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Saint Joseph the Worker - Feast May 1

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The early history of the American Southwest is marked by sublime and truly heroic adventures of ardent souls seeking to expand the Kingdom of Christ. The intensity of their faith and efforts is made manifest in the convents, chapels, and schools they founded—and sometimes in miracles God worked on their behalf. One such miracle, a permanent one, took place in what is now the state of New Mexico.

 

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Miraculous Stairs built by St Joseph

The Sisters of Loretto and their chapel
After three grueling months of travel by river and rail from Kentucky, four religious of the congregation of the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of Cross reached Santa Fe in 1853. There, at the request of the bishop of Sante Fe, John Baptiste Lamy, they opened a school for girls. This seed, sprouting and flourishing, exerted a great influence on the life and history of the city.

By 1873, to better accommodate their community, the sisters undertook construction of a new chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Light. With its lancet arches and stained glass windows, it was to be reminiscent of the luminous Gothic splendor that arose in medieval Europe under the inspiration of the same Catholic Faith that the nuns were fostering in New Mexico.

But as construction neared completion, the sisters faced a problem.

Relative to its length of 75 ft. and breath of the 25ft., the chapel was high at 85 ft, so a staircase to the choir-loft could not be built according to the customary patterns. One of the architects directing the project had died, and the original plans could not be found. Various carpenters and other building specialists consulted for a solution did not know what to propose.

There was even talk of pulling down the choir loft. But nuns are known for their dauntless faith and trusting recourse to heaven when natural means fail. They decided to make a novena to Saint Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth.


St Joseph StatueA carpenter knocks
No sooner was the novena completed than a man knocked at the convent door. He had heard of their predicament, he explained, and, being a carpenter, came to offer his help.

The sisters immediately accepted his offer.

With the few primitive tools, a saw, a hammer and a T-square, which he brought with him on his donkey, he set to work. Some sisters also remembered some tubs of water to soak the wood to make it pliable.

Laboring quietly and diligently, the unknown carpenter soon completed a beautiful spiral staircase. Made entirely of wood held together with wooden pegs, having neither nails nor screws, it ascends to the choir loft in two complete 360-degree turns with no central axis for support.

When he had finished the essential part of the staircase—everything except a handrail—the carpenter departed before the sisters could pay him, and never returned. The Mother Superior tried to locate him in the area, but looked and inquired in vain. No one knew him at all. She visited the local lumber yard to pay for the wood but they knew nothing of such an order. The grateful sisters, though disappointed that the carpenter had slipped away, were not surprised; had they not prayed to Saint Joseph?


Puzzled Experts
But architects, carpenters, and the like were certainly mystified. They came in increasing numbers to examine the technique that allowed such a tall staircase, with two complete turns, to stand with no central axis! They marveled further on hearing that the stairs were being regularly used by the sisters and pupils. According to the professionals, the spiral should have collapsed the minute the first person tried to climb it! And so the stairway continued to be used for a century.

The experts also admired the geometric perfection of its design, obtained solely with manual skill and rudimentary tools. They were no less perplexed at the wood used, unknown to them and the area.

One aspect of the staircase may have added to the musings of the specialists or may have been overlooked, but the sisters noticed and understood it completely. The staircase has 33 steps, significantly corresponding to the “perfect age” at which Our Lord expired on the cross for our redemption.


Silent Witness to this Day
In 1968, due in part to the crisis occasioned by progressivism, then already taking a serious toll on the Church’s religious communities, the Sisters of Loretto reduced their activities in Santa Fe. The School of Our Lady of Light closed its doors. Its building, sold three years later, was remodeled and opened as a hotel.

The chapel remains intact, but now a museum. Visitors, who must purchase tickets to enter the chapel, can listen to a recorded history as they contemplate its interior. While curiosity and analysis lead many to admiration and piety, skeptics are left in silent perplexity.

In 1984 Professor Mary J. Straw published a comprehensive study on the chapel entitled, Loretto, the Sisters, and their Santa Fe Chapel. And tourist guides still point to the chapel as the site of a miraculous staircase.

Whatever the present status of the chapel, the staircase stands in silent and admirable witness to the faith and efforts of those pioneering sisters who dedicated their lives to raising hearts and minds to God.

 


  

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 21, 2019

Make friends with the angels, who though invisible are alway...

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November 21

 

Make friends with the angels, who though
invisible are always with you.
Often invoke them,
constantly praise them, and make good use
of their help and assistance
in all your
temporal and spiritual affairs.


St. Francis de Sales


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple

Mary asked if she might have the honor to be the servant of...

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The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple

On the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, we celebrate the fact that Our Lady’s parents brought her to the Temple at the age of three and handed her over to live there for a long period as a consecrated virgin where she might exclusively contemplate God.

There is a special beauty to this feast since it highlights the fact that Our Lady was chosen even before time began. She is called the root of Jesse (Isaiah, 11:1) from which Our Lord Jesus Christ would be born. She is introduced to the synagogue, the institution in charge of keeping this promise. Thus, the synagogue receives Our Lady as a first step. In this act, the hopes of ages would soon be fulfilled.

Our Lady, a supremely holy soul, is received in the Temple and entered into the service of God. Despite the corruption of the nation of Israel and the transformation of the Temple into a den of the Pharisees, an incomparable light appeared: the sanctity of Our Lady.

Unknowingly, Our Lady began to prepare herself to become the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In an atmosphere of grace in the Temple, she was set apart from everyone in order to serve God. She increased her love of God until she formed the ardent desire for the imminent coming of the Messiah and asked God if she might have the honor to be the servant of His Mother. She did not know that she was the one chosen for this honor. That is why she was perplexed when the Archangel Gabriel greeted her to ask her permission for the Incarnation.

Our Lady’s magnificent preparation to be the Mother of Jesus Christ began with her Presentation in the Temple, a feast the Church celebrates on November 21. It is fitting that we ask Our Lady to prepare us with the best of Catholic doctrine to serve God by serving her. We should present ourselves before Our Lady, asking her to assist us in taking up the task of our sanctification, as the Holy Ghost did with her in the Temple of Jerusalem.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared stan...

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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