Tribunal explored Slovakian nun’s cause for sainthood

Nissa LaPoint

Months of investigation into an alleged miracle in Denver credited to a Slovakian nun ended in a Mass Feb. 28 on the John Paul II Center campus when secrecy was sworn and evidence was sealed.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila celebrated the closing Mass in the Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary, which ended in the ceremonial sealing of a 695-page document chronicling the Denver Archdiocese’s collection of some six testimonies, medical records and evidence of the alleged miracle.

The detailed investigation could lead to the canonization of Blessed Zdenka Schelingová, a Sister of the Mercy of the Holy Cross, who would become Slovakia’s first woman saint.

During the Mass, members of the investigative tribunal took oaths of secrecy and a wax seal was stamped on the documents before its long trip to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.

“This is a very significant process in the life of the Church,” said Stephen Garbitelli, a judge and notary for the Metropolitan Tribunal. “Although this relates to a specific event that happened here in Denver, the implications of it affect the whole Church.”

Eager for her sainthood, three nuns from the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross arrived last week from Slovakia and Switzerland to attend the closing Mass.

“We were very much touched by this fact that Sister Zdenka is working on other continents, not just in Europe,” said Sister Mariga Brizar, general superior of the order in Slovakia, through a translator. “We’ve felt how much Sister Zdenka touches the hearts of the people who work on this process and other people around.”

Father Ludovit Pokojný, the postulator who will deliver the documents to Rome, came to Denver for the investigation.

“In my opinion many events have happened already. For example, the spiritual changes of the people,” said Father Pokojný, through a translator. “I think this cause of beatification has improved the holiness of the people of the Archdiocese of Denver. But I don’t know what God really wants through events here in Denver. … Why has Zdenka made herself present in such a strong way here in Denver?”

A martyr for priests

Blessed Zdenka, born Cecilia Schelingová on Dec. 24, 1916, in Krivá, Slovakia, is celebrated for her heroic courage in aiding persecuted priests and enduring torture during communist rule in the 1950s.

The path to her martyrdom began at a young age when her parents instilled in her and her 10 siblings a deep faith and sense of sacrifice.

She attended school in the mountains of northeastern Slovakia until the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross visited her class. She was moved to join the order and entered the Slovak Province at age 15 in 1931.

While still a candidate, Cecilia attended nursing school and specialized in radiology. She made her first vows in 1937 and received the name Zdenka.

Many who worked with Sister Zdenka in Slovakian hospitals knew her as loyal and reliable. Her sisters remember her fondness of patients and manner of living in God’s presence.

She once wrote: “I wanted to do God’s will without paying attention to myself, my comfort or my rest.”

Communists enveloped the country in 1948 and began to persecute the Church. Sister Zdenka learned one of her patients, a priest suspected of being a Vatican spy, would be shipped to Siberia to his death.

The nun decided to slip sleeping pills into a guard’s tea, allowing the priest to escape.

After her daring deed, she prayed: “Dear Lord God, for his life I offer my own. Help him to live and to reach safety.”

She attempted to help other priests and seminarians flee but was caught and arrested.

Sister Zdenka endured interrogation and brutal tortures by police before she was sentenced to 12 years in prison for treason.

She quietly endured continued torture for several years as she was transferred from one prison to another and brutally kicked and mutilated. After becoming terminally ill from the torture and living conditions, authorities released her in April 1955.

She died on July 31, 1955, at 38 years old. Her remains lie in the Church of the Holy Cross in Bratislava.

When Blessed Pope John Paul II declared her martyrdom, he called her a “radiant example of faithfulness in times of harsh and ruthless religious persecution.”

“Sister Zdenka did not hesitate to risk her life so as to assist God’s ministers,” the late pontiff said during her beatification Sept. 14, 2003.

A closed tribunal

Blessed Zdenka’s story reached the archdiocese when then-Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., was approached about a potential miraculous event attributed to her intercession. Father Pokojný, the postulator, felt there was sufficient evidence to petition for a diocesan investigation.

The investigation began in May 2013 by Archbishop Aquila, who first selected two medical doctors to review evidence.

“As a result of their report, Archbishop (Aquila) decided to proceed,” Garbitelli said.

The archbishop selected members to investigate the alleged miracle in a secret tribunal.

Their task was to formally collect evidence on behalf of the pope, said Father Giovanni Capucci, judicial vicar of the tribunal.

On Oct. 16, the investigation opened and a series of interviews—all taped, transcribed and signed—were conducted of those familiar with the alleged miracle. Each page of the findings was notarized and sealed. Father Ludovit Pokojný will hand deliver the documents to the Vatican.

Ultimately, Rome will decide if a miracle took place.

“It might take months. It might take years,” Father Capucci said. “The outcome could be negative in that they see there is no miracle. Nonetheless, this has left a spiritual growth in all those who have been involved in the process, which we cannot deny.”

Blessed Zdenka’s life
1916: Born in Krivá, Slovakia
1931: Joins the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross
1933-35: Attends nursing school
1936-37: Enters novitiate and makes first vows
1937-52: Works in hospitals as a nurse
1952: Arrested and incarcerated by communist regime
1955: Released from prison as terminally ill and dies
2003: Beatification by Pope John Paul II

 

Blessed Zdenka’s thoughts and prayers

“Where there is love there will also be nails, thorns and the cross.”

“Holiness does not depend on all kinds of practices, but on an attitude of heart, which makes us humble, convinced of our own frailty.”

“Each one of us has to lose the knot of suffering of pain. Is there a knot? Yes; for when we are tied to ourselves we are unable to move. Once we are detached from everything, there are no knots any longer!”

“My God, I wish that each of my heartbeats may rise up to you, my origin and my goal, that each throbbing of my pulse may express my sincere sorrow for my sins, that each breath I take may be an act of perfect love for you …”

COMING UP: Juan Carlos Reyes, Director of Centro San Juan Diego, has been called to the Father’s House

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A happy, hardworking man dedicated to evangelization and to Hispanic immigrants: With these words, friends and coworkers remember Juan Carlos Reyes, who passed away March 20 after fighting a grave illness over the previous two months. He was 33.

Juan Carlos was born in Michoacán, Mex., on Dec. 28, 1985. He arrived to the United States at a young age, completed his secondary studies and later a bachelor’s degree in religious sciences thanks to an agreement between the Anáhuac University in Mexico City and Centro San Juan Diego. He was also a student at the Denver Catholic Biblical School under the Lay Division of St. John Vianney Seminary.

As a teen, he joined a youth group at St. Anthony of Padua in Denver and attended Centro San Juan Diego for various classes and trainings for pastoral workers.

He began working at Centro San Juan Diego in 2012, was promoted to Director of the Family Services in 2015 and became director of the organization in March 2018. As director, he led important programs that sought care for immigrants and formation for pastoral workers. Juan Carlos was one of the initiators of the agreement between Centro San Juan Diego and Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP) in Mexico, making it possible for many immigrants to obtain a bachelor’s degree in their native language valid in the United States.

“To talk about Centro San Juan Diego is, in a sense, to talk about my own life. I would not be here if it were not for Centro San Juan Diego’s support. I saw in CSJD an active Church that reached out to me,” Juan Carlos told the Denver Catholic in October 2018. He was also a delegate for the V National Encuentro in Grapevine, Texas, this past September.

Besides working for the Archdiocese, Juan Carlos conducted a ministry with his brother titled Agua y Sangre” (Blood and Water), in which they commented on the daily Mass readings via YouTube, reaching up to 100,000 views daily.

One of his closest friends was Alfonso Lara, Director of Hispanic Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Denver. “Many of us witnessed how Juan Carlos grew and matured as a man, as a Christian, as a Catholic, as a leader,” he said. “His potential, spirit and commitment were always attractive. I always admired his youthfulness, dedication and love for people. He emerged from the Hispanic community and later served and poured out his heart to them.”

Luis Soto, Director of Parish Implementation and Hispanic Outreach for the Augustine Institute and former Director of Centro San Juan Diego, met Juan Carlos when he was 15 years old, and remembers him as a “dynamic, funny [young man] with many ideas and a great desire to serve. He was a member of a family that was committed to the faith. He was restless and had a great desire to learn in order to serve better. He would register for any program we started.”

Abram León, Lay Ecclesial Movement Specialist for the Archdiocese of Denver, remembers Juan Carlos as “a great human being” who “was proud to be a father.” Deacon Rubén Durán, the archdiocese’s Hispanic Family Ministry Specialist, also remembers him as “a man of God, of deep faith. He evangelized with words and actions.”

Juan Carlos was a loving husband to his wife of more than 10 years and a proud father of three sons.