The trouble with Celestine

CelestineUh-oh. Here may be one more sign that the devil has infiltrated the Vatican in the form of Pope Francis, one more example of that s.o.b. “making all of the wrong people happy.” In this case, it will be the religious sisters who will be given aid and comfort. Oh, not the real ones; the other ones, the ones who don’t wear habits. On October 31, Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtues of the U.S.-born woman Celestine Bottego, declaring her “Venerable” and bringing her an important step closer to canonization.

Mother Celestine, as she was known, was the co-founder of the Italian religious order, the Missionaries of Mary. From the very start, when it was founded in 1944, the order has never worn a religious habit. There’s your first sign of trouble, right there. (Never mind that Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in a 1954 conversation with Mother Celestine, congratulated her on that decision and said it was about time for such a change.)

It gets worse. Mother Celestine attended the opening session of Vatican II and was enthusiastic about the reforms it called for, including liturgical reforms that followed the Council. She also developed a very keen interest in ecumenism as a result of the Council.

Mother Celestine is a fascinating lady and will be of interest to every American Catholic — certainly our religious sisters (habited or not!), but also lay people, for she lived as a lay woman for a large portion of her adult Christian life, and the holiness that bore such extraordinary fruit in religious life developed primarily as a lay person, first in Christian family life and later as a lay adult. Born in Ohio and raised in Montana by immigrant parents, she moved back to Italy with them at age 14, where she lived as a single lay woman, working as a teacher until age 48, before founding, with an Italian priest, the Missionaries of Mary.

There’s plenty more interesting stuff on Celestine in an article I’ve written that will be published soon in Our Sunday Visitor, so keep an eye out. In preparing the article, I had a fascinating conversation with Sr. Rosetta Serra, who was among the very first sisters to join the new order in the 1940s (“I was number ten,” she told me with her sprightly Italian accent). Sr. Rosetta travelled together with Mother Celestine, just the two of them, to establish the Missionaries of Mary in the United States in 1954 (they came aboard the Andrea Doria, which tragically sunk two years later with two other Missionaries of Mary sisters aboard!), and she still lives and works today in Massachusetts. It was a fun and interesting article to prepare.

As for blaming Pope Francis for Celestine’s newly-declared Venerability — letting an unhabited nun into such esteemed company and all — well of course, her cause was under investigation long before Francis was elected pope, and I can’t imagine he personally had much to do with her getting to this point. So you can’t put the blame for this travesty squarely on him. I’m afraid the Holy Spirit, who offered such wonderful grace to Celestine in the first place, and Celestine herself, who was open to it and acted upon it in all kinds of ways, are primarily to blame.


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