GREEN BAY — Have you ever wanted to get up close and personal with one of the 12 Apostles?
Well, all you have to do is ask and St. Jude — or part of him anyway — will come to you.
That’s exactly what St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Oshkosh did. They contacted the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus in Chicago, and St. Jude is coming to them.
So people will have a chance to see what is believed to be the largest relic of St. Jude the Apostle outside of Rome. On March 21, St. Jude Parish, 519 Knapp St., will host the arm relic of St. Jude the Apostle. A Blessing Mass will be celebrated at 7 p.m., March 21, along with St. Jude devotions and a special blessing with the Oil of St. Jude.
Dominican Fr. Michail Ford will bring the relic to St. Jude Church, just as he did to Blessed Sacrament Parish in Madison last July.
“We heard about that (visit to Madison),” said Rob Saley, who handles adult faith formation at St. Jude Parish. “We were very interested, because St. Jude is our patron here. I got in touch with (Fr. Mike) at the shrine.” And that’s how the March 21 visit was arranged.
St. Jude Parish was formed on July 14, 2007, out of a merger of St. John, St. Vincent de Paul and Sacred Heart parishes.
Fr. Ford is the director of the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus. Since 1949, the shrine, located at St. Pius V Parish, 1909 Ashland Ave., in Chicago, has been the home of this relic of St. Jude, one of the 12 Apostles. The relic bone from the forearm of St. Jude, encased in a silver reliquary was for centuries located in Armenia in the care of the Dominicans. As religious turmoil increased in the area, the Dominicans left the area, taking the relic with them, first to Turkey. Eventually, they ended up in Turin, Italy, in the 18th century.
Tradition says that St. Jude was martyred in Syria. His remains were later moved to Rome and today, most of his body rests in a tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica along with another apostle, St. Simon the Zealot. In the Western church, the two share a feast day on Oct. 28. Among the Eastern churches, St. Jude’s feast is June 19.
St. Jude and stock market crash
In 1949, the Dominican Province of St. Peter Martyr in Turin gifted the arm relic to the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great (the Dominican Central Province of the United States). The relic was presented to St. Pius V Parish on the 20th anniversary of the founding of its shrine devoted to this patron saint of the impossible or desperate causes. The Chicago shrine was founded in 1929, after the stock market crash that started what became known as the Great Depression.
Into the 1960s, devotions to St. Jude were very popular and the Chicago shrine had many Masses and prayer services. However, Fr. Ford noted, the saint’s popularity has since declined.
“So we decided to help people learn about them first hand,” he said. “In the past decade or so, we have started taking the relic ‘on the road’ so to speak. It occurred to one of my predecessors, a few years back, that the relic is simply too great a treasure and gift of the church to keep it locked away at St. Pius V in Chicago.”
Fr. Ford calls traveling with the relic “a page from the apostles’ original plan: take Jesus’ message of hope to the people.”
The Dominican priest is the saint’s official travel companion and he takes the relic on the road seven to eight times a year. “Wherever people want us to go, we’ll go,” he said.
Fr. Ford admits that, at first, “it was nerve-wracking” to travel with such a prominent relic of a saint. And even now “I won’t let the case out of my sight,” he added.
That relic case is specially made, including inner foam molded to fit the reliquary — which is shaped like a right arm and hand. (Arm reliquaries were popular for a time — and are often of the right arm because that would be the one used to make blessings when the saint was on earth.) In the St. Jude reliquary, parts of the bone are visible. The case is crush-resistant and water-tight.
Airports with an apostle
Traveling through the airports can be amusing for the priest — especially the X-ray machines.
“They look at it, and don’t know what to make of it,” Fr. Ford said. “They move (the conveyor belt) forward, back it up and look at again.”
Eventually, he hears a call: “Supervisor!”
However, once everything is explained, the priest often finds a welcome reception and even a chance to evangelize. “Almost all the time,” he said, “I hear them say, ‘That’s the coolest thing that’s ever been through my station.’”
Fr. Ford hears a number of stories of healing as he travels with St. Jude’s relic. One happened in January 2016, during a visit to California’s Simi Valley. A woman had come all the way from Seattle to get some of the Oil of St. Jude for her mother-in-law, who was battling cancer. The woman blessed her mother-in-law with the oil. Fr. Ford later heard from the woman that her mother’s blood cell count completely reversed itself for the better after receiving the oil.
“The next day,” Fr. Ford remembers the woman telling him, “the doctors came to her and said they had never seen a reversal in the counts like this.”
Oil and the cardinal
But Fr. Ford’s favorite story came when he met the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago at the St. Jude’s shrine’s 75th anniversary in 2004. The cardinal said that he remembered, as a child, his own mother, Julia, bringing him to the Chicago shrine. Cardinal George had suffered from polio as a child and his mother would also take home the vials of St. Jude Oil and “slather it on” the boy’s legs.
“Cardinal George was very precise in his language,” Fr. Ford recalled. “He said, ‘I won’t say a miracle happened, but at a time when many people died from polio, I only came away with a limp.’”
The Oil of St. Jude, Fr. Ford explained, is oil blessed with the relic, “almost the same way as one uses the St. Blaise blessing of the throat.”
“In the old days,” he added, “oil was poured over a saint’s tomb or even their body and then re-collected. With a 19-century-old relic, that’s not a good idea.”
Wherever the relic visits, people have a chance to touch the reliquary or even kiss it. At Oshkosh, Fr. Ford will also speak with the religious education students about relics, Saley said.
“There has been a lot of interest,” he added. “People are intrigued about the idea that such a significant relic coming right here to Oshkosh. I think it’s a really, really exciting opportunity.”
Fr. Ford will bring the St. Jude relic to any parish that requests a visit. He also presents parish missions. For more information, contact the-shrine.org.