To mark the end of the first phase of investigation into the possible canonizing of Sr. Carmelina Tarantino, Cardinal Thomas Collins will preside at the 4 p.m. Mass this Sunday, October 20, at St. Leo's Parish at 277 Royal York Rd., Toronto.
Sr. Carmelina could very well become Toronto's first saint. Born and raised in Liveri, Naples, Italy, she immigrated to Toronto in 1964, at the insistence of her siblings who were concerned about her health. Doctors suspected she had a rare form of cancer and gave her months to live. Sr. Carmelina, however, lived for another 24 years – bedridden in hospital, where she counselled thousands about their daily trials and tribulations.
Fr. Claudio Piccinini, Sr. Carmelina's confessor and spiritual director, weighs in below on her lasting impact.
1. How did you come to meet Sr. Carmelina?
On September 23, 1973, Fr. Luigi Malorzo, CP, and I participated in a radio call-in show called, "Let's Talk About It Together," on CHIN Radio. Not being able to answer all the callers, we gave the monastery's phone number so listeners could call us there. Sr. Carmelina was one of the listeners and she called me from her bed at Riverdale Hospital where she had been suffering from cancer since 1969. She called to compliment me on how I addressed faith issues.
Sr. Carmelina Tarantino, left, pictured with her spiritual director Fr. Claudio Piccinini. (Photo by Guido Capotosto)
2. How did you become her spiritual director?
I was deeply impressed with Sr. Carmelina's acceptance of her great suffering and I asked to meet her. During that meeting we spoke about our lives and what we were doing. Out of this conversation, Sr. Carmelina heard the scope of Società Unita - The United Society and Teopoli which is meant to promote family unity and to better fulfill our Christian vocation. She became a member and volunteered by spreading the news to her numerous family.
On New Year's Day 1974, I decided to spend the whole afternoon at the hospital in Sr. Carmelina's company. I brought the book Journal of a Soul: The Autobiography of Pope John XXIII and other religious reading materials.
In 1976, I called Sr. Carmelina to see how she was doing. I felt bad because I realized that we had not been in touch since January 1974. I met with her the next day. During that conversation, knowing that she was writing a diary, I asked if I could see it and she agreed. She presented me with the diary and there I learned for the first time that on June 2, 1975, Jesus had come to see her. I felt the need to ask Sr. Carmelina to ask Jesus whether or not I should be involved in her life. As a result of this discovery, I became her confessor and spiritual director.
3. What kinds of miracles did you see unfold at the hands of Sr. Carmelina?
As someone who was intimately involved with Sr. Carmelina's life, the first thing that comes to my mind is how day in and day out in that hospital room Sr. Carmelina accepted her suffering and used that acceptance for the greater glory of God and His mysterious love for every one of us.
This understanding was verified by other things that happened outside of her life. For example: an incident that took place in West Springfield, Massachusetts, where I was stationed at Our Lady of Sorrows Monastery.
A lady came to speak to a priest at our retreat house. I noticed that she was really distressed and was crying uncontrollably. She told me that she had come from her family doctor who had told her that she was never going to have a child because, as she put it, the doctor said there was no room in her womb to host a child.
She continued to cry uncontrollably. Not being a doctor, I really could not say much about what she had shared with me. I simply tried to say that she needed to have faith in God because if God meant for her to have a baby, she will have a baby.
As I said this, knowing that I could not help the lady in any significant way, I thought of Sr. Carmelina.
I mentioned to the woman that I had a friend in Toronto and I would ask her (Sr. Carmelina) to pray for the woman. I do not know exactly what she heard but she must have thought it was positive because she wiped her eyes, stood up, took her purse and was ready to leave.
I went to my room, called Sr. Carmelina and tried to explain this woman's situation to her. I asked if she could pray for her because of the tears she was shedding. Sr. Carmelina told me that she would pray for the woman.
About a week later, I called Sr. Carmelina and she told me to tell the woman that she would have a baby.
I was not surprised at what Sr. Carmelina was telling me. But I was concerned about calling the lady and telling her without any doubt that she would have a baby. I told the woman to trust in God and be grateful.
About a couple of months later, the woman came back to the retreat house wanting to speak to the Italian priest with a beard. I happened to be the only one fitting that description. There we were in the same room we were in previously but this time she was not crying. She proceeded to tell me that she was coming from her family doctor and the doctor told her she was expecting — even though the doctor did not believe it.
The doctor told her that he hoped the birth would be by cesarean so he could see where this baby was because, according to his conclusion, there was no room for the baby in her womb.
Nine months later, the woman was hospital about to have her baby by cesarean birth. Her husband was waiting outside of the operating room when its doors swung open, the doctor came out still wearing his operating uniform, approached the man and asked him, "Do you believe in miracles?"
The husband answered, "Yes, I do."
"Well, you just received one," The doctor concluded. "You are the father of an eleven pound baby."
The doctor walked down the corridor shaking his head incredulously.
I saw the baby a few days later and he was a big baby. Many years later, I saw the young man again and he was towering over his mother at over six feet tall.
There is no question in my mind that Sr. Carmelina intervened in a very beautiful and miraculous way. Such incidents happened more than 30 times when I stopped counting them.
4. What was Sr. Carmelina like?
I would describe Sr. Carmelina as prayerful, patient, welcoming, prudent, selfless, determined, strong and courageous.
5. She lived in pain for 24 years. What kept her going throughout that suffering?
She was deeply aware of the presence of God in her life and she knew that whatever happened to her was willed by God. She desired to respond to God's love by suffering in union with Jesus on the Cross.
6. What is the greatest lesson Sr. Carmelina taught to those around her?
Her patient suffering and constant trust in God's will gave those who visited her the desire to imitate her courage and accept whatever happened in their lives as God's will for them. It's important to understand and I quote:
"For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." Romans 6:5 (NRSV)
Even if we have never been called to suffer, the fact that we know that one day we will die will make us suffer. Suffering is a straight channel to God's heart.