Catholic Church to begin beatification of N.C. priest

02/21/2012 5:00 AM

03/01/2012 4:11 PM

The Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., will soon begin the long process of determining whether the first North Carolina native to be ordained a priest should be declared a saint.

Father Thomas F. Price, who died in 1919, dedicated much of his life to Catholic orphans in Eastern North Carolina, at a time when Catholicism was a fledgling religion in the state. In 1911, Price helped establish the Congregation of Maryknoll, an institute of foreign missionaries, and lead its first mission to China, where he died of appendicitis shortly after his arrival.

At Maryknoll’s request, the Raleigh diocese will begin a beatification process next month, convening a tribunal of religious officials and experts to discuss Price’s work and reputation. The public will be invited to testify before the tribunal about Price’s character or to give witness that he has prayed for them.

Bishop Michael Burbidge, head of the Raleigh diocese, will send the tribunal’s findings to the Vatican, where the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will continue the process.

“They’re looking for heroic virtue in a life that lives according to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Rev. James Garneau, Pastor at St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church in Mount Olive, N.C., who is serving as the tribunal’s episcopal delegate.

Garneau will run the local tribunals and meetings, and will interview those who come forward as witnesses of Price’s virtue. Witnesses can include those who might remember someone who knew Price during his life, Garneau said. But most are expected to be people who have prayed for Price’s help and feel he has aided them.

When the local tribunal’s report reaches Rome, Price, at the recommendation of Bishop Burbidge, can then receive the title “Servant of God, Thomas Price.” After more study, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints can recommend to the pope that he declare Price has demonstrated “heroic virtue” and be referred to as the “Venerable Father Price,” the final step before the process enters its most important phase: waiting for miracles.

“The church then would ask God for witness of miracles,” Garneau said. “While we can examine past miracles at the first tribunal, this process asks for miracles from that point forward. This is a process that could take a short time, or a very long time.”

When the Catholic Church asks God to perform a miracle through a candidate for sainthood, it is looking for acts that cannot be explained through rational thought. There’s no time limit; many beautifications can be kept in this phase for many years, some for hundreds of years.

A miracle might include the sudden disappearance of cancer, Garneau noted. While reaching remission within a normal span of time would not be a miracle, he said, praying through Price for a tumor to disappear and having it do so within hours would be.

Once Price is credited with a miracle and declared “among the blessed,” he can be acknowledged in public prayer in North Carolina, and the beatification process is complete. From there, the church waits for more miracles, and when they are convinced that Price has performed them, the pope can order that his name be inscribed on the cannon of Saints, a process called canonization.

Although the process is a long one, it has the potential to inspire Catholics in North Carolina, which now number more than 1 million, Garneau said.

“If Father Price becomes sainted, it would send a message to residents,” Garneau said. “If he could walk holy roads in Eastern North Carolina, why can’t we all?”

The tribunal to examine the life of Father Thomas Price will begin on March 9. Those with information on Father Price’s life, reputation, or “to report favors received from what they believe to be his intercession” are invited to contact Rev. James Garneau at garneaujraldioc.org or at P.O. Box 1145, Mount Olive, NC 28365.

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