LONDON – The unexplained healings of two people from serious illnesses will be investigated as possible miracles that could give Britain its first female saint in more than four decades.
A man suffering from cancer and a woman with a brain injury from a fractured skull recovered from their conditions after their families prayed to Sister Elizabeth Prout, founder of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion, who worked with poor women and children in 19th-century Manchester, England.
Sister Anne Cunningham, the Manchester-based superior general of the Passionist sisters, was scheduled to fly to Chile in August to interview the people involved in the healings and their doctors.
If Sister Anne believes the healings might be the result of Sister Elizabeth’s intercession, then she will ask Catholic leaders in Chile to set up tribunals to gather evidence formally, said Passionist Father Paul Francis Spencer, postulator of Sister Elizabeth’s sainthood cause.
Father Spencer said the first of two possible miracles occurred in Chile in 2000 and involved a married man with “a very serious cancer.” The priest told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview July 26 that doctors believed “there was very little hope of him surviving the operation” to remove the cancer.
“A friend of his was in contact with the sisters and knew about Elizabeth Prout, and he recommended that the family should pray to her,” he said. “The whole family, together with their friends, prayed through the intercession of Elizabeth Prout for his cure.
“When the doctors came to operate, they did a preliminary X-ray or scan and they found no sign of the cancer being there,” he said.
The second healing happened in 1999, also in Chile, and involved a woman who inexplicably recovered from a brain injury after her family prayed to Sister Elizabeth, Father Spencer said.
A 14-year investigation by the Archdiocese of Liverpool into Sister Elizabeth’s life formally concluded July 29. A Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool at her graveside at the Church of St. Anne and Blessed Dominic in St. Helens, England, and the file on her life was sealed and sent to the Vatican.
Sister Elizabeth worked with refugees fleeing the Irish potato famine and opened nine schools in England’s industrialized northwest. In the 1860s she also helped female millworkers made destitute by the Lancashire cotton famine to escape poverty by training them in skills needed to earn a living independently.
She set up the Sisters of the Cross and Passion, which now has more than 300 sisters working in the U.K., Ireland, the U.S., Botswana, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Peru and Chile.
Sister Elizabeth left the Church of England and became a nun in her 20s after she was influenced by Blessed Dominic Barberi, an Italian Passionist priest working in England. She died in 1864 in St. Helens from tuberculosis at the age of 43.
The last British women to be recognized as saints were Anne Line, Margaret Clitherow and Margaret Ward, who were among 40 English and Welsh Reformation-era martyrs canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.