My first encounter with the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion was in Timaru where the sisters of the community founded by Mother Mary Joseph Aubert nursed the poor and disabled of South Canterbury at St. Vianney’s Home of Compassion.
As a teenager I recognised the sisters as remarkable women of faith who had given their lives in service of those often rejected by family, friends and society.
While family, friends and followers and the wider Christian community might quickly proclaim some of our number to be saints, the more formal process of canonisation engages the wider Church, represented by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This Vatican office seeks to discern if there is any reason why a person might not be a saint.
The formal process is thorough, ensuring that there is no doubt that one named as a saint has not only preceded us into the eternal life of God, but that while on earth lived a life of witness to Jesus Christ worthy of our imitation.
The cause for canonisation of Mother Mary Joseph Aubert began soon after her 1926 death. She was known to be a remarkable woman of God in her life on earth, and the people of Wellington bore testimony to this bringing the city to a standstill as they filled the streets for her funeral.
In earlier centuries some were named as saints informally by popular acclamation. This undiscerned reaction was not always helpful and years later it became clear that the “saint’s” reputation was more suspect and shady than saintly.
On other occasions it was discovered that some idols of local myth who never existed had been personified and canonised by cults.
The situation with Mary Joseph Aubert is different. Her saintly reputation is widespread and her holiness is unquestioned.
In December 2016 Pope Francis named her as “Venerable” and the hope-filled expectation is that the formal process moves more quickly now to name Venerable Suzanne as “Blessed” before she is formally proclaimed to be a saint of the church.
We will wait until Mother Mary Joseph Aubert is officially canonised and proclaimed by the pope before we introduce her as “saint” to the prayers of the liturgy of the church. However we the people know that in Suzanne Aubert a saint has walked our land of Aotearoa New Zealand and has lived among us.
It is appropriate that in our personal prayer the move is well underway to speak of her informally as “Saint Suzanne”, or even as Joy Cowley’s beautiful book is titled “Saint Grandma,” and to pray through her intercession.
It may be some time before the wider church is able to make a formal proclamation and we look forward to that day. However in the meantime let’s delight in our local knowledge that in Venerable Mary Joseph Aubert one from our own land, fluent in te reo Maori, and with a deep and practical for Jesus in the poorest of our poor, has (in the definition of a saint from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) preceded us into the kingdom, and shares in the living tradition of prayer by the example of her life, her writings, and her prayer today.
Saint Suzanne, pray for us