Karen Adams, Special to The Catholic Virginian
In the chapel at Resurrection Catholic Church, Moneta, hangs a handmade wooden display box that holds an authentic relic of St. Catherine Labouré, a public presentation of a blessed object that was hidden in a drawer for years.
The first-class relic has inspired in the parish a growing love for the saint and the Miraculous Medal she was instructed to design.
“The devotion to the Blessed Mother has been reawakened here,” said Resurrection’s pastor, Father Salvador Anonuevo. “We need all the help we can get, and sacramentals like relics and the Miraculous Medal can strengthen our prayers and help us relate to the Lord Jesus better.”
St. Catherine Labouré (1806-1876) was a French nun who belonged to the Daughters of Charity, a religious community founded by St. Vincent de Paul in Paris. She was known for her care for the poor. The meek and humble novice also became known for her role in developing the Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Virgin after several visions of Mary guided her to do so in 1830.
Deacon Barry Welch, who serves as pastoral associate at Resurrection, discovered the relic when he began reorganizing his office space at the church over a year ago. In a drawer he found a small box that held what looked like an old-fashioned brooch with a tiny decoration in the middle. Not knowing what it was, he closed the box, put it back and forgot about it. But months later, he came across it again. This time he showed it to his wife, Allison.
“She has a strong devotion to Mary and she knew exactly what it was,” he said.
Allison Welch knew about the Miraculous Medal. She also visited St. Catherine’s convent in France years ago.
Deacon Welch contacted the diocesan archivist, Edie Jeter, for her help in researching the relic and the fragile, slightly torn Latin document accompanying it. She thought both looked authentic but suggested official verification should be made by Father Carlos Martins, who oversees a large collection of relics called Treasures of the Church, based in Detroit and Toronto. He also works with the Vatican to investigate purported relics.
He examined detailed photographs of the relic and the document and, speaking later by phone, said both are authentic.
Father Martins explained that the letterhead matched that of the relative authority, as well as the images, text, fonts and crimped seal. The relic itself is a fragment of bone, he said, indicated by the words “ex ossibus” (“from the bones”) in the document. The document was signed on March 13, 1952, by the superior general and was issued by the order of St. Vincent de Paul.
“St. Catherine was a Daughter of Charity, and everything here is correct,” Father Martins said.
Pat Marlar, a founding member of Resurrection Parish, received the relic from her sister, Sister Winifred Goddard, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.
Speaking by phone from her home in Yonkers, New York, Sister Winifred said that she gave the relic to her sister several years ago when the Convent of Mary the Queen in Yonkers, where she lived at the time, closed in 2015. One of the relics housed there was of St. Catherine.
“I knew that Pat’s church didn’t have a relic and I wanted her to have it,” Sister Winifred said. “And it’s fitting because they have a wonderful faith community and they truly are committed to service for the poor.”
Resurrection parish has a St. Vincent de Paul conference that helps serve community members in need. It also holds an annual yard sale and golf tournament to raise money for various charities.
Marlar, who now lives in Lynchburg, smiled at the memory of her sister’s gift.
“I actually put it in a drawer because honestly I wasn’t all that interested in relics at the time. I was much more interested in people,” she said, noting she was happy it has found new devotees.
On Thursday, Nov. 29, one day after the feast day of St. Catherine Labouré, the parish celebrated a Mass to dedicate the new reliquary and display case. In addition, 100 Miraculous Medals were blessed and given out afterward.
Allison Welch, who has a master’s degree in theology, also gave two presentations on St. Catherine.
“I believe it’s no coincidence that her relic is here,” she said. “This church shares her heart for serving the poor and the sick.”
Since then, Deacon Welch has seen a growing interest in the saint’s life and the Miraculous Medal, as well as occasional strangers in need asking for the church’s help.
“I think St. Catherine is calling people into our chapel,” he said.
Father Anonuevo noted the humble service of the saint who did not publicly reveal her visions or role in creating the medal until decades later. Initially, only her spiritual director knew about the apparitions.
“The medal was already performing miracles all over the world, but for 45 years she just did her work quietly,” he said.
The relic is displayed to the left of the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel, with a bowl of blessed medals and information about St. Catherine on a table below.
“The Lord Jesus is always the center of our worship,” said Father Anonuevo, who has worn a Miraculous Medal since childhood. “But sometimes we need signs and symbols to remind us of God’s presence.”