In Diebus Illis . . .
The author of the following letter is a Sister of Charity of Convent Station, NJ. She is one of those “valiant women” who worked with U.S. Passionists in the Province of Hunan, China, from the 1920s to 1955. Sister Carita has been able to revisit China and meet again some of her former charges. It is a privilege to share this letter with our readers.
Morgan P. Hanlon, C.P., Co-Editor
February 4, 1994
Dear Fr. Morgan:
I am very grateful for your Winter 1995 Passionist Heritage Newsletter! I was particularly interested in In Diebus Illis… for, in the Hoboken of my childhood, there was nothing unusual about a “healing priest” in Saint Michael’s Monastery. I was born in 1904. From the windows of our Hoboken flat, we could see the cupola of the Monastery; and I always understood that healing with the relic of Saint Paul of the Cross went on there, that there was a healing priest—not one, but whoever was on duty to bless with the relic. Here is our experience:
When I was two years old, my father lost his left arm in a work-related accident. He was guaranteed a job for life if he did not sue the D. L. & W. Railroad and two years later lost his eyesight when a blood clot formed on his optical nerve. He was taken to Saint Mary’s Hospital and in despair told my mother that he could no longer believe in a God who would allow this to happen to a good Catholic with two little children. My mother learned that a certain Father Hilary, a Passionist, was sick in the hospital at the same time; and she went to his room and asked him to reason with my father. The priest did so; and the next time he had visitors from the Monastery, they brought the relic of Saint Paul of the Cross with them. Father Hilary either went to my father’s room or had my father brought to him and blessed him with the relic. My father’s sight was restored instantly, and he lived until 1919 when he died during the Spanish Influenza epidemic. He was an exemplary Catholic all his days and very active in Our Lady of Grace Parish. I never learned Father Hilary’s last name, but his religious name was held in benediction in our home. [ed. This was probably Fr. Hilary Welsh d. 1921.]
Then when I was about eight years old or so, there was an epidemic of infantile paralysis that struck many children in our crowded neighborhood including my youngest brother, Francis, who lost the power of both legs. My mother, at this time, had six children, one an infant. So a neighbor offered to carry Francis to the Monastery to be blessed with the relic. My mother gratefully agreed, and the neighbor took not only me and my little brother but her niece who was the same age as I. I remember well the trip. It was summer, and we traveled on an open car (a summer car) along the trestle which began on Newark Avenue and ended in Jersey City Heights and then ran through Jersey City Heights to West Hoboken. We kids were filled with delight at the excursion and sang at the top of our lungs, “Up on top of the hill, ha! ha!” until we reached the Monastery. Then we went up the long aisle to where a priest waited behind the altar rail. He asked what the trouble was and blessed all of us with the relic of Saint Paul of the Cross. Francis regained the use of his legs within a few days.
I never did learn who that priest was, but this experience gave me a bright idea: I was the oldest of our family and sort of “King of the Kids” on our block. Frequently through the years, I would lead a crowd of children (among them my own little brothers whom I was supposed to be “minding”) up the Fourteenth Street Viaduct to the Monastery to be blessed by the “healing priest” with the relic of Saint Paul of the Cross. That’s how ordinary and regular the procedure was! When the priest would ask me where I wanted to be blessed, I would point to my head. The reason for my doing so was this: Whenever my mother was displeased with me, she’d say “If I had an extra five dollars, I’d take you to an alienist!” I probably thought that I’d save her the money.
Can it be that only in Hoboken and nearby places such as Jersey City, Secaucus, and Weehawken people referred to “healing priests” in Saint Michael’s Monastery?
Sister Carita Pendergast