There are few things we know for certain in this life, with the exception of death and taxes. But I have learned, especially in recent weeks and months, that there is at least one other certainty: when people rally together for a cause and make their voices heard, things will change. Egypt, the Tea Party and elected officials in Wisconsin, for example, all know this to be true. So I take my case to you, the people — Italian Americans and other descendants of hard-working immigrants, residents of the Midwest, Roman Catholics, graduates of Catholic schools, students of history, theology, geography and social work and anyone who will listen: Do you know Venerable Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP, and will you lend your voice in promoting his Cause?
If you or your parents or grandparents boarded a rickety ship from a port in Europe, left family and friends behind, perhaps never to be seen again, and made that harrowing trip across the Atlantic alone, in torrential weather, upon a merciless ocean, you already have a strong bond with Father Samuel.
If you have ever traveled toward Galena, Ill., or through Wisconsin up to Green Bay, visited Mackinac Island or studied in Iowa, you have walked where Father Samuel walked as he ministered, often alone, across a vast 52,000-square-mile region, sharing scraps of food with native American tribes, learning the language of French-Canadian fur traders and, one remote village at a time, bringing the Word of God and sacraments of the Faith to pioneers.
If you have ever built something from nothing with your hands, wanted the best possible education for your children, sat brokenhearted beside a friend’s sick bed or had the fleeting feeling of fear and loneliness in your work and your life, you, too, have a soul mate in Father Samuel Mazzuchelli.
From his arrival in the United States in 1828 at age 22 until his untimely death in 1864, his accomplishments defy logic as well as the imagination. How was it possible that this one penniless man, forced to learn numerous languages to survive in the undeveloped and perilous Midwest frontier, who relied on sheer Providence for food, strength and a place to sleep and who had no formal training or experience in architecture could design and build more than 24 churches and civic buildings, establish schools and parish communities for the country’s newest settlers? And how could there possibly be a drop of stamina and faith left to compassionately teach, write, baptize, anoint the sick and bury the dead in his enormous tri-state “parish”? Many of us can barely make it through the workday with the conveniences of the 21st century at our fingertips. Father Samuel’s own life may very well have been his first miracle. No one man, then or now, could — or would — embrace such daunting challenges, day after exhausting day, armed only with an undying faith in God.
Father Samuel was relentless about creating a better, more intelligent world: that he built an academy for young women, decades ahead of his time, offering a remarkably advanced curriculum, including the latest in scientific equipment and demonstrations of electricity and physics, is quite simply hard to fathom. One of his greatest legacies may have been establishing the American Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa — women who are not merely teachers but a community of renowned scholars, authors, doctors, musicians and educators. The Mazzuchelli and Dominican heritage inherent in Illinois schools (Trinity High School in River Forest, Queen of Peace High School in Burbank, Rosary College [now Dominican University] in River Forest) is also prevalent in learning institutions around the country where the Sisters have left their mark on students, passing on Father Samuel’s faith, confidence and knowledge purely by the example of their own lives.
I am one of those students, forever grateful to the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, who continue to show me and teach me the Mazzuchelli way years after my graduation from Rosary College. The motto Caritas et Veritas, Love and Truth, Father Samuel’s compass in a foreign land and, subsequently, the Sisters’ approach to education, still changes lives, renews tired faith — and performs miracles.
I have shaken hands with Robert Uselmann, an ordinary man from Madison, Wis., who was told in 2001 to simply go home, that his incurable cancer would soon take his life. After praying with Father Samuel Mazzuchelli’s penance chain, he became Father Samuel’s first documented miracle. I was there when Mr. Uselmann’s scrupulously examined case, blessed by Madison Bishop Robert Morlino, was sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, which must now make a recommendation to Pope Benedict XVI as to whether or not Father Samuel should be beatified. Miracles attributed to Father Samuel are often associated with his penance chain, an iron chain that was found, only after his death, embedded in his flesh. He had worn it around his body to be united with the sufferings of Christ.
So I take my case to you, the faithful: Will your voice join mine in promoting Father Samuel’s deserving Cause? Without much effort, you can speak volumes. Pray the prayer for the Beatification of Father Samuel, which can be found at www.sinsinawa.org (along with more detailed information about his life, penance chain and miracles). E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will personally send you a prayer card; join the Venerable Father Samuel page on Facebook; visit Sinsinawa Mound just outside of Galena, where the chain is available for veneration upon request. Let your prayers and passionate support for Father Samuel be known to the Holy Father in Rome email@example.com; to the Diocese of Madison at firstname.lastname@example.org and join their Facebook page; to Bishop Morlino’s office, c/o William.Yallaly@straphael.org; or write to the Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi, 3339 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20008-3687 (fax: 202-337-4036). Together, our ordinary but collective voices can advance Father Samuel’s Cause, even securing for us a small place in history on those anticipated days when the Pope announces Father Samuel’s Beatification and, one day, bestows the title of Saint on our neighbor, this holy Italian American who lived and worked among us — in Fra Noi territory.