When I was appointed to the parish of St. Dominic’s Church in Stone, I was largely unaware of the wonderful Catholic history of this special little bit of the Lord’s vineyard. The elevation of Elizabeth Prout (Mother Mary Joseph of Jesus CP – Cross and Passion) to ‘Venerable’, the first stage of the road to canonisation, is yet another blessing on our beloved town. Elizabeth would have felt fortunate to have spent some of her formative years and life in Stone at the same time as Blessed Dominic Barberi CP and Fr. Ignatius Spencer CP. Both Fr. Dominic and Fr. Ignatius profoundly influenced Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s remains are interred alongside these two wonderful priests in their shrine in the Church of St. Anne and Blessed Dominic Barberi, Sutton, St. Helens.
Elizabeth was baptised as an Anglican in Shrewsbury. Her father, Edward was a hardworking family man and lukewarm Catholic. Her mother, Ann was a practising Anglican and both mother and daughter attended St. Michael’s Church in Stone. Elizabeth’s conversion to the Catholic faith is attributed by the impression made upon her by Blessed Dominic whom she first met when she was 21. Elizabeth had a profound spiritual experience during a Benediction Service being led by Blessed Dominic. Catholics believe that in Holy Mass the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus which we call Holy Communion. Outside of Mass we have a service we call Benediction (From the Latin for blessing) where the Blessed Sacrament (Holy Communion) is exposed for adoration and silent prayer. It was at such a Benediction that Elizabeth felt she wanted to become a Catholic.
The rest as they say is history. From that moment on Elizabeth felt the love of God welling up within her and she wanted to pour it into the lives of the poor and disadvantaged. Elizabeth lived her calling from God, her vocation, by personal austerity and selflessly giving of herself to the needy of life. Elizabeth was motivated by Jesus’ love for the poor. Elizabeth lived among people in their poverty and was determined to play her part in the destruction of want. Eventually she would attract like-minded women (mostly from working class backgrounds) and established the religious Order of the Sister of the Cross and Passion. These Sisters lived among the slum dwellers, creating shelter for the homeless and schools for children hitherto denied all opportunity. They experienced great opposition from the authorities. Undeterred, these Sisters were dedicated to a life of prayer and indiscriminately enhancing the lives of the most disadvantaged in society. Their work continues unabated across several continents. Elizabeth was slight in build, poor in health and spent herself in the service of the poor. She only lived to be forty-three. Her life though short shows what God can do through a person whose gratitude to God for His blessings is given over entirely to His loving service. Elizabeth is now a Venerable. What is the next stage for her?
The road to sainthood: All souls in Heaven are saints. The Church can declare this infallibly for a particular person of heroic and holy life.
The official process of canonization begins when the cause for the candidate is officially opened. When the Church authorities accept the cause, the candidate is called ‘Servant of God’. Then the life of the person is carefully and exhaustively scrutinised as to holiness of life. There also must be interest by the Christian community who feel that the person was special.
Venerable Servant of God:
The second step comes when the evidence is reviewed in Rome and the person is deemed of heroic virtue. This means the person is worthy of imitation and becomes a role model for the faithful to learn from and maybe emulate. This is the stage Elizabeth is at.
This third stage is where a miracle attributed to the Venerable Servant of God must be proven to have been granted by God through the intercession of the Venerable Servant. If it is a miracle of healing, this will be vigorously scrutinised as the healing must have no other possibility other than a miracle occurring.
Another provable miracle solely attributable to the Blessed person is required for this stage. Then the Pope will canonise the person stating infallibly that the person is a Saint in Heaven and worthy of universal and public veneration (not worshipped which is for God alone). The Saint can be held up as a model for Christians and a powerful intercessor, a good friend in high places! The Saint has taken his/her place in the Communion of Saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ, to pray for us and help us to lead worthy, humble, holy and caring lives pleasing to God. Elizabeth was a life transformed by God which also transformed the lives of others. I am in no doubt she is praying for us now.
I cannot finish without thanking Sr. Dominic Savio CP whose research and hard work in promoting Elizabeth’s cause has made possible our joy that she has now been declared Venerable. May we live to see Elizabeth’s canonisation. Our prayers will surely speed that day coming. We are simply proud our town played a part in such a wonderful life. They say in times of challenge we should respond by counting our blessings – the Venerable Elizabeth Prout is surely one of them.
Fr. Gerard Doyle.