A Mass of thanksgiving celebrated the beatification of Blessed Clelia Merloni and served as an opportunity for archdiocesan officials to thank the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Feb. 9.
“We will never be able to replace you, a lady who has decided to become religious in life, educate children and bring God to them,” said Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools in the archdiocese, to the several hundred people at the Mass, including about 50 sisters with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“We could not replicate that. You’re that unique; you’re that good, and you’re that special. You do God’s work every day, and in doing so, you’re putting a smile on the face of the Catholic Church. Today, we thank you so much for that.”
The Mass at St. Patrick’s was the first of five in the United States celebrating Blessed Clelia’s beatification. A first-class relic from Blessed Clelia was present for veneration, and another relic was presented to Cardinal Dolan.
Cardinal Dolan was the principal celebrant of the Mass, with concelebrants representing the New York and Newark archdioceses and Albany and Trenton dioceses. Retired Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh and Father Joseph LaMorte, vicar general and chancellor, were among the clergy representing the New York archdiocese.
“In this archdiocese, we bless the daughters of Blessed Clelia as they continue their prized ministry of Catholic education at Santa Maria School in the Bronx and Our Lady of Pompeii School in Little Italy (Manhattan),” said Cardinal Dolan in his homily. “We love you, sisters, and we thank God for these courageous consecrated women religious who still so steadfastly are loyal to the charism of their blessed foundress in our Catholic schools.”
Born in Italy in 1861, Blessed Clelia founded the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1894, and ther sisters first came to the United States in 1902. She died in Rome in 1930, and her cause for canonization began in 1988. Last November, Blessed Clelia was beatified in a celebration at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.
There are about 115 sisters in 34 apostolate ministries in the United States and about 1,000 sisters in 15 countries in the worldwide congregation. The sisters arrived in the archdiocese in 1926 and serve now as educators at Our Lady of Pompeii and Santa Maria schools.
“They’re really funny, they teach us discipline, and they’re very nice as well,” Elena Marcus, a seventh-grader at Our Lady of Pompeii, told CNY. “I really enjoy being in a Catholic school, especially with the sisters I have.
“I know Blessed Clelia Merloni didn’t have a very easy life. She lost her mother at a young age and was able to get through it. She helped a lot of people during her sisterhood and she means a lot to our school.”
Sister Colleen Therese Smith, A.S.C.J, former principal of Our Lady of Pompeii, is now the director of mission advancement for the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“(Blessed Clelia) was so keenly aware of God’s love for her and desired that everyone would know the power of this love,” she told CNY. “She was a woman who was misunderstood, suffered terribly at the hands of the Church, at the hands of her own Sisters. She was able to forgive because of this power of love.
“I was always drawn to the sisters by all I knew when I was with them, I felt at home, I felt loved and I felt accepted. It’s funny because that’s what people often say about a community. When we’re around the apostles, we feel loved, we feel accepted. Her charism lives on.”
Sister Virginia Herbers, A.S.C.J., the vice provincial of the U.S. Province, shared thoughts about what made Blessed Clelia special.
“Her resilience and her ability to take whatever was given to her, good, bad and ugly, and turn it into something that she could return as an act of love,” Sister Virginia said. “Pray to her. She’s a strong advocate right now. Anybody who needs an advocate, pray to Clelia. She’s on their side.”
Sister Ritamary Schulz, A.S.C.J., provincial superior of the U.S. Province, said the world is learning about Blessed Clelia.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to spread the word that Mother Clelia is now blessed,” Sister Ritamary said. “She is a gift to the Church now. She belongs to the Church. We always considered her belonging to us as our foundress, but now she belongs to the Church and the world. The expansion that we have seen in interest and love for her and appreciation for her spirituality has been just magnificent.
“It’s a great moment historically for us and our congregation.”