We begin Lent on March 1 by receiving a cross of ashes on our forehead. The ashes remind us that we are dust and unto dust we shall return.
Receiving the ashes also reminds us that while we are still alive, we are to repent and believe the Good News so that at Easter we can renew our Baptismal promises with deepened faith.
Venerable Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli died on February 23, 1864, during Lent. Thanks especially to the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, we know much about Father Samuel, who reflects many of Pope Francis' virtues. Both can inspire us to live Lent in a Christ-like way that helps us continue our journey to heaven.
Brought Church to tri-state area
Father Mazzuchelli was an immigrant Italian Dominican friar and missionary who heroically helped bring the Church to the Iowa-Wisconsin-Illinois tri-state area and to upper Wisconsin-Michigan. He died as pastor of St. Patrick Church, Benton; founded the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters; and accomplished so much more that I get tired just thinking about how much he did.
After he died, an iron penance chain embedded in his flesh was discovered which he secretly wore in order to be more fully united with Christ's suffering. His fasting and many hardships weren't enough to express his love for his all-loving redeemer. He wanted to do more.
At Sinsinawa Mound the penance chain is available for veneration. Those who reflect upon it find it a powerful reminder of his sacrifices and selfless service. Upon request, interested visitors, along with a Sister, can pray in the presence of the chain.
Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows
Father Mazzzuchelli had a deep devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows whose image hung above his bed. After he died, Fr. John Kinsella, his confessor, revealed that Father Samuel told him that he had a vision of Mary. He exclaimed that he had never seen anyone as beautiful as Christ's mother!
Father Mazzuchelli died as he lived, ministering to others. Like Pope Francis, he had a deep respect for the elderly.
On February 15, 1864, an old woman requested the last sacraments. As he hurried to her sickbed, he experienced chills and severe pains. A physician diagnosed that he had pleura pneumonia. Loyal Dominican Sisters kept an unbroken vigil of prayer on his behalf. Fourteen of these Sisters are buried next to him at Benton.
A priest of the poor
Like Pope Francis, whom some call the pope of the poor, he was the priest of the poor. A parishioner wrote, ''In Father Samuel we recognized the pious energetic priest, the true friend who constantly served the poor and suffering."
In 1850 when a cholera epidemic struck New Diggings, Senator James Earnest helped Father Samuel care for the sick. Susan, his daughter wrote, "I have heard my father tell of the New Diggings' cholera epidemic. Nearly every family was afflicted. Father Samuel and my father worked shoulder to shoulder, giving the sick help and comfort."
Father Samuel adopted four orphan boys. He placed little girls in other families. When a mother died in childbirth, he asked the Dominican Sisters to care for her two-year-old daughter and her newborn infant. They did for two years.
He also transacted wills and bequests hastily made by dying Protestants, Catholics, and others.
Like Pope Francis, he championed the rights of the oppressed, defended poor settlers rights, and Catholic soldiers' right to attend Sunday Mass at Fort Mackinac.
He opposed the Indian Removal Act. He defended the Indians' right to land, natural resources, and their children's education. On their behalf, he sent protests to Indian agents, the governor of Michigan territory, the Wisconsin delegate to Congress, and even to the United States president.
Became American citizen
Father Mazzuchelli, who became an American citizen, admired America, but he was not afraid to criticize its shortcomings.
President Lincoln asked that America have a National Day of Thanksgiving on August 6, 1863 for recent union victories. Father Samuel, who vehemently opposed slavery, was invited to preach on that day in Galena.
To everyone's surprise, he assumed a prophet's unpopular stance. He asked, "How can we lift up our voices in united prayers of thanksgiving while our beloved country is distracted, humbled, and brought low by the most destructive warfare history has ever recorded.''
Like Pope Francis he worked tirelessly for peace. In a 2015 talk, Pope Francis suggested that instead of giving up chocolate or alcohol for Lent, we give up indifference. He added that, "When we become indifferent, we may become incapable of feeling compassion at the poor's outcry, and feel no need to help them as though this were someone else's responsibility and not ours."
Lent is a graced time to learn more about Pope Francis, Father Mazzuchelli, and other saintly persons. They can inspire us to follow Christ as they did. Let's also continue to pray that the Church honors Venerable Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli with the title of Blessed soon.
Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.