Since Suzanne Aubert’s death on 1 October 1926, people from all walks of life have acknowledged her goodness and holiness. Today, she lives on in the hearts and minds of New Zealanders and people throughout the world as the process continues for the Catholic Church to recognise her as a holy person or saint.
The Process of Beatification and Canonisation
Suzanne Aubert, the foundress of the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion has always been held in high esteem by the people of New Zealand, regardless of race or creed
When Suzanne Aubert died on the 1 October 1926, many were already acclaiming her a saint. Her goodness and holiness were acknowledged by people from all walks of life and the Sisters of Compassion were encouraged by roman officials and others to collect all relevant information about her life and virtues. A letter dated 10 December 1926, from Cardinal Gasquet to Mother Cecilia who had succeeded Suzanne Aubert, showed in what esteem Suzanne was held by dignitaries in Rome. He wrote he hopes he is spared to see at least the initial stages of the process of her beatification. He hoped the sisters will collect everything about Suzanne Aubert and her many virtues whilst there are so many alive who knew her.
The making of a Saint
Although she died in 1926, Suzanne Aubert’s name as well as the work she started lives on. Since 1988 the New Zealand Anglican Church has placed her in their Book of Common Prayer calendar as a saintly woman.
For the Catholic Church to recognise Suzanne Aubert as a holy person or saint, a formal process has to be gone through. This has begun, here in New Zealand. In 1997 the New Zealand Bishops’ Conference readily agreed to support the first part of the process, which is called the “Introduction of the Cause of Suzanne Aubert”. The publication of her biography has been another of the main steps in the process. There also needs to be a study of her ‘virtues’, which will be revealed from studying her own writings.
Besides this, there have been many prayers through the intercession of Suzanne Aubert, requesting cures and miracles. Evidence must be collected, and witnesses examined to verify a miracle attributed to her. When sufficient proof of her sanctity has been gathered, this is then sent to the Church authority in Rome, who will examine what has been submitted, and decide whether or not to proclaim Suzanne Aubert as a holy person.
“To be a Saint we have only to do the Will of God,
That is all that he asks from us.”
-Suzanne Aubert’s Directory page 361;35
What is being done to make Suzanne Aubert a Canonised Saint?
The process is called a Cause. Lots of ordinary people are saints because they do their best to lead Christian lives. A person becomes a saint by her life, but some are named so, as well. The process to follow if people think someone is worthy of being named a saint was modernized in 1983, and greater emphasis was placed on what happens in the local church. If the work is done carefully and accurately at this level, it helps the process to move swiftly when it goes to Rome.
According to the procedure, the bishop has to give permission for the cause to start. Sisters of Compassion approached Cardinal Williams early in 1990. A postulator was then appointed, and it was her task to help to “Conduct thoroughly the investigations into the life of Suzanne Aubert”, in order to “establish her reputation of sanctity the importance of the cause for the Church and the importance of Suzanne Aubert as a role model of holiness for the people of Wellington and New Zealand”. At this stage, nothing could be done until an authentic biography had been written about Suzanne Aubert.
In 1992, the Centenary year of the Sisters of Compassion, Jessie Munro was appointed to write the biography of Suzanne Aubert, which she called The Story of Suzanne Aubert. The book was completed in 1996 and received the Montana book Award of the year in 1997.
At the New Zealand Catholic Bishop’s Conference in 1997, the bishops all agreed to support the first part of the process – The Introduction of the cause of Suzanne Aubert. A special prayer was composed for people to recite, that through her intercession graces, favours, or special help would be received. The bishops have to be asked before any Cause can proceed because the person has to have relevance for the whole country. Suzanne’s work for those who were most in need, regardless of their religion first in Auckland and later in Wellington, her efforts for Māori people in Hawkes Bay and on the Whanganui River, and her healthcare provisions and research into herbal medicine, make her such a person.
All relevant material accumulated since the time of Suzanne Aubert was sorted and a brief summary of this was sent to the cardinal in 2001. Because Suzanne Aubert spent seven years in Rome, the Cardinal asked the Vatican if they had any material about Suzanne Aubert. They did, and this was sent to him on 14 May 2003.
On May 14, 2003, permission was received to proceed with a Diocesan Inquiry. Theologians were appointed to examine published works of Suzanne Aubert and state that these were in accord with the Christian faith.
Historians were appointed to examine her life, works and unpublished writings in the context of her time and write a report on this. Her letters were examined to see what they revealed of her personality, her actions to assist the needy, and how other people at the time wrote about her and then her relevance for today. Yes, she did great work in her time, but nowadays, would people still consider her actions to be good? Was she just a do-gooder? Was she just promoting herself? Was she patronising to the people she helped? All those things had to be researched by those skilled to do so.
A promoter of justice was appointed, and it was this person’s task to see that any failings in the proposed saint’s character were not glossed over. The process is very thorough to prevent abuse from happening. It would be terrible to name someone a saint and then discover they had a murky past.
Some people whose families had a special connection with Mother Aubert during her lifetime were spoken with and also others whose work has meant that they have useful knowledge of her. There have been cures during the last seventy years that those concerned attributed to Suzanne Aubert’s intercession with God. Whether these can be called miracles or not will be decided by the Vatican. Doctors checked existing medical records, to help the inquiry. Because Suzanne Aubert spent a great deal of time working with Māori in Pakipaki and along the Wanganui River, it was really helpful to the inquiry that their opinion of her life and work be obtained and that representatives of both groups thought so much of her they made the time to come to Wellington to say so. One kaumatua confronted the Church officials, wanting to know why calling Suzanne a saint had taken so long!
The Inquiry began with a public Mass in the Home of Compassion Chapel, to which all the clergy and people of the diocese were invited. After the closing session on July 4 when all documents were signed and sealed, there was a closing Mass in the Cathedral. To conclude all the documentation was sent to the Vatican for examination and an eventual decision on Suzanne Aubert’s sanctity.
A long journey
This process has involved the dedication, devotion and energy of many people throughout the years and a positive outcome would be an acknowledgement of their steadfast belief in Suzanne Aubert. Here are some key dates to this long journey:
2016: In December Pope Francis declared the founder of the Sisters of Compassion Suzanne Aubert ‘Venerable’. Being declared “Venerable” marks an important milestone on the path to canonisation. Focus now shifts from proof of Suzanne’s heroic virtue from a historical and theological point of view to one which builds on our faith in a very specific way: the recognition of a miracle prior to Suzanne being declared “Blessed” and another before she is finally proclaimed “Saint”.
2015: The theologians examining the Cause of the Servant of God, Suzanne Aubert was unanimously affirmative, now the cause can progress to the Ordinary Session of the Cardinals and Bishops. If they are favourable, it will be possible to issue the Decree on the heroic nature of her virtues, in order that Suzanne Aubert may be granted the title of “Venerable”.
2014: The historical consultation, concerning Suzanne Aubert, took place on the 4 February. The votes of the consultors were unanimously positive. Therefore, the Cause can proceed further. The next steps are the Theological consultation and then that of the ordinary Congregation of the most Eminent Cardinals and Bishops.
2013: The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference endorsed the establishment of a National Committee to promote knowledge of the spirituality and works of Suzanne Aubert.
Mr John Bergin is appointed to oversee and manage the support process for the Beatification and Canonisation of Suzanne Aubert.
The Positio, on the life and virtues, was completed by Father Maurice Carmody and consigned to the Congregation for the Causes of saints for examination by the appropriate authorities. Three bound copies were sent from Rome to Father Carmody, the Postulator for the cause for the Beatification and Canonisation of the Servant of God.
2011: Pamphlets with prayers for the cause for the beatification of Suzanne Aubert were distributed in New Zealand parishes. The pamphlets, in English and Te Reo Māori, were requested from the Sisters of Compassion and the New Zealand bishops.
2009: Father Vincenzo Criscuolo is appointed ‘Relatore’ by Vatican officials. (A relatore is appointed by the Congregation for the cause of saints to examine the position historically and theologically).
2007: Father Maurice Carmody is appointed Postulator after Father Vito Gόmas Garcia steps down due to language problems.
2006: Sisters Margaret Anne Mills and Josephine Gorman travel to Rome to meet Monsignor Gutierrez. The Sisters start writing the position.
2004: A Diocesan Inquiry is held at the Island Bay Home of Compassion during which many people testify to the goodness and virtue of Suzanne Aubert. Stories and testimonies are collected about her reputation for holiness and a medical commission is interviewed regarding the ‘favours received or cures’. All documentation is sent to the Congregation of Saints in Rome.
Rome gives permission to formally introduce the cause for beatification. The cause moves into the Roman phase and Suzanne is given the title ‘Servant of God’. Father Vito Gόmas is appointed Postulator and Monsignor José Gutierrez as the Relatore.
2003: The Congregation for the Causes of Saints gives its approval to proceed with a Diocesan Inquiry. Sister Patricia Hannan is appointed Postulator and representative of the Sisters of Compassion. Following the theologians’ and historians’ examination on the writings of Suzanne Aubert, Sister Patricia writes a report on her virtues and reputation for sanctity. The Inquiry is discernment on the part of the local church, under the Bishop’s direction, as to whether there is a solid reason for initiating a cause of Canonisation based upon data that can be proven in fact and law.
2001: Relevant material is accumulated and sorted, and a brief summary is sent to Cardinal Williams, along with a petition to initiate the proceedings for the cause of Canonisation.
1997: At the New Zealand Bishops’ Conference, the bishops agree to support the first part of the process. This is the first time the collected documents are examined by Church authorities.
1992: In the centenary year of the Sisters of Compassion, Jessie Munro is appointed to write an authentic biography of Suzanne Aubert, called The story of Suzanne Aubert, it won the 1997 ‘Montana Book of the year’ award.
1976: Interest is again aroused during the 50th anniversary year of Suzanne Aubert’s death. People start contributing to a dossier of recollections.
1964: Archbishop McKeefry appoints Father M. Mulcahy of the Society of Mary to help in the preparation of the cause of Suzanne Aubert.
1945: Sister Angela Moller, the Secretary General to Suzanne Aubert from 1910 to 1926, publishes a seven-volume account of The Life and Times of the Foundress.