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Indescribable ... Inexplicable ... Miraculous


Most people might think of a trip to Rome, Mass at St. Peter's and receiving Communion from the pope as a dream come true. Some would even call it a miracle.

For Dr. Edward and Jeanne Gatz of Omaha, it was another miracle - the cure of Edward Gatz's terminal cancer in 1989 - that led them to Rome Oct. 11 for the canonization of St. Jeanne Jugan and four other saints

"You can't describe the indescribable," Jeanne Gatz, 71, said. "The atmosphere and the spirit, the feeling of the love and the devotion that was there from the nuns, the priests, the people that came on the pilgrimages; it was so uplifting."

While in Rome, the Gatzes were guests of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the religious order founded by St. Jeanne Jugan. The sisters, who take a vow of hospitality, made the couple feel welcome in every way, they said.

"When we first arrived, I asked the Little Sisters if the priests could say Mass, and within 15 minutes they had their vestments on and we started the whole thing off with a Mass," said 72-year-old Edward Gatz, who joined the Catholic Church in 1959. "It's such a community of God, and it's indescribable as Jeanne and I search for words to say what it's like to be with the people, except it's a taste of heaven."

Edward and Jeanne Gatz got to know several groups of the Little Sisters of the Poor as they went through the canonization processs. Two English-speaking members of the order served as their guides during their five days in Rome.

At the canonization Mass, the Gatzes were seated one row behind the priests and were among only 40 people to receive Communion from Pope Benedict XVI that day.

Also in attendance was their son, Dr. Bart Gatz of Florida; their niece and nephew, Mark and Jacque Fitzgerald of Norfolk; their cousin, Laurie Burgess and her boyfriend, Darryl McNeil of Omaha; and friends, Sharon Melchior, Margo Schmising, Ron and Pauline Wilwerding, Father James Buckley and Father Matthew Gutowski.

The Gatzes said their marriage and their faith have been strengthened as a result of Edward Gatz's miraculous cure, and they feel a sense of greater purpose in life.

"I'm still looking for a reason why I'm still around," said Edward Gatz, who suffers daily from acid reflux symptoms because his stomach is now behind his sternum as a result of the surgery that removed the tumor. "It's not over until it's over and you ought to be looking for what you could be doing."

The couple, who celebrated 47 years of marriage this year, said they turn to several saints in prayer, but that St. Jeanne Jugan gets called upon the most for her intercession because they know she listens.

"Going through this experience," Jeanne Gatz said, "makes you realize there are saints in heaven, and yes, they are watching over you and hearing prayers and interceding."


1879: The foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Jeanne Jugan, also known as Sister Mary of the Cross, dies in obscurity at the motherhouse Aug. 29.

1935: The diocesan investigation "on the reputation for holiness" of Jeanne Jugan is opened. During the 1930s, Little Sisters all over the world who had known Jeanne Jugan in their youth are asked to send their memories of her to the Mother General.

1970: The cause for Beautification is introduced in Rome July 10.

1970-76: Study of Jeanne Jugan's life by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints; preparation of the "Positio," the official presentation of her life and virtues.

1979: On July 13, Pope John Paul II declares Jeanne Jugan "Venerable."

1982: The "medically inexplicable" and sudden cure of Antoine Schlatter, a resident of the Little Sisters of the Poor's home in Toulon, France, is recognized as the miracle necessary for the beatification of Jeanne Jugan. The decree recognizing the miracle is signed May 11. On Oct. 3, Jeanne Jugan is beatified by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

2002: In early March, the superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor's home in Kansas City, Mo., is contacted by Jeanne Gatz of Omaha, who says her husband was cured of cancer through the intercession of Jeanne Jugan in 1989. An investigation into this cure begins.

Spring 2005: Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss is asked by the Vatican to investigate the cure reported by Jeanne Gatz. A diocesan Tribunal - Father Ryan Lewis, episcopal delegate; Father Joseph Taphorn, chief notary; and Father Patrick Harrison, promoter of justice - is formed to gather evidence of the cure of Dr. Edward Gatz.

Summer 2005: Priests on the case - none of whom had experience in miracle investigations - conduct research according to Vatican standards.

September 2005: Those working on the case gather evidence, such as Edward Gatz's medical records, and conduct interviews with Dr. Edward and Jeanne Gatz, the doctors involved in diagnosing or treating Edward Gatz, the Little Sisters of the Poor and others.

October 2005: Findings are collected and organized for Vatican approval.

November 2005: Evidence is sent to Rome and given to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

2008: On Dec. 6, Pope Benedict XVI signs the decree approving the miraculous cure of Dr. Edward Gatz through the intercession of Blessed Jeanne Jugan, clearing the way for her canonization.

2009: The Vatican consistory announcing the date for the canonization is held Feb. 21. Jeanne Jugan is canonized Oct. 11 along with four others.

Sources: Little Sisters of the Poor and Father Ryan Lewis, pastor at St. Thomas More Church in Omaha and episcopal delegate for the miracle inquiry.

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