Witness to sainthood

by Jill Ragar Esfeld 

“I probably told that story 40 times the first day I was there,” said St. Patrick Kansas City, Kan., parishioner Rick Peterson.

Peterson was referring to his recent visit to Rome, where he and his wife Maura witnessed the canonization of St. Mary MacKillop, and gave thanks for the disappearance of his Parkinson’s symptoms, which he believes to have been granted through her intercession.

Peterson’s case has been documented by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the order co-founded by Sister Mary, ever since the trembling in his hands disappeared after he prayed at her tomb during the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia.

His wife never tires of hearing the story.

“It is an awesome story,” she said. “The World Youth Day theme was ‘Call to witness’ and so there really is that feel of being called to witness God’s love, God’s presence. And this is one way he can do it.”

Officially, the cessation of Peterson’s symptoms is called a significant favor. It has not gone through the rigorous investigation process required to label it a miracle.

Last December, the pope approved the church’s recognition of a second miracle attributed to the intercession of Sister Mary, signaling the final step in her canonization process.

“If this latest [miracle] had not gone through and been approved, mine was one of two or three others that would have gone forward,” said Peterson. “It will never go forward now; the sheer cost of doing it is prohibitive.”

Shortly after the second miracle was approved, the Petersons got a phone call from Sister Maria Casey, postulator for the cause of Sister Mary MacKillop, inviting them to come to Rome for the canonization.

Because the couple’s wedding anniversary was in September, they decided to make the trip a gift to one another as a celebration of their 30 years of marriage.

“It was Rick’s hope,” said Maura Pe- terson. “As his wife, I wanted to support him, and it was a chance of a lifetime to observe a canonization.”

On the flight over, they were delighted to find they were with a group from Sacred Heart Church in Shawnee also traveling to the event.

The couple arrived in Rome on Oct. 15 and stayed in a hotel where a large group of Josephite Sisters welcomed them. The Petersons were invited to share breakfast and dinner with the group.

One evening, Bishop Justin Joseph Bianchini of the Diocese of Geraldton, Australia, was at the table. The Sisters asked Peterson again to share his story.

“And my comment to him was, ‘I don’t think this is my story,’” Peterson said. “This is God’s story, and Mary and I are players in it.”

God is always at the center of Peterson’s tale. He considers the saints his holy mentors, and he makes it clear that he did not pray to Sister Mary MacKillop, but asked her to pray with him.

On the evening of Oct. 16, the Petersons attended a presentation on the life of Sister Mary MacKillop. At 7:15 the next morning, they were waiting in line to get into St. Peter’s Square.

In addition to Mary MacKillop, there were five other candidates for canonization. Each candidate received 100 tickets for the seats closest to the pope.

The Petersons were overwhelmed when they realized two of the Australian saint’s tickets were reserved for them.

“There were so many Australians there,” said Peterson. “I couldn’t believe we were two of the people selected to be up there.”

In total, 8,000 Australians helped make up the crowd of 50,000 present for the canonizations.

“It was the Catholic Church in all its traditions and elegance and beauty,” said Maura Peterson. “And that was great.”

“One of the neat things is it was a traditional Latin Mass,” said Peterson. “And it had been a long time since I had seen a traditional Latin Mass.”

“So you didn’t really understand much of what [Pope Benedict] said,” said his wife. “But the joy of the people responding to him was fun to watch.”

Joy was definitely the emotion of the day.

“The canonization was very brief,” said Peterson. “The pope said this prayer and, as he said the prayer, he listed each one as saint.”

When each saint’s name was announced, Peterson said audience members cheered and applauded. He particularly remembered a group of nuns in the choir who broke out in cheers.

“And when they did that,” he said, “[the pope] just turned and kind of smiled and waved at them, and then went on with the Mass.

“That we were able to be that close and that much a part of it was just really special.”

The Josephites were not to be outdone in their expression of joy.

“They were absolutely thrilled,” said Maura Peterson. “They were so much fun to watch because this was the result of many years of work for them, so they were very, very happy.”

On Oct. 18, the Petersons attended a thanksgiving Mass for Sister Mary’s canonization. It was the 27-month anniversary of the end of Rick’s symptoms.

Before returning to the United States, the couple took a side trip to Assisi, where they found a nice contrast to the excitement of the canonization.

“That to me was as enjoyable and prayerful as the canonization Mass — to do the contemplative, prayerful walk of Francis,” said Maura Peterson. “They were both equally rewarding in our faith.”

Reflecting on his experience, Peter- son recalled sharing the story of his favor with archdiocesan vocation director, Father Mitchel Zimmerman.

“When I told him what happened, he looked to heaven and said, ‘Praise God.

“Then he looked right back at me and said, ‘Do you know how strongly you’ve been called to the second half of this theme? You need to go out and shout this from the mountaintops!’”

Peterson said his prayer now is that he might be a holy mentor to others.

“I believe through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we each are called to be just that,” he said.

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