Australian relatives of a Palestinian religious sister who founded the Rosary Sisters in Jerusalem have travelled to Rome to witness her canonisation 88 years after her death.
Blessed Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas founded the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem in 1880 after witnessing several apparitions of Our Lady.
While Blessed Marie-Alphonsine, her two sisters and one brother pursued religious life, their remaining brothers married and had children.
Her niece, Catherine, went on to have nine children, six of whom emigrated to Australia.
A dozen Australians were among 120 relatives who have made the journey to Rome from their homes around the world for the 17 May Mass.
Great-great nephew Fergus Walshe, his wife Veronika and their children, David, Peter and Angela, were thrilled to be among them.
Despite the logistical challenges of travelling with Angela, who has Down syndrome, Veronika was confident the hurdles would be worthwhile.
“Pope Francis has a real soft spot for disabled children, so it will be very special to be there with Angela,” she said.
“We just want him to bless her so she can be the best person she can be. She struggles, but she is just so beautiful, and I know in my heart that she’s a gift from God.”
Genevieve Swan, married to the nun’s great-great nephew Paul, described the canonisation as “good news for our family and for the whole Church”.
She and daughters Felicity and Caitlin, who “bears a striking resemblance” to the soon-to-be saint, and their cousins were present.
Great-great niece Cathy Dennis, former director of the archdiocesan catechumenate office, and husband Rob, Logos administrator at the University of Notre Dame, were unable to travel to Rome for the canonisation.
In addition to caring for her elderly father, Cathy and Rob recently adopted two daughters.
Although her father has been unwell, suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease, he was “so deeply happy” at news of the canonisation, she said
“They have been praying to her for many years to help the family and others.”
“We’ve always had a family devotion to the rosary … that faith in the power of prayer and the rosary and her unshakeable trust in God, even during times of difficulty and suffering, has inspired us spiritually. Her deep humility and patient charity with all people have been a great inspiration.
“Our Lady appeared to Blessed Marie-Alphonsine and asked her to found the congregation … and requested her to pray the rosary daily, emphasising the immense blessings and protection it would bring to their land.
“We can see in our own family life that it has brought tremendous graces.”
Blessed Marie-Alphonsine died in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, in 1927 and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.
In December Pope Francis confirmed that a second miracle had been attributed to her intercession.
The rosary – and Blessed Marie-Alphonsine’s example of faithfulness and trust in God – have been a source of strength for Cathy.
It was “prayer, the rosary, and faith in God” that sustained Cathy and Rob as they bore “the cross of not being able to have children, and accepting that”, and rejoiced in “seeing what other paths God may have for you, and the amazing joy God’s path can bring that you don’t even realise could happen”.
“Blessed Marie-Alphonsine has given herself wholeheartedly to God, faithfully responding ‘yes’ to all God asked of her, and that can help inspire us in our situations.”
Pope Francis will also canonise Blessed Jeanne Emilie De Villeneuve, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, and Blessed Mariam Baouardy, a Melkite member of the Discalced Carmelites.