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By Simon Caldwell

8/4/2008 (5 years ago)

The Catholic Herald (UK) (www.catholicherald.co.uk/)

Sister Elizabeth has been compared to a Victorian Mother Teresa because of her work among poor mill workers and refugees from the Irish potato famine, although she was derided in her own lifetime as a "revolutionary".

Article Highlights

By Simon Caldwell

The Catholic Herald (UK) (www.catholicherald.co.uk/)

8/4/2008 (5 years ago)

Published in Christian Saints & Heroes


LONDON (Catholic Herald) - The unexplained healings of two people from terminal illnesses are to be investigated as possible miracles that could give Britain its first woman saint in more than four decades.

A man suffering from cancer and a woman with a brain injury from a fractured skull recovered from their conditions after their families prayed to Sister Elizabeth Prout, a 19th-century nun who worked with the poor in the slums of Manchester.

Catholic officials in England are now preparing to travel to Chile, where both healings took place, to begin preliminary investigations that could result in the Pope declaring Sister Elizabeth a saint in as little as five years time.

Sister Elizabeth has been compared to a Victorian Mother Teresa because of her work among poor mill workers and refugees from the Irish potato famine, although she was derided in her own lifetime as a "revolutionary".

A convert from the Church of England to Catholicism, she opened nine schools in industrialised parts of the north west of England and set up an order of nuns - the Sisters of the Cross and Passion, or Passionist Sisters - who helped women to escape poverty by training them in the skills they needed to make a living on their own.

Her order now has more than 300 Sisters working in Britain, the Irish Republic, America, Botswana, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Peru and Chile.

A 14-year diocesan investigation into Sister Elizabeth's life of "heroic virtue" drew to a conclusion with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool at her graveside in the Church of St Anne and Blessed Dominic, St Helens, Merseyside, on Tuesday and the file on her life was sealed and sent to the Vatican.

The Holy See will carry out its own investigation before declaring her "Venerable" and two approved miracles will be required for her beatification and canonisation.

Glasgow-based Passionist Fr Paul Francis Spencer, the postulator of her Cause, said the first of two possible miracles occurred in 2000 and involved a married father with "a very serious cancer".

Fr Spencer said: "He was to be operated on and there was very little hope of him surviving the operation, the doctors said.

"A friend of his was in contact with the sisters and knew about Elizabeth Prout and he recommended that the family should pray to her.

"The whole family, together with their friends, prayed through the intercession of Elizabeth Prout for his cure.

"When the doctors came to operate, they did a preliminary X-ray or scan and they found no sign of the cancer being there."

The second healing happened in 1999 and involved a woman who inexplicably recovered from a brain injury, incurred in an accident, after her family prayed to Sister Elizabeth.

Sister Anne Cunningham, the Manchester-based superior general of the Passionist Sisters, will this month fly to Chile to interview the people involved and their doctors.

If she and her delegation decide there are grounds to pursue the healings as possible miracles they will ask Catholic leaders in Chile to set up tribunals to formally gather evidence.

If Sister Elizabeth's Cause progresses as planned she will become the first British woman saint since Paul VI canonised the Reformation-era martyrs St Margaret Clitherowe, St Anne Line and St Margaret Ward - and possibly the first British saint since the Scottish Jesuit St John Ogilvie was canonised by Pope Paul in 1976.

Born in Coleham, Shrewsbury, Sister Elizabeth became a nun in her 20s after she fell under the influence of Blessed Dominic Barberi, an Italian Passionist priest working in England.

Soon afterwards she began working with the poor and caught tuberculosis. She died in St Helens in 1864 aged 43.

Passionist Sister Dominic Savio Hamer, who helped to prepare the documents for her Cause, said the nun would probably be known as "St Elizabeth of Manchester" if she was canonised.

She said that Sister Elizabeth was a woman of "great integrity and great honesty" who taught her followers to combine lives of prayer with social action.

"She was totally selfless," said Sister Dominic, who is based in Warrington, Cheshire. "She gave herself completely to God. She constantly searched for the will of God and she endured such hardships to carry out the will of God."

Sister Elizabeth is now one of at least five post-Reformation British men and women whose Causes for sainthood are being considered by the Vatican.

They include Cardinal John Henry Newman, a convert from Anglicanism whose beatification is expected to be announced by Pope Benedict XVI later this year.

The others are Fr Ignatius Spencer, the great-great-great uncle of Diana, Princess of Wales, and a relative of Winston Churchill.

The aristocratic, cricket-mad Fr Ignatius, a Passionist priest and also a convert, was a good friend of Sister Elizabeth and helped her to draw up the rules for her order.

They died the same year and now lie side by side in a side chapel in the same St Helens church where Blessed Dominic was also buried..

Other candidates for sainthood include the Venerable Mary Potter, a Londoner who founded the Little Company of Mary, an order of nursing nuns in Nottingham, in the 19th century, and Venerable Margaret Sinclair, a 20th century Scottish nun who died of tuberculosis after tending to the poor in the slums of Edinburgh.

There are also scores of beatified martyrs of the Protestant Reformation whose Causes have yet to proceed to canonisation.



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