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The History of the Cause of Mary Aikenhead

mmaThe journey for a person to be officially pronounced a Saint by the Church varies in length for a variety of reasons and can encounter many twists and turns on the road.  It begins when the Cause is introduced in Rome and officially accepted as a ‘good’ Cause, and ends when the Servant of God is declared a Saint.  This is the story of Mary Aikenhead's journey...

Mother Mary Aikenhead, Foundress of the Religious Sisters of Charity, died in Harold’s Cross, Dublin on 22nd July 1858.  In 1908 the Sisters in the Australian Congregation of Sisters of Charity were most anxious to have Mary Aikenhead canonised.  Their Superior General, Mother Mary Gertrude Davis, wrote to Sr Mary Arsenius Morrogh-Bernard in Foxford to this effect, asking if the Superior General in Dublin, Sr M Canisius Cullen, would consider applying to the Bishop asking him to take the preliminary steps. Sr M Arsenius was very enthusiastic.

In 1909 Cardinal Moran in Australia, wrote to Sr Mary Agnes Gertrude Chamberlain, now Superior General in Dublin, stating that he was willing to undertake what was required to have the Cause of Mary Aikenhead introduced in Rome. 

In 1911 Mgr. Carinci in Rome agreed to take on the duties of Postulator and Fr. Fergus Finlay S.J. in Dublin was appointed Vice-Postulator.  The formal Informative Process, when witnesses are required to give evidence, began that same year under the auspices of Bishop Morrisroe of Achonry in the West of Ireland who kindly agreed to undertake the work.  Archbishop Walsh of Dublin was unable to take on the task though Dublin was the diocese to do so as Mary Aikenhead had died in there.

In 1918 the writings of Mary Aikenhead were examined and approved in Rome.  Sr M Arsenius had been named the Secretary of the Cause in 1911.

positio 1921The decree for the Introduction of the Cause of Mary Aikenhead was signed by Pope Benedict XV in Rome on 20th March 1921.  This was a landmark date in the history of the Congregation.

The journey towards Canonisation had now officially begun but was to meet with many delays along the road.  Two world wars and political strife in Ireland were factors.  Then in 1934 there was a major change.  It was decided in Rome that the Cause must be examined by the newly established Historical Commission set up by Pope Pius XI in 1930 for those Causes which were deficient in evidence from first class witnesses.  This was the case with Mary Aikenhead’s Cause because it was not taken up until 53 years after her death.  Consequently there were very few first class witnesses.  So her Cause was now required to go to this new Commission and fulfil the requirements stipulated.

This was a big disappointment to the promoters of the Cause in Ireland and Australia.  They had done everything possible and now were up against a major setback.  Work on the Cause had, in a real sense, to begin again.   At this time also the Postulator in Rome, Fr. Ricciardi requested that a Sister of Charity be appointed to work on the Cause.  Sr. Francis Brigid Flannery was chosen to collaborate with the Historical Commission.  She worked with great commitment and dedication and between 1972-1975 she had completed five chapters on the life of Mary Aikenhead for the Positio, a document required by the Historical Commission in Rome, giving an account of the life story, foundations and writings of Mary Aikenhead, all geared to showing that she had practised virtue to a heroic degree.

In December 1977 Sr. Francis Rose O’Flynn, the Superior General set up a Preparatory Commission for the benefit of the Cause, having engaged the service of Prof. F X Martin OSA, to be the chairperson of the Commission and also Vice-Postulator.  The Commission did tremendous work in the area of research and chapters began to be written for the Positio.  This Preparatory Commission ceased to operate in the late 1980’s. Sr Brigid continued to work away and she has left behind a heritage of research which is of incalculable value.

In October 1990 Sr. Martha Magdalen Power was appointed to continue with the work of preparing and writing the Positio.  Sr. Marie Bernadette O’Leary was appointed in October 1991 to work with Sr. M Magdalen.  With their painstaking and meticulous work the two volumes of the Positio on Mary Aikenhead were completed and presented to the Historical Commission in Rome in 1994.  In their work the Relator of the Cause, Fr. Peter Gumpel S. J. gave them tremendous support and advice as he read each chapter.

positio 1995The Historical Commission for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously passed the Positio on Mary Aikenhead in 1995 with a very positive outcome.  This was another momentous occasion as the journey of Mary Aikenhead to be declared Venerable had now begun. All was quiet for some years and then in March 2012 Sr. Mary Christian, the Superior General, received notification from the Vatican that they were proceeding with the process for Mary Aikenhead to be declared Venerable.  As requested a number of bound copies of the Positio and its Report were forwarded to the Theological Commission for their examination.  To date we still await the outcome of this.

A new Postulator, Monsignor Ciaran O'Carroll, was appointed in January 2013 and he appointed Sr Josephine McDonald as Vice-Postulator.

After the Theological Commission, the Cause is then passed to the Cardinals, then to the Holy Father who officially pronounces the Servant of God Venerable.  Finally the Archbishop of Dublin, the Diocese in which Mary Aikenhead died, promulgates it and then we can celebrate Venerable Mary Aikenhead. These last stages could take up to at least three years to reach conclusion.

Once Mary Aikenhead is officially declared Venerable she is humanly and technically considered a Saint as it has been proven that she practised heroic virtue. 

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