My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I was in California twice in the past two weeks. First, I concelebrated the Solemn Mass of Dedication of Christ Cathedral with Bishop Kevin Vann in the Diocese of Orange on July 17. Then I participated in the Napa Institute’s Annual Conference July 22-27.
There were several of us from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois at the dedication of Christ Cathedral in a show of support for Bishop Vann, a native son of our diocese, who served in various capacities in our Diocesan Curia and in several parishes, most notably as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Decatur and Blessed Sacrament Parish in Springfield.
The new Christ Cathedral in Orange, Calif., was formerly the Crystal Cathedral, which opened in 1980 as the megachurch of Rev. Robert Schuller, a famous televangelist, best-known for his broadcast, Hour of Power. Over the years, his followers aged and their numbers diminished, while the Catholic population of the Diocese of Orange grew from about 300,000 in 1976 to about 1.6 million today. In 2010, Rev. Schuller’s Hour of Power Ministries filed for bankruptcy and the Diocese of Orange purchased the Crystal Cathedral and its campus. Following extensive renovation to make the former Crystal Cathedral suitable for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and other Catholic worship services, the remodeled and renamed Christ Cathedral was finally ready for its solemn dedication on July 17.
In his homily for the Dedication Mass, Bishop Vann made a connection between our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield and the new Christ Cathedral in Orange. Speaking of “experiences in cathedrals that have been very personal and formative in our lives,” Bishop Vann said that “it was at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield where, through an unexpected set of circumstances, I was given the chance to learn and to play the organ for then something new — Saturday evening Masses. It was where I experienced another dimension of family when I would stay with my great aunt and attend Mass with her. It was also a place for pivotal moments in my life (whether or not I was going to continue my medical studies), and when the voice of ‘come follow me’ seemed to be most clear: at the moment of a young priest’s funeral over 50 years ago when the whole Catholic community of Springfield gathered and when I wondered who would replace him and when the kindness and pastoral care of one of the rectors [of the Cathedral, Father Charles Mulcrone] deeply touched me.” The young priest whose funeral Bishop Vann was describing was Father Robert Spiekerman, a Viatorian priest on the faculty of Griffin High School, who died in his 40s of a massive cerebral hemorrhage on Nov. 3, 1965. His funeral was celebrated by Bishop William A. O’Connor, and the cathedral was overflowing with people.
Bishop Vann also recalled occasions at our cathedral “when the whole Diocese of Springfield would gather and I would sense the reality of the family of God even greater than Springfield, where I could sense ‘you are members of the household of God’ — even though I may not have been able to say it in just that way as St. Paul puts it for us so elegantly.”
I am grateful to Bishop Vann for making this wonderful connection between our cathedral and the new Christ Cathedral in Orange.
The following week I participated in the Napa Institute’s Annual Conference. Keynote speakers included Cardinal Raymond Burke, Sen. Lindsey Graham, George Weigel, and Father Robert Spitzer. I participated in a panel discussion with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Wash. Weigel served as moderator for our discussion, which was on the topic, “Shepherding the Flock in Times of Crisis.” We spoke of the various measures that have been adopted by the Holy See, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and in our respective dioceses to address the scandals that have been in the news during the past year.
An especially noteworthy speaker was Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who was a physician, a working mom, a professional woman, and a loving wife. In 1961, Gianna became pregnant with her fourth child. Toward the end of her second month of pregnancy, Gianna began experiencing severe pain. Her doctors discovered she had developed a fibroma in her uterus, meaning she was carrying both a baby and a tumor.
After examination, the doctors gave her three choices: an abortion, which would save her life and allow her to continue to have children, but take the life of the child she carried; a complete hysterectomy, which would preserve her life, but take the unborn child’s life, and prevent further pregnancy; or removal of only the fibroma, with the potential of further complications, which could save the life of her baby. Gianna was quite clear about her wishes, expressing to her family, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: Choose the child. I insist on it. Save the baby.”
On April 21, 1962, her daughter, Gianna Emanuela Molla, was successfully delivered by Caesarean section. The doctors tried many different treatments and procedures to ensure both lives would be saved. However, on April 28, 1962, a week after the baby was born, Gianna passed away from septic peritonitis. Gianna was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1994, and officially canonized as a saint on May 16, 2004. Her husband and their children, including Gianna Emanuela, attended her canonization ceremony, making this the first time a husband witnessed his wife’s canonization.
I rode from the airport in Sacramento to Napa in a van with Dr. Molla. It was very touching to hear her talk about how she prayed every morning to her “Saint Mom.” I thought of my own mother, who was a saintly person, even if not officially canonized a saint. Meeting the daughter of a canonized saint also brought home to me very clearly that becoming a saint is not as impossible to achieve as we may think. I pray that St. Gianna Beretta Molla will intercede for all of us to become saints!
May God give us this grace. Amen.