Rediscovering Catholicism very quickly became one of the most-read Catholic books of our modern era, launching a whole dynamic Catholic movement complete with a parish books program. It’s because author Matthew Kelly captivates the readers with the “genius” of our Catholic faith in all its richness. It’s like opening up the door of a closet in your house and discovering there are shelves full of gold bricks that were either forgotten or never realized!
Something similar has happened in the past few years, as we have been facing a crisis of faith and have not been sure how to address it in timely and effective ways. As Bishop Stephen Berg began the humbling and courageous process of confronting the facts with honest consultation and creative solutions, momentum began building, resulting in the first fruits of a Strategic Plan and Stella Maris Catholic Pastoral Center re-organization, for the sake of the mission.
Along the way, a professional and friend of the Diocese of Pueblo conducted a communications audit and recommended that we position ourselves as the “Diocese of the Little Way”: doing small things with great love, placing all our confidence in God, accepting our poverty and littleness, persevering in hope through trials, embracing spiritual conversion and living the joy of the Gospel, becoming intentional disciples and using prayer like a “fulcrum” to lift up the world, giving Jesus everything and holding nothing back, preferring to remain hidden as opposed to receiving accolades, letting the Father gather us into His loving arms and lift us up beyond our capabilities, like an “elevator” to heaven. Bishop Berg speaks of it as our unifying spirituality and diocesan charism, “an overarching theme ... a simple but powerful tool to unify and elevate all of our efforts.” In the process, it was quickly confirmed to be the right path, as we rediscovered what a treasure we had found. In the early 1940s, the first priest named bishop of this newly created diocese covering the southern half of the state, learned about a recently canonized saint. While making a novena invoking her intercession, drops of blood appeared out of nowhere on the pages of his Roman Missal at Holy Mass.
Thoroughly persuaded, when he was named Ordinary, one of Bishop Joseph Willging’s first acts was to petition that she be named the principal patroness. On Dec. 10, 1944, Venerable Pope Pius XII granted the request, with the added blessing of entrusting this local Church to the celestial care of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and our Blessed Lady of Victory. It was noted in the official decree of the Holy Father that this was done in part because such devotion and piety towards St. Thérèse had already taken root amongst the faithful, in parishes and schools and especially for the fostering of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Certainly, that is something to rediscover, yes? In April of 1945, Bishop Willging placed “every portion of the diocese under her immediate protection,” and he was often heard and quoted as saying, “St. Thérèse is the real bishop of Pueblo.” (The Willging Years, p. 166)
In 1949, Bishop Willging made a pilgrimage to the Carmel in Liseuex, France, where St. Thérèse lived out her brief life and heroic vocation. In a personal testimony from the Diocese of Pueblo archives, titled I Saw Little Thérèse ..., he recounts how they survived “three terrifying electrical storms” on the plane ride. Then, once on site, he quickly understood that the war had drastically changed the landscape, making the path to her chapel unrecognizable. After wandering around for quite some time, a nun dressed in a Carmelite habit approached him, guided him to the proper entrance and then disappeared into the enclosure. Only upon further reflection did he understand who it was that appeared to him, since no other logical explanation panned out. As the cherry on top, the great desire of his heart of getting to meet and speak with the two living sisters of St. Thérèse also came to pass, and the Diocese of Pueblo has a personal note with both their signatures!
If that is not enough to convince you of the significance of this rediscovery, please consider the following: St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus has not only been referred to as “the greatest saint of modern times” (Pope St. Pius X), but also “the greatest healer of modern times” (Venerable Pope Pius XII). Pope St. John Paul II, in preparation for declaring St. Thérèse a doctor of the universal Church, noted her privileged place in the Church by stating: “Her eminent teaching deserves to be considered among the most fruitful” (Angelus, Aug. 24, 1997), providing a synthesis of the entire Christian spirituality. She is the most quoted woman in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and loved all over the world. She is our special intercessor, our model of missionary discipleship, our sister and our friend. If we have the humility and courage to follow her Little Way, our diocese will be completely renewed in a more amazing way than we could have ever anticipated, as we will rediscover the greatness of God’s grace at work in our lives!