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James Martin, S.J.May 10, 2012


VATICAN CITY (Catholic News Service) -- Although she was never canonized, St. Hildegard of Bingen is to be added to the Catholic Church's formal list of saints, and Catholics worldwide may celebrate her feast day with a Mass and special readings by order of Pope Benedict XVI. 

The Vatican announced May 10 that the pope formalized the church's recognition of the 12th-century German Benedictine mystic, "inscribing her in the catalogue of saints." The same day, the pope advanced the sainthood causes of 19th-century U.S. Bishop Frederic Baraga of Marquette, Mich., and of Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, a member of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, N.J., who died in 1927. The pope's order regarding St. Hildegard recognizes her widespread fame of holiness and the that Catholics have venerated her for centuries.

In a 2010 series of audience talks about women's contributions to the church, Pope Benedict dedicated two talks to St. Hildegard. He said she is a worthy role model for Catholics today because of "her love for Christ and his church, which was suffering in her time, too, and was wounded also then by the sins of priests and laypeople." In St. Hildegard's time, there were calls for radical reform of the church to fight the problem of abuses made by the clergy, the pope had said. However, she "reproached demands to subvert the very nature of the church" and reminded people that "a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change in the structures as much as with a sincere spirit of penitence."

In addition, the pope noted, modern Catholics can learn from her "love for creation, her medicine, her poetry and music that is being recreated today." During a May 10 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, Pope Benedict signed 17 decrees furthering the sainthood causes of dozens of individuals, including Bishop Baraga and Sister Demjanovich.

The decrees for both of the U.S. candidates for canonization recognize that they heroically lived the Christian virtues and are "venerable." Before they can be beatified, the Vatican must recognize that a miracle has occurred through their intercession.

Father Baraga was ordained a priest in Slovenia in 1823 but left for America in the early 1830s to serve among the Ojibwa and Ottawa in Michigan. Beginning in 1835 he worked in the Upper Peninsula, where his constant travels to Indian villages even in the harsh winter months earned him the nickname "Snowshoe Priest." He was named the first bishop of Upper Michigan in 1857. In 1866, two years before his death, he moved the headquarters of the diocese from Sault Ste. Marie on the eastern end of the peninsula to centrally located Marquette, where it remains today.

Sister Demjanovich was born in Bayonne, N.J., in 1901. After attending Bayonne public schools, she began studies at the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, graduating in 1923. Two years later, she entered the Sisters of Charity at Convent Station. She wrote a series of spiritual conferences, which were collected and published after her death as a book, "Greater Perfection." She died in 1927 at the age of 26.

Announcing the decrees signed by the pope May 10, the Vatican also formally acknowledged that Pope Benedict signed a decree March 14 recognizing the heroic virtues of Father Felix Varela, a Cuban born priest who died in Florida in 1853. The move was announced in the United States and Cuba in April.

Among the decrees there also were two recognizing miracles, paving the way for the beatifications of Capuchin Brother Thomas of Olera, Italy, who died in Austria in 1631, and of Italian Salesian Sister Maria Troncatti, a missionary who died in a plane crash in Ecuador in 1969 at the age of 86. She had served in South America for almost 50 years.

Other decrees recognized the martyrdom of: Odoardo Focherini, an Italian who died in a Nazi prison camp in 1944 after being arrested while helping Jews escape capture by the Nazis; 14 Franciscan friars killed in Prague in 1611; and 22 Spaniards killed during the Spanish civil war in the 1930. 

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Thomas Piatak
11 years 6 months ago
Very good news on St. Hildegard, Bishop Baraga, and the others.  And very wise words from the Holy Father.
Nathaniel Campbell
11 years 6 months ago
This is a day long-awaited by both admirers of St. Hildegard and those of us who study her academically. Indeed, many of us had long thought it improbable that her canonization cause would be renewed or that she would ever be considered for the honor of Doctor of the Church, to which the Pope will raise her later this year. Because her visionary writings are amongst the most intensely daring and theologically innovative of the twelfth century, her bold tendencies have long made that dream seem distant and unattainable. No longer!

Indeed, there is a certain providence that the German Pontiff would be the one to rescue St. Hildegard’s powerful theological wisdom from the clutches of new agers and herbalists. A half-century ago, Hildegard was little known outside a small circle of German scholars; crucially, however, that small circle numbered a young Joseph Ratzinger in their number. His early work on medieval theologies of history most certainly brought him into contact with Hildegard’s powerfully prophetic vision of the Church’s mission in the world–a vision of corruption castigated and charity renewed, a Church both holier and smaller. Indeed, his exposure to Hildegard most certainly influenced his own visions of Church reform at the time of the Council, a vision he enunciated in his essays on Faith and the Future.

I will soon post on my blog (http://nathaniel-campbell.blogspot.com/) a detailed examination of Hildegard’s influence on Pope Benedict’s vision of a Church reformed and renewed. It is crucial, I believe, to understand the context of his early scholarship on medieval theologies of history in order to understand his “Reform of the Reform” today.

Brendan McGrath
11 years 6 months ago
Julian of Norwich next, please!  :)
Tim O'Leary
11 years 6 months ago
Nathaniel (#2)
Very interesting news that this holy lady might be declared a Doctor of the Church. I went to your site and found it very interesting. I heard similar reports that Cardinal Newman may be named a Doctor of the Church. Both would be very happy developments.
Craig McKee
11 years 6 months ago
Once again, the only kind of woman this Pope can get along with: a DEAD one!
Nathaniel Campbell
11 years 6 months ago
As I mentioned in my comment above, I have written a detailed examination of Hildegard’s influence on Pope Benedict’s vision of a Church reformed and renewed, which can be read here.
11 years 6 months ago
"In St. Hildegard's time, there were calls for radical reform of the church to fight the problem of abuses made by the clergy, the pope had said. However, she 'reproached demands to subvert the very nature of the church' and reminded people that'a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change in the structures as much as with a sincere spirit of penitence.'"

Three cheers for Hildegard, but radical reform of the church IS  needed to fight the problem of "abuses made by the clergy"  and, sad to say, there is little evidence of a "sincere spirit of penitence" in a church that has rewarded Bishops guilty of covering up abuses with honors- and influence on the selection of their successors. Where will it all end?
Karen Schousboe
11 years 6 months ago
I am sure the Vatican's effort to put the spotlight on Hildegard has to do with the wish to crack down on The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and feminism in particular. 
read more at http://medievalhistories.com/hildegard-of-bingen/

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