Diocesan News

Inspiration and Work for the Canonization of Bishop Ford

By Father John Vesey

During his pontificate, St. Pope John Paul II encouraged all local churches to update their list of local saints.

Inspired by the teaching of Vatican II, namely “Lumen Gentium,” the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, the universal call to lead a holy life united to Christ is the vocation of all Christians.“Lumen Gentium” states “that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.”

In his apostolic letter, “At the Beginning of the New Millennium” (“Novo Millennio Ineunte”), St. Pope John Paul II states “this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few ‘uncommon heroes’ of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual.”

To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Bishop Francis Xavier Ford, M.M., in a prison in South China, Maryknoll held a memorial service in February, 2002, at its motherhouse in Ossining, N.Y., and an exhibition of Bishop Ford’s life in Kaying, China. Msgr. John Tosi, then-rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. James, Downtown Brooklyn, borrowed the display for a similar exhibition later that year.

Seeing the exhibition, Auxiliary Bishop Ignatius Catanello, now deceased, was so touched by Bishop Ford’s life that he asked Brooklyn Bishop Thomas Daily, now also deceased, if it would be possible to work on Bishop Ford’s canonization cause. After consulting with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints regarding the possibility, two questions had to be considered: the juridical competence of the Bishop of Brooklyn to initiate the cause and the nihil obstat of the Holy See for the cause.

On behalf of Bishop Daily, Bishop Catanello, through personal contacts, requested and received from Church authorities in China the letter of approval for transferring the canonization process to the Diocese of Brooklyn.

On Sept. 29, 2004, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who succeeded Bishop Daily, wrote to Cardinal Jose Saravia Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, to request permission to formally begin the process in the Brooklyn Diocese for the canonization of Bishop Ford.

On Feb. 14, 2005, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints notified the Diocese of Brooklyn that she could begin, in a reserved manner, preliminary investigations into the cause. Bishop Daily established the Bishop Francis X. Ford Tribunal and named Bishop Catanello to preside over its work. The Tribunal first met on June 15, 2005, but Bishop Catanello’s subsequent battle with cancer put its proceedings on hold.

After Bishop Catanello’s death in 2013, Bishop DiMarzio wanted to continue the work of the Bishop Francis X. Ford Tribunal. In February 2014, he also received a communication from Church authorities in China asking that he continue the work for Bishop Ford’s canonization.

On April 25, 2016, Bishop Raymond Chappetto, diocesan vicar general, was appointed to take up the work of promoting Bishop Ford’s cause. He called a meeting of the new committee in May of 2016.

As a result of their work, Bishop DiMarzio wrote to Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), to ask the opinion of the bishops’ conference as to whether the cause of the Servant of God, Francis Xavier Ford, was opportune.

This past June, Cardinal Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, current USCCB president, wrote to Bishop DiMarzio to inform him that the bishops’ conference had voted overwhelmingly to support the work for Bishop Ford’s cause for canonization.

On Sunday, Dec. 3, Bishop DiMarzio formally announced the beginning of the work for the cause. In the coming weeks, the bishop will name a Tribunal to gather evidence for and against this canonization. Two theologians will examine Bishop Ford’s writings to make sure that nothing in them is contrary to the faith and moral teaching of the Church. The second step toward canonization starts when the evidence is studied by the Congregation for Causes of Saints in Rome. If the evidence reveals true holiness exercised by the Servant of God, the cardinal prefect of the congregation informs the pope that the Servant of God either was a true martyr or has lived a life of extraordinary and heroic virtue.

As this effort is beginning, Bishop DiMarzio asks the faithful of Brooklyn and Queens to pray for the success of this work and for the growth of holiness in the diocese, and to support the Bishop Francis X. Ford Guild. To join the Guild, contact Msgr. Kevin Noone, pastor of Our Lady of the Angels parish, Bay Ridge.