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The martyrdom of Mary Stachowicz November 13, 2007

Barring a huge upset, today (November 13) Cardinal Francis George will be elected president of the US bishops' conference. No doubt he is already receiving all sorts of advice about what he should do in that position. But I'd like to suggest something the cardinal could do as soon as he returns home to Chicago:

Open a formal cause for the beatification of Mary Stachowicz.

Mary Stachowicz was by all accounts a devout, loyal Catholic woman, the mother of 4 children, who lived on the northwest side of Chicago. Father Francis Rog, who saw her frequently at the basilica of St. Hyacinth, described her as "a very intense person, concerned about the good of the parish, always seeking things for the poor as well as the spiritual welfare of people."

Already she sounds like a wonderful woman, doesn't she? But Mary Stachowicz should not be beatified because of her everyday piety. She should be recognized as a martyr for the faith.

Mary worked at the Sikorski Funeral Home. A colleague there, Nicholas Gutierrez, was an active homosexual, and Mary, true to form, was worried about his spiritual welfare. She saw him not as an adversary but as a friend, a child of God trapped in a deadly sin, and she wanted to help.

On November 13, 2002, Mary Stachowicz left the funeral home to attend Mass, and when she returned from Mass-- that bit of timing may be significant-- she visited Gutierrez in his apartment above the funeral home. She had evidently left the church determined to help the young man escape from vice. Gutierrez testified that the older woman challenged him about his homosexual activities.

In response, Gutierrez later confessed to police, he beat Mary Stachowicz, raped her, stabbed her, strangled her, then tried to hide her body to conceal his crime.

(In an unusually cynical courtroom ploy, a lawyer for Gutierrez sought unsuccessfully to convince a jury that the young man had beaten the middle-aged woman in self-defense. Is that why he raped her, too?)

We don't know exactly what Mary Stachowicz said to Nicholas Gutierrez that day. Maybe she could have been more sensitive. Maybe she didn't follow the best practices of psychological counseling. But we do know her motivations, and we know the results.

We do know why Mary Stachowicz died. She died because she dared to proclaim the truth of the Catholic faith. She died in an effort to bring a soul closer to Christ-- immediately after she herself had received our Lord in Holy Communion. She was killed in an act of contempt for the Catholic faith.

Mary Stachowicz died a martyr.

The Church, in her wisdom, ordinarily asks for a 5-year wait after someone dies, before a cause for beatification can be opened. That wait helps to guard against bursts of undue enthusiasm, and to ensure that the facts have come out before the process begins.

Today that 5-year waiting period ends. It's time to open the cause.

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