A Saint for St Helens

This coming Saturday, 19 May at 2.30 pm, a Mass of Thanksgiving  will be celebrated in the church of St Anne and Blessed Dominic, Sutton, St Helens in thanksgiving for the life and ministry of Elizabeth Prout, the Foundress of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion.  The Celebrant at the Mass will be Passionist Priest Father John Kearns and the Speaker will be Passionist Sister Elissa Rinere.  Sister Elissa is part of the Central Leadership Team of the Passionist Order and is based in Connecticut, USA.

The annual Mass is being celebrated at the Sutton Shrine where Sister Elizabeth Prout is buried and will have an international theme this year to celebrate the work of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion on a global scale.  Answering the needs of the poor and identification with the crucified is a Passionist way of life and this spirit was developed by Elizabeth beyond all expectation.

Elizabeth was born in Shrewsbury, on 2 September 1820, and was baptised into the Church of England.  In the 1840’s the Prout family had to move to Stone, Staffordshire, to seek work and when Elizabeth was in her early twenties an Italian Passionist Priest, Father Dominic Barberi, opened the first Passionist monastery about two miles from her home.  She became a Catholic, and later moved to Manchester to teach in the parish of St Chad.  She was totally unprepared for life there, as a steady stream of famine-stricken immigrants, from Ireland sought residence in confined and dirty dwellings, and work in large cotton factories.  Despite the challenge, Elizabeth trusted in God as she set out to give life and compassion to the poor and needy.  Inspired by her example, other women joined her, and with her they became a new group of Sisters within the Church, providing educational opportunities and skills for women which would enable them to seek better work.

In 1855 Elizabeth and another Sister moved to Sutton, St Helens.  She opened a school at St Mary’s, Blackbrook, and took charge of St Anne’s School, Sutton.  The sisters earned their living as best they could; they knew, like the people around them, what poverty was, and at times Elizabeth was forced to beg.

Her life-giving energy, solidarity with and compassion for the deprived and poor, is still the heart of the Mission and Ministry of the Sisters today.  In a shanty town near Lima, Peru, the Sisters are doing very similar work to that of Elizabeth Prout and her first companions.

It is hoped that Sister Elizabeth will one day be declared a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church.  In 2008 a fourteen year investigation into her life of ‘heroic virtue’ drew to a conclusion and a total of ten boxes of documents were taken to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.  Now the Holy See is carrying out its own investigation before she can be declared ‘Venerable’ and two approved miracles will be required for her beatification and canonisation.

All are welcome to attend the Mass and to pray at the Shrine where Sister Elizabeth is buried together with two nineteenth century Passionist Priests also on the path to Sainthood: Blessed Dominic Barberi and Father Ignatius Spencer.