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Column | Encountering Rhoda Wise, Servant of God

Bishop Bonnar

WALKING BY FAITH TOGETHER | The Catholic Exponent

MOST REV. DAVID J. BONNAR
Bishop of Youngstown

 

In my 18 months as bishop of Youngstown I have had the privilege of meeting some rather interesting and inspiring people. Many of these meetings have occurred as I travel through the six counties of our diocese and visit our parishes, schools, and Catholic Charities agencies. I look forward to meeting more people in my role as bishop.

There are two people who, although I have come to know about them, I never had the honor of knowing them. I know them simply from a distance and reading about their lives.

The first person in this regard was the late Youngstown native and baseball player George Shuba who was a teammate of baseball great Jackie Robinson. When Jackie Robinson hit his first home run in Triple A ball, George Shuba was in the on-deck circle and after Robinson touched home Shuba reached out his hand to shake Robinson’s hand – marking the first interracial handshake in professional baseball. The handshake was memorialized in a statue that now sits in Wean Park and is known as “The Handshake of the Century.”

By extending his hand to his black teammate whom everyone else had shunned, George Shuba took a step toward tearing down the wall of racism and creating interracial harmony. In that simple act, Shuba demonstrated that we are all children of the one creator God who calls us to live as brothers and sisters regardless of the color of our skin. While Shuba is not a Hall of Famer, I am sure that his gesture of love made God smile with joy. At the same time, the spirit of his gesture lives on as a source of hope for all of us as we continue to battle the evil scourge of racism.

The other person whom I would love to meet is Rhoda Wise, who was declared a Servant of God by my beloved predecessor, Bishop George Murry, S.J. Since that declaration, the diocese has been involved in an investigation of the life of Rhoda Wise for possible consideration of sainthood. This is a long process being led by the episcopal delegate, Msgr. Michael Cariglio, in concert with the new postulator, Valentina Culurgioni in Rome, compiling information to forward to the Dicastery in the Vatican that deals with the Causes of Saints. Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, who served as our postulator for several years, has formally retired.

I was briefed on Rhoda Wise shortly upon my ordination and installation as bishop. On July 7, 2021, it was my honor to celebrate Holy Mass in her home parish of St. Peter, Canton, on the anniversary of her death. I also celebrated Mass there just recently on the same date. Weeks prior to that Mass, Msgr. Cariglio and I, along with Karen Sigler from the House of Rhoda Wise, were interviewed for an EWTN episode of “They Might Be Saints.”  The episode aired recently on EWTN and is available by calling the Rhoda Wise House.

Rhoda Wise embraced suffering. Six months into her marriage her husband suddenly died. Rhoda would eventually marry George Wise two years later. They adopted two children, one of whom died in infancy. The suffering did not end there. George Wise was an alcoholic and could not maintain a job. As a consequence, Rhoda and the family went through seven different addresses.

Rhoda Wise developed health issues that included a 39-pound ovarian cyst and a broken foot that never healed properly, resulting in persistent pain and challenges to walking. Rhoda also suffered from abdominal pain, causing numerous hospitalizations. Rhoda was told that she had cancer and was sent home to die. By God’s divine grace, Rhoda was healed through the intercession of St. Therese, the Little Flower.

The hospitalizations became a moment of grace for Rhoda as she got to know the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. These holy women spoke to her of Jesus and taught her about Mary, the rosary, St. Therese, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 1938 Rhoda Wise became a Catholic at St. Peter’s. Eventually, her husband and daughter would follow her into the Catholic faith.

Subsequently, Rhoda Wise received a host of apparitions from Jesus and even St. Therese, the Little Flower. The visions that Rhoda experienced inspired her to offer herself as a victim to save the souls of others – most especially priests and members of religious orders. One of those healed, interestingly enough, was a woman by the name of Rita Rizzo, a Canton teen-ager who later became Mother Angelica. Many others gave credit to Rhoda Wise for their cures.

On Good Friday, April 3, 1942, Rhoda Wise received the stigmata on her forehead. A year later, the stigmata appeared on her hands and feet. People flocked to her home for prayer and assistance. Even to this day, people visit the home of Rhoda Wise and pray for a miracle. Rhoda Wise died July 7, 1948, of a cerebral hemorrhage. Both the Catholic Exponent and Canton Repository reported that 14,000 people honored her by their prayers and presence at her death.

On July 10, 1948, Msgr. George Habig officiated at Rhoda’s funeral liturgy and said: “Few knew her as well as I and I can testify that our Savior filled her heart with a great love of God so that she was willing to endure the greatest sufferings for His sake. I submit my poor judgement to that of the Church, but it is my personal conviction that all she stated about the many apparitions of Our Lord and the Little Flower are true and that she was highly favored by the Lord.”

As we continue this process of study on the life of this virtuous woman who truly knew the suffering of the Cross, I invite everyone in this local Church to embrace three specific tasks. First, I ask that we pray for all those involved in this process. May the Holy Spirit lead them according to God’s plan. We also need to pray to Rhoda Wise especially for our priests and all those in religious orders. I would take this one step further and ask everyone to pray to Rhoda Wise for an increase of vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and married life.

Second, I ask that you visit the Rhoda Wise House in Canton and learn more about this amazing woman who responded to God’s call. It is also important that, like those first disciples who passed on the Good News of Jesus through oral tradition, that we become more intentional in sharing the story of Rhoda Wise, who did wondrous things in our backyard.

Finally, I ask us all to emulate her example of faith in suffering seeking to offer our pain – like she did – for a special cause. Rhoda Wise, Servant of God, pray for us!

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