Assembling a Case for Father Joe’s Heroic Virtue

As the investigation of the Cause for Father Joseph Walijewski’s Beatification and Canonization comes to a close in May, the Tribunal will be presenting their report of the life and times of Father Joe. This report, called the Acta, will be taken to Rome to be part of the case.

Monsignor Michael Gorman, the Episcopal Delegate for the Tribunal, says that he and the fellow members have a responsibility to investigate Fr. Joe’s life for the purpose of providing information to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, with the hopes that eventually they and the Holy Father will find him worthy to be declared venerable.

The Tribunal was appointed by Bishop Callahan on May 1, 2013. During that Mass, the members took their oaths. The Tribunal is composed of an Episcopal Delegate, Monsignor Gorman, who is in charge of seeing that the investigation is completed. The Promoter of Justice, Monsignor Joseph Hirsch, is the one who presides over the deposition of the people who have been called as witnesses. Several notaries are included to verify the authenticity of the documentation and numerous typists are involved in the transcription of the witness stories, in the language the testimony was given.

Monsignor Hirsch says he is honored to be a part of sharing Father Joe’s story and to hear accounts from all the witnesses, which include many stories he’s never heard before.

“When we do the interviews, I am hearing, first-hand, stories that no one has ever heard before,” he says. “I always think, we just listened to another chapter. As part of the Tribunal, we get to hear the whole book and that’s the privilege we have. We get to hear all the chapters and we can begin to piece together the inspirational life of Father Joe.”

The witnesses are people who knew Father Joe, including family members or friends he had growing up in Michigan and people that worked and interacted with him in La Crosse and in South America.

As part of the Tribunal, two commissions were formed, broken into historical and theological focuses. The Historical Commission is responsible for composing a report on the life and times of Father Joe and the Theological Commission looks at his writings and homilies, assessing them to make sure they don’t contradict Catholic doctrine.

All the testimonies have now been gathered, so the next step is to send the Acta, assembled by the commissions and the Tribunal, to the postulator of the cause, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi. It is his responsibility to take all the information and create what’s called a Positio. This book will advocate to the Congregation why Father Joe should be declared venerable.

Now that the investigation is almost over, Monsignor Gorman reflects on all he’s learned about Father Joe over the last five years. While he was acquainted with Fr. Joe in the 1980s, it was through this process that he learned about the many remarkable things he accomplished through his faith in God.

“I learned a lot about the hardships he experienced, of basically hacking a parish out the jungle of Bolivia and everything going awry. It’s amazing that he was able to accomplish so much with so little material resources, but out of poverty people came together and shared things and things happened,” he says.

“It shows the power of faith and the grace of God and really his own determination. He was a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of person. He was very simple and very humble and just didn’t get flustered when things didn’t go well. He was patient and allowed the grace of God to do his work.”

By Monica Organ