Saint Josephine Bakhita: Trusting in God’s Unpredictable Path

Many saints are known for their harrowing and unbelievable stories. For many, converting to Christianity and finding Christ was not a straight and narrow path. Rather, the road to sainthood and Christ is often paved with complexity, ambiguity, and challenges. For Josephine Bakhita, this path was also paved with great personal suffering. While not often discussed, St. Josephine’s story is truly inspiring. When one learns about her life prior to Christ and the atrocities committed against her, it would be understandable to assume she never would put faith in God. However, just the opposite is true. Keep reading to learn more about this holy woman and her unconventional path to Christ.

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Josephine was born in 1869 in Sudan. Her uncle was the chief of the Daju tribe, placing Josephine and her family in a very comfortable position. That being said, Josephine had a very happy childhood at the start. However, at the young age of eight, Josephine was kidnapped by local slave traders. Taken from the comfort and love of her family, Josephine was forced to walk hundreds of miles to various slave trade markets. This marked the beginning of the 12 year period she would be a slave.

During this time, she was traded to dozens of families. Because of her rapid transfers, it’s been said that Josephine forgot her actual name. While some of her owners were kinder than others, Josephine suffered through several awful households.

One owner was especially cruel. He was a Turkish general who bought Josephine to be a maid for his wife. This mistress made it her intention to hurt Josephine in as many ways as possible. The mistress would trace patterns on Josephine’s back, then carve into these patterns with a knife, rubbing in salt soon after to ensure the carvings scarred. In her writings, Josephine states that as soon as one wound healed, they would open another one. In the end, Josephine accumulated over 113 scars from this household. Just when Josephine believed she couldn’t bear any more suffering, she was traded to a kinder owner. The year was now 1883, and Josephine traveled with her new owner across the Red Sea to Italy. This owner did not beat her. In fact, when the owner (an Italian consulate) had business in Sudan, instead of bringing Josephine with him for the rough journey, he placed her in the care of the Canossian Sisters of Venice.

During her time with the sisters, Josephine learned more about God. While she had heard of God and His creation of the Universe before, she had no personal or intimate relationship with Him. As she began to learn more and more, she developed a deep love for Christ. This led to her ultimate discernment of religious life. There was, however, a problem. When Josephine’s master returned, he still claimed ownership of her, and demanded that she leave the convent and return home to work. She resisted these demands, and with the help of the sisters was able to file a formal case against him. As it turned out, slavery was illegal in Sudan at the time of Josephine’s kidnapping. Therefore, Josephine was a free woman.

Josephine stayed with the sisters. She was baptized on January 9, 1890 with the name Josephine Margaret Fortunata. Fortunata is the Latin version of her birth name Bakhita. She became a Novice with the Canossian Daughters of Charity in 1893 and she took her final vows in 1896. She stayed with the sisters throughout the rest of her life, helping as a cook and doorkeeper within the convent. She also traveled and prepared other convents for missionary work in Africa.

Josephine was known for her very kind and gentle nature. Even after enduring a life filled with such hardship and great physical and emotional anguish, she found the courage to publicly thank her kidnappers for ultimately bringing her to Christ. While there are few documented miracles attributed to Josephine, the Italian village of Schio claims to have been under her protection during World War II. While the village was severely bombed, not a single person died.

Toward the end of her life, Josephine was confined to a wheel chair. Despite this hindrance, she still maintained her joyful demeanor, simply saying her life was “as the heavenly Master desires.” She would pass away on February 8, 1947. In 1992 she was beatified by Pope John Paul II and she was canonized in 2000, also by Pope John Paul II.

Josephine’s story truly highlights that the road to Christ is often filled with trials and sorrows. Sometimes in order to grow closer to Him, we must understand to some extent the pain and suffering He endured on the cross. It is also by living through this pain and finding Christ in spite of it that we can truly appreciate the gifts and blessings He bestows on us all. If you find yourself struggling with sorrow in your life, say a quick prayer to Saint Josephine. As someone who endured such suffering, she may offer help, guidance, and comfort during our most difficult times here on earth.

Information gathered from: https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=7339 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

Stella Walsh: A Local Olympian

Olympic athletes have always been celebrities in their own rite. Even in the recent Winter Olympics, it appeared that the whole world was captivated with the select group of individuals chosen to compete and represent their country. Seeing people who are so dedicated to their country and to their sport is enough to inspire anyone to pursue their passion and make a greater impact on their community. Stanisława Walasiewicz (more commonly known as Stella Walsh) was one such athlete. However, her story goes beyond her involvement in Olympic events. Keep reading to learn more about this remarkable woman.

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Stella Walsh during track and field competition

Born on April 3, 1911 in Poland, Stella only lived in the country for a few months before her parents immigrated to the United States. Eventually, the family settled in Cleveland where Stella’s father found work at a local steel mill. Enrolled in Cleveland public schools, it didn’t take long for Stella’s athletic ability to be noticed. At the young age of 16 she qualified for the American Olympic track team. But there was a problem. Being born in Poland, Stella was not an American citizen and was not yet old enough to apply for citizenship. But this didn’t stop Stella from pursuing her passions. Instead, she decided to join a local Polish sports organization. Through this organization, Stella was able to compete and would win several titles in 60, 100, 200, and 400 meter dash events. Stella was so spectacular that she was even asked to join the Polish national athletic team.

Throughout her teenage years, Stella continued to participate in Polish and American sporting events, all while working as a clerk in Cleveland. She won several international and local titles in track events. One of these competitions even won Stella a car! In 1930 at the young age of 19, Stella had gained both local and international fame which resulted in her being offered American and Polish citizenships. She accepted her Polish citizenship and was named the most popular athlete in Poland that same year.  While this already seems rather noteworthy, the pinnacle of Stella’s fame would come to fruition in the years following her Polish citizenship.

In 1932 Los Angeles, California was hosting the Summer Olympics. Stella was selected to participate, representing Poland. After competing in several events, Stella made history when she won the gold medal in the 100 meter dash, having completed the sprint in 11.9 seconds which equaled the current world record at the time. This Olympic win even heightened her celebrity more– so much so that Poland awarded her the Cross of Merit (typically given for humanitarian or public achievements). Over the next 4 years, Stella would maintain her title as most popular athlete in Poland.

As time came for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Stella began to in wane in popularity. She would compete again in the 100 meter dash, this time taking home the silver medal after losing the gold to American track athlete, Helen Stephens. After this loss, Stella decided to accept her American citizenship and remained in Cleveland permanently.  She would continue to compete in events throughout the country, and won her last title at the age of forty. In 1975 she was inducted in the Track and Field Hall of Fame.

Throughout her retirement, Stella stayed active in athletics and her Polish culture. She was heavily involved in several athletic organizations, particularly those aimed at younger athletes, and helped fund awards for Polish-American citizens. Stella would contribute to these organizations up until her untimely death.

On December 4, 1980 Stella was in a Cleveland parking lot, having just purchased ribbons for a visiting Polish team. She was a victim of an armed robbery and sadly did not survive.  Stella’s death, and subsequent autopsy, resulted in various rumors and controversy about Stella’s true gender. While this is a topic still discussed today, no one can argue Stella’s unique athletic talent and contribution to both Polish and American track history.

Stella is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland (Sec. 95 Lot. 2003)

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Fr. Gene Wilson: A Local Leader of Faith

Cleveland is lucky to be home to many influential African American leaders. Spanning across many generations, organizations, and industries, these leaders have helped shaped our region. Reverend Gene Wilson, CPPS. was one of these great leaders. As the first African American to be ordained as a priest in the Diocese of Cleveland, his story is one of true devotion to Christ. Keep reading to learn more about this remarkable man.

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Wilson was born in Charleston, West Virginia on May 18, 1928. Soon after he was born his parents, Luther Lee and Hilda Wilson, decided to move to Cleveland. While Wilson traveled to several different states throughout his career, Cleveland would always remain to be his home town. At the age of 22, Wilson entered into the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. By the age of 30, Wilson had earned his bachelor’s degree from Saint Joseph’s College in Rennsselaer, Indiana and was ordained a priest on May 28th of that same year.

After his ordination, Wilson devoted himself to parish ministry at St. Adalbert Church in Cleveland. Following a few years of service, Wilson decided to further his education and moved to Washington, D.C. where he attended Catholic University and received master’s degrees in Library Science and Spirituality. After a brief time working as a librarian, he returned to parish ministry. This time, he visited parishes around the country—mainly in California. While on the West Coast, Wilson took part in the formation of the Province of the Pacific, and is credited for his work in entering new cultural communities in the area. After several years of this missionary work, Wilson returned to Ohio at the age of 78 and served as a senior associate pastor of St. Mark Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. While there, he was known for presiding at healing masses and bringing the Black Consciousness movement to his parish. In 2009 he began ministry at the Sorrowful Mother Shrine in Bellevue, Ohio, which is sponsored by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. Sadly, Reverend Wilson passed away at the age of 88 on March 30, 2017 in Cleveland, OH. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland (Section 92, Lot 1301C, Grave 2).

Reverend Gene Wilson was known for his cheerful and joyful attitude, and his deep dedication to Christ and the Holy spirit. As the first African American to be ordained a priest in the Diocese of Cleveland, he helped pave the way for countless other men pursuing the priesthood. His life proves to us all what a large impact an individual can make on their community.

Information from: http://cpps-preciousblood.org/2017/03/fr-gene-wilson-c-pp-s-1928-2017/

Post written by Katie Karpinski

St. Patrick: A Story of Conversion and Conviction

Saint Patrick is one of the few saints to have a widely accepted holiday held in their honor. As one of the patron saints of Ireland, this powerful missionary has become a symbol for the nation and the people who hail from it. Known by many names and titles such as the “Apostle of Ireland” and the “Enlightener of Ireland”, Saint Patrick’s influence on Irish culture has spanned centuries. This influence is so strong, that even those who are not ethnically Irish still choose to celebrate his feast day on March 17th. Keep reading to learn more about this notable saint.

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Saint Patrick holding a shamrock

While records regarding St. Patrick’s birth and death dates are unclear, it’s widely accepted that he lived during the 5th century. He was born in Roman, Britain. His family was rooted in a deep Catholic faith, with Patrick’s father being a deacon and his grandfather a priest. This trait was not immediately expressed by Patrick, however, as during his youth he denied the Catholic faith. When he was 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates. He was brought to the Irish country side as a slave and worked as a shepherd and animal care taker. He would remain a slave for six years. During this time, Patrick began to reconnect with his Catholic faith. He spent more and more time in prayer, and eventually was able to form a strong relationship with God. One day, Patrick received a message from God saying he would be traveling home soon. Sure enough, Patrick was soon able to escape captivity and made it home to his family in Britain. Now a man in his early 20’s, Patrick had changed. He decided to enter into religious life and pursue a life dedicated to serving Christ.

Patrick became a priest, and a Bishop after that. One day shortly after his ordination, a messenger angel came to him with a letter that read “The Voice of the Irish”. After receiving this message, Patrick knew that he was being called to minister to the people of Ireland. Upon his arrival, Saint Patrick was treated poorly due to his status as a foreigner. He was routinely beaten, robbed, and in some cases even imprisoned. However, this adversity did not prevent him from conducting thousands of baptisms and conversions. Christianity began to spread throughout Ireland, as well as the notoriety and fame of Saint Patrick. It was during this time that many of the legends surrounding Saint Patrick occurred.

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Saint Patrick performing a baptism

First, it’s said that Saint Patrick used a shamrock to explain the holy trinity. As a plant with three connected clovers, the metaphor became quite clear: three parts to one equal body. This metaphor is still one that is used today to explain the trinity. Another legend regarding Saint Patrick is his banishment of the snakes in Ireland. Legend states that during one of his 40 day fasts, St. Patrick was attacked by a group of snakes. As a result, Saint Patrick chased the snakes into the sea and thereby banished them from Ireland altogether. This is widely believed, as Ireland is still known as a country with no native snakes. These are just two examples of the countless legends, landmarks, and artifacts that are connected to the life of Saint Patrick.

As previously mentioned, Saint Patrick’s actual birth and death dates or not known, but many believe that he died at some point during the 5th century on March 17th, which would later become his feast day. By the 7th century, Patrick became known as a Catholic saint and is still celebrated to this day. Saint Patrick’s story is one of true inspiration. Sometimes the situations we find most discouraging or difficult are the ones most beneficial to our spiritual life. By trusting and listening to God, every situation can be made into an opportunity to spread the word of Christ to the world.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

Frank J Petrarca: A Story of Sacrifice and Bravery

The Catholic Cemeteries Association is very proud to have buried several Medal of Honor recipients. These brave men and women signify and illustrate someone of true heroic and self-sacrificing integrity. Frank Petrarca is no exception. This Cleveland native is now the namesake of Navy ships, National Guard training areas, and more. Keep reading to learn more about this remarkable man and his sacrifice to help others.

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Petrarca was born on July 31, 1918 to Dominic and Bettina Petrarca in Cleveland, OH. Their family was very large, as Frank was one of the couple’s ten children. Growing up in Cleveland, Frank Petrarca attended St. Marian’s parochial school and would later go on to graduate from East High School in 1938. Following a brief period of doing carpentry work for his father, Frank decided to join the 145th Ohio National Guard Regiment in 1939, and a year later in 1940 he enlisted in the United States Army.

In 1943 Petrarca was serving in the Medical Detachment, 145th Infantry Regiment, 37th Infantry Division. His unit was on active duty at Horseshoe Hill on New Georgia (part of the Solomon Islands). His first act of heroism occurred on July 27th of that year, when he aided three wounded soldiers, despite the imminent threat of enemy fire. Again, on July 29th, he braved enemy fire to assist a fallen sergeant. Petrarca would repeat this pattern until July 31st, 1943, his 25th birthday. It was on this day that Petrarca, venturing to aid a wounded solider, would be struck and killed by mortar fire.

On December 23, 1943 Frank Petrarca was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was buried in his hometown of Cleveland, OH at Calvary Cemetery (Section 110, Lot 2168, Grave 3). Petrarca’s story is one of true sacrifice and bravery, and is someone we should all strive to emulate and honor.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Information gathered from http://case.edu/ech/articles/p/petrarca-frank-j/