Friday, April 11, 2008

Corridor of Saints

Blessed Mother Marianne Cope was born in Germany, grew up in Utica and took care of her family, including her ailing father, before joining the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, my wife told the group of 12 women gathered around a table in the basement of St. John the Baptist Church in Rome.

Mary, the guest speaker for the Marian Guild Thursday night, eventually got around to mentioning the new soup kitchen named after the nun. But first, she related how Mother Marianne helped found St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica, and founded St. Joseph Hospital in Syracuse, before answering a plea from Hawaii to go there and care for leprosy patients.

“She also taught school in Utica and Rome,” I piped in.

The Marian women expressed surprise and interest in the idea that a nun on the road to sainthood had a connection to their home town – which brought Mary back to the topic of her talk, upstate New York’s “Corridor of Saints.”

That corridor starts just south of Albany, where Venerable Mother Angeline Teresa, O.Carm, established the Motherhouse for the Carmelite religious order she founded to care for the aged and infirm. She opened 59 nursing homes, including St. Joseph’s in Utica.

The Corridor of Saints follows the NY State Thruway all the way to the Buffalo area, where Venerable Father Nelson Baker ran his massive Our Lady of Victory ministries, which included an orphanage, a maternity hospital for unwed mothers, and, during the Great Depression, a program that served more than one million meals a year, clothed 500,000 people, and gave medical care to 250,000.

In between Albany and Buffalo, there are:

-- The Jesuit martyrs, St. Isaac Jogues and companions, at the Shrine to the North American Martyrs at Auriesville, which is also the site of the Mohawk village where St. Isaac died.

-- Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Mohawk mystic, who was born at Auriesville, and who spent some teen and young adult years at Fonda, before fleeing to Canada to live with a community of Native American Christians. The Mohawks moved their village across the Mohawk River to Fonda some time after a devastating smallpox outbreak that killed her parents and left her scarred. The Franciscan-run National Kateri Shrine and Indian Museum at Fonda includes an archeological dig of Blessed Kateri’s village, and the spring where she daily went to gather water still flows nearby.

-- Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, with a shrine at her home parish, St. Joseph-St. Patrick Church in Utica, and with her casket enshrined at the Sisters of St. Francis Motherhouse in Syracuse.

-- Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, America’s original television evangelist, who hosted his own TV programs throughout the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. What is not so well known is that in the mid-1960s, he served as Bishop of Rochester.

When Mary finished, the Marian women immediately treated us to cake and coffee. Delicious homemade carrot cake, by the way.

Following the refreshments, the group was planning to pray together, so we took the opportunity to ask them to pray for our new ministry – a soup kitchen dedicated to Mother Marianne, operated out of her home parish. Suddenly, their interest intensified. We spoke about the diverse population we’re serving – from teenage moms to aging alcoholics, averaging 30 to 40 people a day, and some days as many as 60.

“I make a motion that we give a donation to this ministry,” one woman piped up.

“Fifty dollars?” another offered.

It was unanimous.

Then the treasurer said something interesting – that she hardly ever brings the Guild’s checkbook to meetings, but that tonight she had felt compelled to have it.