Since the 10th Century, the Catholic Church has felt that its duty is to search and find “wonderful workers of God,” individuals referred to as saints. The Vatican defines a saint as a person who lived a virtuous life, offered their life for others, and who is worthy of imitation or was martyred for his or her faith. In order for the individual to be named a saint, they must be canonized. Canonization is a declaration by the Pope that the virtuous individual is in heaven and can receive the full honors of the Catholic Church and the official title of “Saint.” Canonization is quite a long, complicated and arduous process. First, the individual’s life is examined and documented by the local Church authorities. Time is needed to examine the individual’s life, writings, and accomplishments. During this time, the local archdiocese declares the individual a “Servant of God” as the individual’s “cause” (the process of beatification and canonization) is thoroughly examined. When this report is completed, it is presented to the Congregation of the Causes of Saints in the Vatican. If the person is determined to have lived a virtuous heroic life, then the person is declared “Venerable.” If the individual is not a martyr, then miracles that happened as a result of praying to the individual (intercessions) must be reviewed and investigated. If these miracles are accepted, then the individual’s status is raised to “Blessed.” To elevate to the level of “Saint,” one more miracle must happen and be confirmed, and then canonization is declared.
Since the early years of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, efforts have been made to elevate foundress Mother M. Theresa Dudzik to sainthood. The cause for her beatification and canonization is still actively being pursued. The Sisters hope and pray that Venerable Mary Theresa will be recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church and serve as a model for all Christians. Many thanks to Sister Anne Marie Knawa, whose book, As God Shall Ordain (a history of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago) served as a source and guide for this article and also thanks to Sister Jeanne Marie Toriskie whose presentations on Mother M. Theresa’s cause also served as very valuable sources of information.
(1860 – 1918) Mother M. Theresa was born Josephine Dudzik on August 30, 1860, in the village of Płocicz in western Poland. The Dudzik family immigrated to America in 1881 and settled in Chicago on the northwest side in the vicinity of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. After an economic downturn in Chicago in 1893, Josephine observed the horrible conditions of the aged, poor and orphaned in her neighborhood and was inspired to help them. She came to their aid spiritually and physically, even sheltering some in her own family home. Upon the advice of her pastor, Josephine formed a religious community to help her aid the elderly and those in need. Thus, on December 8, 1894, the congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Blessed Kunegunda was born (later the Sisters changed the name to the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago). Josephine took the religious name Sister Mary Theresa. In the coming years, the congregation grew as the Sisters expanded into child and elder care and education, and more women joined them. Sister M. Theresa passed away on September 20, 1918.
(1928) Mother M. Aloysia Holysz became the superior general. The Sisters created and distributed leaflets with the biographies of both Mother M. Theresa Dudzik and Mother M. Anna Wysinski (one of the four pioneer Sisters who helped start the congregation) to families and friends. The purpose was to have people inform the congregation of any prayers granted through the intercession of either Mother M. Theresa or Mother M. Anna.
(1935) Mother M. Antonina Osinski became the general superior of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago and began the process of declaring Mother M. Theresa the foundress. With the help of Sister M. Gonzaga Raniszewski, her secretary, they gathered information to develop the history of the congregation. The first attempts to present the saintly cause of Mother M. Theresa to Church authorities began in 1935, but because of World War II, little progress was made.
(1940) Mother M. Mechtilde Zynda was elected superior general. During this significant General Chapter, Sister M. Theresa Dudzik was officially given the title of “Mother” and was officially recognized as the foundress of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago.
(1946 – 1950) Mother M. Jerome Dadej was elected superior general in 1946. At a general council meeting in 1949, she suggested that the cause of Mother M. Theresa be revived. In order to officially open the cause of sainthood, permission must be granted by the local archdiocese. Mother M. Jerome then met with Samuel Cardinal Stritch, the Archbishop of Chicago, and presented him with a copy of Mother M. Theresa’s journal writings, also known as The Chronicle. Unfortunately, he was called to other duties in Rome. Thus the efforts to open the cause were delayed for a few years.
(1958) Mother M. Beatrice Rybacki was elected the congregation’s seventh superior general. During this time, the Reverend Henry Malak became a very enthusiastic supporter of the cause for Mother M. Theresa and aided the Sisters in their efforts. He suggested that any Sisters who had contact with Mother M. Theresa provide an oral testimony about their time with her. This resulted in over 116 depositions from Sisters, eyewitnesses, and the relatives of Mother M. Theresa
(1960) The Sisters commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mother M. Theresa with a Mass. It was then decided by the Sisters to offer a special Mass each month dedicated to Mother M. Theresa’s saintly cause. This tradition continues to this day.
(1961) Father Henry Malak published Mother M. Theresa’s biography, Apostolka Milosierdzia z Chicago (The Apostle of Mercy of Chicago) and this was translated into English by Sister M. Hugoline Czaplinski. This biography increased the exposure of Mother M. Theresa’s cause and some newspapers wrote articles about her and her life.
(1962) The League of Mother M. Theresa was formed in 1962 by Sister M. Venantia Rec and Sister Jeanette Golojuch. Many people joined the League to help promote the cause. During this time, Father Malak edited and published a quarterly newsletter on the canonization efforts called The Apostle of Mercy of Chicago Bulletin. All members of the League received copies to read and distribute. Father Malak also composed a hymn for the cause, which was translated into English by Sister M. Theophane Rakowski. This hymn is still sung at the monthly Beatification Mass.
(1963) Mother M. Beatrice, Sister M. Venantia, and Father Malak met with Albert Cardinal Meyer, the new Archbishop of Chicago, in September of 1963. After this meeting, the cause of Mother M. Theresa was formally opened and Father Malak was appointed the postulator. A postulator is one who helps lead and promote the cause of sainthood. With his appointment to the role of postulator, Father Malak took residence in the former novitiate house in Lemont and, with the help of Sister M. Venantia, established a Mother M. Theresa Museum in the house and collected memorabilia and artifacts from the early days of the congregation.
(1968) Father Malak edited and published Mother M. Theresa’s journal writings, known as The Chronicle, complete
(1970) Mother M. Hugoline Czaplinski was elected the next superior general. During this time, the Reverend Michael Machejek was appointed the postulator in Rome for the cause. The postulator in Rome assists with sainthood and makes sure the proper steps are followed as it pertains to the Vatican. Mother M. Theresa was then officially entered into the Books of the Sacred Congregation for the Cause of Saints.
(1972) The remains of Mother M. Theresa were exhumed from their resting place at St. Adalbert’s Cemetery in Niles, Illinois, on October 13, 1972, as part of the sainthood process. Her mortal remains were examined by church authorities and doctors. Mother M. Theresa’s casket and other items found within the gravesite were also inspected. Afterwards, a special Mass was held and Sisters and guests were allowed to pray at Mother M. Theresa’s casket. Her remains were reinterred in a granite sarcophagus in the motherhouse chapel in Lemont, IL.
(1972-73) In 1972, a young man named Jerry Lisiecki was severely injured in the Illinois Central train crash and as a result was in a coma. Doctors said Jerry would most likely remain in a coma for the rest of his life. Jerry’s mother visited Mother M. Theresa’s sarcophagus in 1973 and took leaves from a poinsettia plant that was on top of the sarcophagus. She placed them on Jerry’s five senses and prayed a nine day novena. On the ninth day, Jerry woke up. This alleged miracle was then submitted to the Vatican for investigation.
(1978 - 1982) Sister Martha Joan Sempolski was elected superior general of the congregation. She went to Rome and met with church dignitaries to discuss the necessary steps in advancing the cause. Thus, in 1979, John Cardinal Cody, archbishop of Chicago, officially opened the Cognitive Process for the Cause of Beatification. The testimonies given from 1970 through 1981 on Mother M. Theresa's life and her heroic virtue were published in a document called Positio Super Scriptis for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Rome in 1982. With this being published, she was declared a ‘Servant of God’, the preliminary step in the canonization process. A person who is declared a ‘Servant of God’ is a person whose works are being investigated in consideration for official recognition by the Pope and the Catholic Church as a saint in Heaven.
(1994) Mother M. Theresa Dudzik was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II in 1994. Being declared Venerable is the first step in the cause for canonization. This means that the Vatican has determined that Mother M. Theresa lived a life of heroic virtue and sought to improve her spirituality consistently throughout her life.
(2001 - 2004) Doctor Avv. Andrea Ambrosi was appointed the Postulator in Rome for the cause of Mother M. Theresa in 2001. During this time, the miracle of Jerry Lisiecki was reviewed at the local Church level during a trial as doctors gave testimony about the possible miracle. By 2004, the proceedings for the saintly cause of Mother M. Theresa were closed by the Archdiocese of Chicago. The testimonies were then sent to the Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Rome for review. Unfortunately, the miracle was not officially accepted and Mother M. Theresa remained Venerable.
(2012) Sister Jeanne Marie Toriskie went on the local Chicago radio show “The Winds of Change” hosted by the Rev. Anthony Bus, C. R., pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, to tell the life story of Mother M. Theresa and promote her saintly cause.
(2017) As part of the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the founding of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, a statue of Venerable Mary Theresa Dudzik by artist Stefan Niedorozo was unveiled. The statue was blessed by Cardinal Blaise Cupich at the conclusion of the anniversary Mass. Her image now graces the interior of the parish church to which she once belonged.
(2017 – 2018) In preparation for the 100th anniversary of the death of Mother M. Theresa, Sister Jeanne Marie authored a monthly reflection guide and history of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago that were made available for download on the Sisters’ website.
(Current) Efforts continue to spread the news of Mother M. Theresa’s life and holiness so that more people will seek her intercession, in the hopes that these intercessions could lead to miracles that would be recognized by the Vatican. The Sisters continue to pursue Mother M. Theresa’s cause through the monthly beatification Mass at Sacred Heart Chapel in Lemont, the daily recitation of the beatification prayer, presentations, and tours of her shrine and Heritage Hall located at their Motherhouse. There is also a monthly beatification Mass at her former home parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka on Chicago’s Northwest side. The League/Guild of Mother M. Theresa still offers yearly memberships. There is hope that Mother M. Theresa will one day receive the title of “Blessed" and eventually be declared a saint. Mother M Theresa’s journal writings, The Chronicle, and also Father Malak's biography of her, The Apostle of Mercy of Chicago, will both be offered for sale on Amazon.com