining an Italian Catholic organization called Focolare (which creates encounters with Jesus Forsaken), she began feeling sharp shoulder pains while playing tennis. Doctors soon determined it to be bone cancer.
By 1989, Chiara Badano was repeatedly hospitalized, refusing morphine so she could stay “aware” and often offering to go on walks with other patients battling depression. One of her final gifts was making reservations for her parents to go on a Valentine’s dinner-date at a local favorite restaurant, for they never left her bedside.
Chiara died in October 1990 after making her Confession and receiving Eucharist. On the day of her funeral, her entire hometown was ordered shutdown by the mayor so that all could attend her Mass. Chiara was declared ‘venerable’ in 2008.
Born in Glendale, Ohio, in 1895, she spent most of her childhood in Butte, Montana, until the age of 15. When her uncle died in a tragic accident in Africa, her parents (both Italians by birth) returned to Parma, Italy in order to care for their aging parents.
After graduation, she became an English teacher for more than two decades in Parma’s school system. At the same time, she
became a lay member of the local Benedictine religious community and was known locally for her many charitable contributions to poor families in the outskirts of her city.
Joining her sister (who became a nun), she spent time in India caring for the sick. It was there, at the age of 50, where she was asked to begin a female branch of the Xaverian Missionaries. At first she declined, declaring: “I’m really good at spoiling the works of God.”
However, a year later in 1944, an Easter postcard with the words “Give All” changed the mind and heart of Celestina Bottego. This native Ohioan became the Mother Superior of the community she founded, but later resigned so that other women had opportunities to develop leadership skills. Mother Celestina died in 1980 and was declared ‘venerable’ by Pope Francis in 2013.
Baptized Rosa-Maria in 1850 in Genoa, Italy, Sister Blandina Segale, moved with her family to Ohio at age 4. From an early age she desired to join the religious sisters who had a profound impact on her young life and in her new city: the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.
Joining the convent at age 16, she was first assigned to teach grammar school in Dayton but was later sent on mission to both Colorado and New Mexico, where she established both Catholic and public schools in those states.
Throughout her time in the Southwest, she became known for her advocacy against the then-common practice of lynching. In Santa Fe, she built schools, a hospital, visited miners on site, and even nursed famed outlaw Billy the Kid while he was in prison.
Sister Blandina Segale eventually returned to Cincinnati, where she died in 1941 at the age of 91. Many fascinating legends have arisen in American pop-culture around the “Nun with Spurs,” including character portrayals based on her life in the TV and motion picture Westerns popular in the 1950s and ’60s.
Sister Blandina’s cause for canonization was recently opened in 2015, thanks to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.