VanSpec students, teachers, and supporters travel to Rome for elevation of Blessed Guanella
By Laureen McMahon
The B.C. Catholic
VANCOUVER--The VanSpec (Vancouver Special Catechetical Program) community was thrilled when news came earlier this year that Pope Benedict XVI had approved the canonization of Blessed Luigi Guanella (also known as Louis and as Aloysius).
The canonization of the founder of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, for women, and of the Servants of Charity priests and brothers was scheduled for Oct. 23.
VanSpec owes its success to the Daughters order, which came to Vancouver in 1982 when Archbishop James Carney asked them to provide religious education for special-needs children, teens, and adults with specific learning and intellectual challenges.
Today director Sister Beth Ann Dillon and trained catechists and assistants provide one-on-one instruction for 138 students in nine locations. VanSpec is also available as a consultant for Catholic Schools.
Sister Dillon and 26 pilgrims, including four VanSpec students, were to be accompanied to the canonization by chaplain Father Patrick Tepoorten, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Coquitlam. Sister Rhonda Brown, DSMP, was to travel to Rome with DSMP members from Chicago. Guanellian Cooperators, laymen and women who share the Guanellian charism, also planned to go.
"It is marvellous," said Sister Dillon, "to see the excitement of the kids."
VanSpec has been busy fundraising, she said. One boy earned $500 collecting pop cans! Other generous donations, she added, came from patrons.
From Milan the pilgrims were to travel north to Como, then to Blessed Guanella's family home and parish church in the Southern Alps, then to Lourdes, a shrine to which Blessed Guanella had a great devotion, before heading to Rome.
Blessed Luigi Guanella was born into a devout Catholic family in 1842. He established many homes with educational and vocational assistance for orphans and youth. He died Oct. 24, 1915, and his cause for sainthood was begun in Rome March 15, 1939. On Oct. 25, 1964, he was beatified by Pope Paul VI.
A miracle was attributed to Blessed Guanella after a young American skateboarder miraculously recovered from an accident which required five surgeries and the removal of part of his skull. William Glisson wasn't wearing a helmet, and the doctors said there was no hope of recovery, when a friend provided two relics of Blessed Guanella. One was placed on the man's medical band and the other was carried by his mother, a nurse, in her pocket.
Today Glisson says he feels as good as he did before the accident. He is now an outspoken advocate for wearing safety helmets.
In November 2009 a medical commission of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared there was no scientific, natural, or medical reason for the recovery. The International Theological Commission concluded that healing had been obtained through the intercession of Blessed Guanella. Pope Benedict XVI subsequently decided in favour of a decree of canonization.
The Daughters of St. Mary of Providence has 100 homes in many countries staffed by 1,200 sisters working with the poor and disabled. The order came to the U.S. in 1913 at the request of Pope Pius X, a long time friend and confidant of Blessed Guanella. The sisters established the first homes in Chicago to serve Italian immigrants and their families. They taught school and built a residential home and school to care for those with mental and physical challenges.
From there they spread to six more states and to British Columbia. The most recent house to open was in Syracuse, N.Y.
There are about 500 Servants of Charity priests and brothers dedicated to assisting those in need.
A VanSpec foundation has been established to help adults with challenges, said Sister Dillon. "We want to provide programs for those with special needs and their families. This is something that is so badly needed."