Sixty priests, 20 bishops (three of them archbishops), one cardinal (Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit) and more than 650 people will come together at 2 p.m. today to rededicate the renovated Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the spiritual center of the Diocese of Winona.
The $5.1 million renovation, which turned the sanctuary around, features new seating arrangement, a new altar, a new confessional — many new things.
Yet, what was already in the building may be some of the cathedral’s most interesting items.
During the dedication of the altar today, many relics will be placed inside it. In fact, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart has more than 40 different relics, a list of which would read something like a who’s who of Christianity’s martyrs, saints and philosophers.
“A relic is a piece of bone or something that someone wore” said the Rev. John Sauer, the rector of the cathedral. “They connect us with our ancestors in faith.”
Relics in Christian history had their start at the beginning of the church itself, when Christians would meet in the catacombs to be closer to those who had been martyred, or killed for their faith. As the religion spread, the desire to be close to the martyrs and early church leaders also grew.
The relics of the cathedral literally span the history of Christianity from a relic of St. Anne, the mother of Mary, to St. Linus, the Bishop of Rome who succeeded St. Peter, to St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2004.
Many of the relics will be placed in the altar after it is rededicated. Bishop Bernard Harrington is calling the new altar, which was made from the stone of the older one, “The Altar of Martyrs and Saints.” And with good cause.
The cathedral’s relics feature relics from three different Teresas, including St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross, who died in a concentration camp in World War II. Most of the relics are tiny sized particles of bone, typically not much bigger than the head of a push pin. For Teresa of the Cross, the Latin reads “from the ashes of Teresa V.K.”
Sauer said the cathedral put out a call for relics during the 11/2-year renovation project. That call led to several donations to the church. Some priests donated their collection of relics.
“We didn’t want these precious objects to be put in the back of a closet somewhere,” Sauer said.
Some of those objects include:
1. Relics of St. Ireneaus, a giant in early Christian theology, who worked ardently defending the Catholic faith against the Gnostics, a heretical branch in early Christianity.
2. Relics of Pope St. Pius X, who was elected Pope in 1903. He condemned modernism, reformed canon law and made first communion possible for children who were around the age of 8.
3. Relics of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, who worked among Italian immigrants to America. “Mother Cabrini” founded 67 institutions, including schools, hospitals and orphanages in the U.S., Europe and South America. She became a U.S. citizen and died in Chicago in 1917. She was the first U.S. citizen to be canonized.
4. Relics of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian physician and surgeon who worked especially with the poor and elderly. She had three children and, during the birth of her fourth, she was diagnosed with a large ovarian cyst. Her surgeon recommended an abortion in order to save Gianna’s life, but she refused, died in 1962, a year after childbirth. He daughter is now a physician and involved in the pro-life movement.
5. Relics of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, St. Francis of Assisi and St. John Chrysostom, St. Catherine of Siena and St. John Baptist de la Salle.
6. Relics of St. Maria Goretti, who was born in Italy and stabbed to death while resisting the advances of Alexander Serenelli, the son of her father’s business partner. When she refused Serenelli, he stabbed her repeatedly. He was imprisoned and during his incarceration, he received a vision of Maria. She was credited with 40 miracles after her death. She was canonized in 1950 as a model purity. Serenelli, her attacker, attended the canonization.
“In the Liturgy of Saints, we will call upon them,” said Bishop Bernard Harrington. “And they will be physically here with us.”
Many of the relics have been at the cathedral since its dedication in 1952, and Sauer said he wishes more people knew about them.
“The most people are frankly unaware,” Sauer said. “I hope that they feel they can come here and use these saints as intercessors for special needs in their life, like St. Peregrin (the patron saint of those with cancer) or St. Gianna Beretta Molla, if they are going through a difficult pregnancy.” Winona Daily News