St. John Paul II was stalwart in faith, forgiveness

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald

In its 300-year history, the City of New Orleans has been blessed to have several saints walk its streets, and the most recent, St. John Paul II, has lessons for everyone in the way he forgave his attacker following a 1981 assassination attempt, former Archbishop Alfred Hughes said in the opening talk of the Tricentennial Lecture Series Jan. 16 at Notre Dame Seminary.

Archbishop Hughes, who served as the 13th archbishop of New Orleans from 2002 to 2009, gave brief reflections on seven people who either are recognized by the church as saints or who lived exemplary lives and may one day be named saints.

Using historical background and quotes, Archbishop Hughes proceeded chronologically to explore the lives of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, Venerable Henriette Delille, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, Margaret Haughery, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. Katharine Drexel and St. John Paul II.

JP2 was personal hero

St. John Paul II, who “captured the hearts of New Orleanians” in 1987 with his three-day papal visit, “was a special hero in my life,” Archbishop Hughes said. It was Pope John Paul II, just two months after he survived an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981, who appointed Archbishop Hughes auxiliary bishop of Boston.

Archbishop Hughes marveled at the pope’s energy to travel the world “to encourage a vital living of the faith in almost every nation and culture,” his evangelizing of young people through World Youth Day, his guidance on interpreting the documents of the Second Vatican Council, his “public, personal suffering” after the assassination attempt and his “long journey” with Parkinson’s Disease.

Archbishop Hughes met with St. John Paul II at least 10 times when he attended World Youth Days, “ad limina” bishops’ meetings at the Vatican and seminars with the Vox Clara commission charged with the responsibility of creating an English translation for the Mass.

“This man refused to consider himself a victim,” Archbishop Hughes said. “He resisted self-pity. He moved from darkness to light and became a source of light to so many. God showed his face through him, and he engaged in all the works of mercy in a remarkable way.”

Came from different places

Archbishop Hughes noted the diverse ethnic nature of the New Orleans “saints” – fitting because New Orleans is such a diverse city. St. Philippine was French, followed by Venerable Henriette (African-American), Blessed Seelos (German), Haughery (Irish), Mother Cabrini (Italian), St. Katharine (Anglo-American) and St. John Paul (Polish).

“So, we do have heroes to emulate,” he said. “The church lifts up ordinary men and women who have lived extraordinary lives because they have taken the Gospel call to live the works of mercy to heart. Some had remarkable gifts, like John Paul II. Some were people of very modest gifts, like Margaret Haughery. Each made the gifts they received available to God.

“We do not have to have special gifts. We just need to cultivate the virtue of humility before God, letting God be the center of our lives; patience with ourselves because salvation and sanctification come only gradually and by a gift from God; and compassion for others because we become aware of our weaknesses.”

In a world that so often lifts up empty heroes in sports, movies and entertainment, the church “holds up saintly men and women for us to emulate,” Archbishop Hughes said.

Other signs of virtue

Among the small gifts of the others in the “saintly seven,” Archbishop Hughes noted:

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, who founded the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, went on to minister to the Potawatomi Indians in Kansas using sign language. “She was referred to as ‘the woman who always prays,’” Archbishop Hughes said.

Mother Henriette, who taught the slaves in pre-Civil War times, when it was illegal to do so, died three months before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. “She never saw the children she educated able to use their education as citizens,” he said.

Blessed Seelos, who ministered to the yellow fever victims in the Irish Channel, was beloved because of “his fidelity to the sick and the dying of the yellow fever (epidemic). Eventually, he contracted the disease himself and succumbed.”

Haughery, born in Ireland, was an orphan and never learned to read or write, and after moving to New Orleans, she quickly lost her husband and newborn child. She went on to establish four orphanages and was the second woman in the U.S. honored with a statue. “The first? The Statue of Liberty,” Archbishop Hughes said.

Mother Cabrini founded an orphanage in New Orleans and established 67 institutions across the U.S. She was canonized in 1946, the first American saint.

St. Katharine used her family inheritance to found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and established a network of schools for African-American and Native American students across the U.S., including Xavier Prep and Xavier University of Louisiana. She also supported financially numerous African-American Catholicparishes. She was canonized on Oct. 1, 2000.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at

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