Acclaimed by Four Centuries: History of the Cause

The Process is Instituted

Because in his 77th year, Father Marion felt unable to devote to the task the time and effort he knew the Cause merited, late in 1979 he requested that another friar, and preferably one of Holy Name Province (within which territory the martyrdom had taken place), be appointed.

With the approval of the Minister Provincial, Father Charles Finnegan, and the Definitorium of the Province, Father Alexander Wyse was named Vice Postulator by a decree of the Postulator General, Father Antonio Cairoli, the decree dated December 3, 1979.

Informed of this appointment, Bishop Lessard wrote in January of 1980 to assure the Vice Postulator of "full support and cooperation in pursuing the canonical process of this Cause." In fulfillment of that promise, Bishop Lessard has proven more than an interested Ordinary. He has been gracious in publicly recalling that by the sacrifice of their lives in the sixteenth century, the Five Martyrs of Georgia laid the foundations of his Particular Church of the Diocese of Savannah.

The first of several organizational meetings to plan the groundwork for instituting the Process took place under the presidency of Bishop Lessard on November 19, 1980. In addition to the Vice Postulator, there were present Father Francis Muller, O.F.M. (who had been asked to serve as canonical consultant) and representatives of the clergy of the diocese, namely, Rev. Francis J. Nelson (of the Diocesan Chancery), Rev. Joseph A. Costello, S.M., and Rev. John Marquandt (pastors of the territory of the separate slayings); for part of the session, Sister Felicitas Power, R.S.M., at that time engaged in archival work in the Diocesan Chancery, also participated. The fruit of the meeting was a clearer notion of the steps to be followed in ordering the process in all its ramifications.

New canonical provisions had been introduced after Vatican II by the motu proprio Sanctitas Clarior, issued by Pope Paul VI on March 19, I 969. The most notable innovations introduced by this document were the determination that only one process need to be initiated to gather proofs for opening a cause, as also the right conferred on the local ordinary to institute a cause on his own authority with a previous nihil obstat from the Holy See. Since seemingly all the requirements for soliciting the nihil obstat were satisfied, the decision was made at this meeting officially to start the Cause.

With a view to obtaining the necessary nihil obstat, on October 9, 1981, in Rome, the Vice Postulator delivered to the Postulator General of the Franciscan Order for transmission to the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints, a bulky dossier containing the following documentation:

  • 01
    The Supplex Libellus from Father Cairoli to Bishop Lessard, dated September 11, 1981
  • 02
    Letter from Bishop Lessard to Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, dated September 22, 1981
  • 03
    A brief summary of the martyrdom of the Servants of God
  • 04
    A total of seventeen postulatory letters from various archbishops, bishops, priests, religious and lay groups, including one from Archbishop John R. Roach, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, informing the Holy Father that the Administrative Committee voted to petition the Holy Father for permission to open the proceedings of the Cause
  • 05
    Photostat copies of the documents published as an appendix to the article "Mártires Franciscanos de Georgia: lnforme e Relaciones sobre su Muerte" by Fr. Ignacio Omaechevarria in Missionalia Hispanica, Año XII, Num. 35, (Madrid, 1955)
  • 06
    The Indice Nominal and the Indice de Matérias for those documents
  • 07
    Photostat copies of the originals of those same documents preserved in the Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain.

With the approval of the Postulator General, late in 1982 Bishop Lessard had named the three-member Historical Commission for the Cause. The members of the said Commission are Father Francisco Morales, O.F.M., Ph.D., Vice Director of the Academy of American Franciscan History, Chairman of the Commission; Dr. Edward J. Cashin, Chairman of the Department of History, Political Science and Philosophy, Augusta College, Georgia; and Dr. F. Lamar Pearson, Professor of History, Valdosta State College, Georgia. It is worthy of special note that Dr. Pearson is a non-Catholic, a fact of particular significance in the social composition of the population of the State of Georgia. The documentation with which they would be working had happily been gathered and published by the learned Spanish friar, Padre Ignacio Omaechevarria, so that their work was greatly facilitated. Father Francisco, however, expected to have need and the opportunity to carry out some additional investigations to discover any hitherto unknown sources of information, as also to interpret and clarify the content of the sources already found or yet to be discovered.

Meanwhile, the Holy See had undertaken a further revision of the norms governing the process involved in the promotion of causes of Saints. On January 25, 1983, Pope John Paul II published the Apostolic Constitution Divinus perfectionis Magister, embodying the new legislation. By the Norms issued on February 7, 1983, to implement the Constitution Divinus perfectionist Magister, the petitioner (The Order of Friars Minor) handles the Cause through a legitimately appointed Postulator (no longer called the Vice Postulator). This constitution, with its pertinent norms, supplies for the lack, in the new Code of Canon Law, of specific canons governing the process of canonization. It is the canonical framework within which the Cause of the Georgia Martyrs has been carried forward.

”Rule of l221," ch. 16:10-11, in The Writings of Saint Francis, trans. Ignatius Brady (Assisi: Edizioni Porziuncola, 1983) 77. Henceforth, Brady.

St. Bonaventure, Major Life of St. Francis, chap. 12: I, trans. Benen Fahy in Marion A. Habig (ed.), St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis, 4lh rev. ed. (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), 721. Cited henceforth as Omnibus.

Ibid., chap. 3:1, pp. 646-47.

Thomas of Celano, The First Life of St. Francis, chap. JO: 29, trans. Placid Hermann in Omnibus, 247.

Ibid., chap. I 5, p. 258.

Bonaventure, Major Life, chap. 9:5, in Omnibus, 701.

St. Francis, "Letter Addressed to the Whole Order," in Brady, 121.

Contact Information

Credits/External Links
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

Join the Cause!


Children's Resources

Copyright © 2018- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah
2170 East Victory Drive, Savannah, GA 31404-3918
site by Sans Sheriff Studio