An Example in New Orleans

St. Mary's Assumption Church of the Irish Channel of New Orleans. St. Mary's Assumption was built in the 19th Century to serve predominantly the German immigrant population.

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on October 4, 2021

New Orleans — Carson Coyle runs around like any healthy young boy. Coyle suffered brain damage at his birth two years ago, with hospital staff at one point predicting that he had just hours to live. But then a judge prayed over Carson’s cradle with a cross from the Francis Xavier Seelos shrine in New Orleans, and a miracle is believed to have happened — Coyle healed essentially overnight and is thriving today.

Coyle’s recovery might just be the miracle that Seelos — who died in 1867, ministering to New Orleans residents during a yellow fever pandemic — needs to be recognized as a saint.

Power in Virtuous Living

On a recent visit to his tomb, I stood in the confessional where Father Seelos would hear confessions for hours; people would line up to encounter God’s mercy through the instrument of this German Redemptorist missionary priest, who always had time for people.

Seelos would sleep in his clothes in the room closest to the door so he could answer night calls for hospital runs. He famously heard the confession of a dying prostitute.

Before COVID hit, people flocked to his shrine for a closeness to him, with prayers for healing. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000, but locals have long considered him a saint.

To visit his shrine in New Orleans is to remember, in the wake of Hurricane Ida and in the continuing midst of the COVID pandemic, what is most important. There is a power in virtuous living. Goodness can be more contagious than the delta variant.

Clarity About Life

Seelos had a clarity about life that he tried to impart at every opportunity. He wouldn’t flee from or bemoan suffering. To his brother, he wrote: “See your cross in the exact fulfilling of the duties of your state in life. Carry it daily by overcoming all anger and grumbling. Carry it willingly, make an offering of yourself to God for those dear to you, and for the salvation of your soul. Through self-conquest all of us must earn heaven, and through self-denial, bring down blessings for this present life.” He wasn’t preaching from some lofty throne but was living alongside immigrants at a time of rampant anti-Catholicism.

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To his sister, he wrote: “(W)hen the pleasure-loving animal in us is put to death through unremitting prayer, the daily fulfilling of our duty, constant self-denial and carrying of our cross, then everything becomes sweet; then we understand the value of suffering. Then a gentle and joyful aura radiates from our whole person … It is the joy that our loving Redeemer gives to his followers, a peace that is the real sign of perfection and holiness.” That’s the approach to life that kept him moving forward with joy. And he continues to be a model of how to live well with the limited time we have.

One contemporary priest testified: “It seemed to be a rule with him never to lose a moment’s precious time. When not elsewhere employed, he was sure to be found in the oratory or in his room, praying, writing or studying.”

Let’s Make Better Use of Our Time

We waste a lot of time, constantly looking at our phones or losing ourselves in the trivial busywork of everyday life. Could we make better use of it?

Such holy living is not for priests alone.

You don’t have to be a Catholic Christian or know anything about Seelos beyond this column to find inspiration. We can all try to focus on the more important things while helping our neighbors. God has given us everything we need to find wholeness through love and service. We just need to use what he has given us.

Don’t let distractions detract from living well. Father Seelos encourages us still.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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