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If a group of local Catholics have a say in the matter, the late Archbishop George (Jurgis) Matulaitis could soon join the saintly ranks of Michael the archangel, Joan of Arc and John the Baptist. All they need is a miracle.
About 250 people gathered at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church on Sunday afternoon to mark the 25th anniversary of the year the Lithuanian priest moved one step closer to being considered a saint by the Catholic Church.
Pope John Paul II declared Matulaitis “blessed” in June 1987 after the Catholic Church found a miracle associated with his name.
Now, supporters of Matulaitis hope someone else will come forward with a miracle he or she experienced after praying to God, using Matulaitis as an intermediary. If a second miracle is found and approved by Catholic authorities, then Matulaitis could be considered a saint.
“If it is the will of God, we hope very soon that he can (attain) sainthood,” Joseph Roesch, the vicar general of the Marian Fathers of Immaculate Conception, who oversees a Lithuanian parish, told the audience at Blessed Virgin Mary.
Achieving sainthood in the Catholic Church is a difficult endeavor that can last years after a person’s death, priests at the Nativity celebration said. First, a candidate’s legacy and character have to be researched to prove that he or she lived a holy life.
Then church officials must find two cases where someone experienced a miracle after praying to God using the candidate’s name. The miracles are often medical in nature, but church officials will verify with doctors that there is no other natural or scientific explanation for the miracle.
In Matulaitis’ case, a Lithuanian woman said she received instantaneous healing from varicose veins after she prayed to God with a prayer card attached to her leg featuring Matulaitis.
“The healing came from God,” Roesch said. “(But) for us it’s the saints, that are the intercessors.”
Matulaitis, who was born in 1871 and died in 1927, had bone tuberculosis and wore a leg brace for much of his life, priests said. He visited Chicago’s Lithuanian community, but he spent his life in the Eastern European nation.
Matulaitis, who was an orphan, paid much attention to parentless children during his ministry, said Kaz Chwalek, provincial superior of the Marian Fathers of Immaculate Conception, who was there at his beatification 25 years ago.
Some of his other accomplishments included rebuilding a religious order and continuing in ministry at a time when political upheaval in Lithuania made the work of Catholic churches difficult, Chwalek said.
Nativity parishioners on Sunday dedicated a mosaic made of glass, enamel and granite in honor of the priest. The mosaic, about the size of two textbooks, depicts the priest with a slight smile and a white and blue halo glow radiating behind him. His white hair barely creeps out from under his red hat, and a gold cross dangles from his neck.
The artist, Ada Sutkus, 80, said the mosaic took about six weeks to put together. The hardest part was getting the contours of his face and gold cross, she said.
“I prayed so hard because once you put that piece there, it stays there,” Sutkus said.
Still, Sutkus, who was born in Lithuania, said honoring the life of Matulaitis was worth her donated time and money.
“I read his biography and I was so deeply moved, Sutkus said. “He was a diplomat.”
Cardinal Francis George said in a speech during the Nativity celebration that Matulaitis’ service fulfilled a great need in the Catholic Church.
“We need a witness to radical discipleship,” George said. “(Someone) to give up everything to do the work of God in a radical way. He knew that … and we are grateful.”
In a prayer during service, George said the Matulaitis mosaic could be a symbol of God’s goodness.
“May this mosaic of George Matulaitis be for us a window to your divine heart.”