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The Chainsaw Carmelite: Texas principal knows the joys of serving and severing

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Catholic News Service

She inspired many when she rolled up the sleeves of her habit to clean up after Hurricane Irma with a chainsaw.

Carmelite Sister Margaret Ann Laechelin, principal of Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in Miami, holds the chainsaw she used to help clean up debris following Hurricane Irma. (CNS photo/courtesy Sister Margaret Ann)

After the local police department posted a video Sept. 12 on Twitter of Carmelite Sister Margaret Ann Laechelin trimming branches off a fallen tree with a chainsaw, she became an instant hit and a symbol of sorts for the hurricane-ravaged Miami area.

“People are making a big deal about the chainsaw, but I’ve already given my life to God and that’s what brings true joy,” not the fame that came after the airing of the video, said Sister Laechelin in a Sept. 14 phone interview with Catholic News Service.

But the community at Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School, where she is the principal, has been enjoying the fame and the attention it has brought to the suburban Miami Catholic school of 300 students in West Kendall, she said.

“They say ‘Sister, you’re famous. Can I have your autograph?’” she said.

The community needs every bit of levity it can find as it recovers from the damage wrought by Hurricane Irma, which led to the school’s closing because a cooling tower needs to be fixed before students are allowed to return. Inspired by the Carmelite’s example of contributing to the cleanup, families from the school have shown up to help clean around the perimeter, she said.

Though it’s not open for classes, the school has been helping the surrounding community, giving out ice (from its icemaker) and providing a place for others to charge their phones and regroup, Sister Laechelin said.

“There’s such joy in giving,” she said.

And that’s what she was doing when she decided to clear the tree from the road when a police officer, armed with a phone, happened to drive by and filmed her. Though you wouldn’t know it from the video, she had never really used a chainsaw before, but when she was faced with finding a way to clear the tree, she remembered some important advice from her students.

“I had to go on YouTube” to figure it out, she said, “but growing up in Texas, I did a lot of yardwork and my dad taught me to figure things out.”

Though she lives in Florida, she is a member of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart in Los Angeles, who also have a community of four women religious in Florida. Via FaceTime, she has been talking to them, easing the concerns of her community in Los Angeles, she said.

“Sisters, we stick together,” she told CNS.

They weren’t surprised at all. she said, by seeing her wielding the chainsaw and said, “That’s Sister Margaret Ann, she never sits back and jumps right in.”

Her family in Texas, however, was in “awe” when they saw her on TV, she said, and told her “I always thought you’d be famous, but not because of a chainsaw.”

The best lesson she can impart on her students from the situation, she said, comes from the Gospel.

“I want them to know that if they see a need, to step in and to help people, to help others, because God didn’t create us to be selfish and to care only for our little world,” she said.

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Sainthood cause of Fatima visionary now awaits miracles

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Diocese of Coimbra concluded its phase of the sainthood cause of Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos, one of the three children who saw Our Lady of Fatima in 1917.

Sister Lucia dos Santos, one of the three children who saw Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, is pictured in a 2000 photo. Bishop Virgilio Antunes of Coimbra, Portugal, formally closed the local phase of investigation into her life and holiness Feb. 13 in the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra, where she resided until her death in 2005 at the age of 97. (CNS photo/Paulo Carrico, EPA)

Sister Lucia dos Santos, one of the three children who saw Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, is pictured in a 2000 photo. Bishop Virgilio Antunes of Coimbra, Portugal, formally closed the local phase of investigation into her life and holiness Feb. 13 in the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra, where she resided until her death in 2005 at the age of 97. (CNS photo/Paulo Carrico, EPA)

Bishop Virgilio Antunes of Coimbra, Portugal, formally closed the local phase of investigation into her life and holiness Feb. 13 in the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra, where she resided until her death in 2005 at the age of 97.

The ceremony included the sealing of 50 volumes, 15,000 pages, of evidence and witness testimonies detailing the life of Sister Lucia. The documents sealed at the ceremony were to be shipped to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes at the Vatican.

After a thorough review of the materials and a judgment that Sister Lucia heroically lived the Christian virtues, her cause still would require the recognition of two miracles, one for beatification and another for canonization, attributed to her intercession.

The Marian apparitions at Fatima began on May 13, 1917, when 10-year-old Lucia, along with her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, reported seeing the Virgin Mary.

The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

Father Romano Gambalunga, postulator of the visionary’s cause, said that while “Lucia is already a saint in the eyes” of many people, “the prudent path of the church is that she is proposed to all, not just those who believe.”

“Lucia became holy over the years, not because of the apparitions,” Father Gambalunga told Agencia Ecclesia, the news agency of the Portuguese bishops’ conference. Without providing details, he said she had a “spiritual experience” in the convent.

While many hope her heroic virtues will be recognized by the church soon, it is important “not to do things in a hurry,” he said Feb. 13.

The evidence and testimonies gathered for Sister Lucia’s cause, he said, provide “a great occasion for spiritual and theological deepening,” and the material will help “illuminate the history of the church over the last 100 years.”

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Fatima May 12-13 and many people hope he will use the occasion to canonize Sister Lucia’s cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, who were beatified by St. John Paul II in 2000.

Bishop Antonio Marto of Leiria-Fatima told Radio Renascenca, the Portuguese bishops’ radio station, that while nothing is certain, he is “deeply hopeful” the canonization will take place this year, the centenary of the apparitions.

“We are waiting and continue to pray to the Lord. But I hope that, during the centenary, we will have the grace and joy to participate in the canonization,” he said.

Bishop Marto also admitted that “he is a convert,” who, as a priest, was initially skeptical of the Marian apparitions in Fatima.

“I was a skeptic. I didn’t care; I did not take an interest nor did I take a position. I understood it as something for children,” Bishop Marto said.

The skepticism changed into belief after attending a conference on the apparitions and reading Sister Lucia’s memoirs, he told the radio station. “I was deeply impressed, both by the authenticity of the testimony she gave and by the seriousness of the problems she dealt with. I read her memoirs three times to find the historical and ecclesial context” of the apparitions.

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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