CANTON – At Exponent press time, the Youngstown Diocese was preparing to announce the formal opening of the cause for canonization for Canton woman and mystic known for prayerfulness and miraculous gifts.
“We are opening an investigation into the life, virtues, and reputation for sanctity of this Servant of God, Rhoda Wise,” said Msgr. Peter Polando, judicial vicar for the diocesan Tribunal.
A formal ceremony was planned for 1 p.m. Oct. 7 at the diocesan offices with Andrea Ambrosi of Rome, the postulator of the cause for Wise, and Msgr. Robert Siffrin, diocesan vicar general, who is serving as the official delegate for Bishop George V. Murry, S.J.
A Mass marking the opening of the causes was planned for 7 p.m. that day at St. Peter Parish, Canton, where Wise was a parishioner. Msgr. Siffrin was scheduled to be the main celebrant. “I’m honored to be involved as we undertake this investigation,” Msgr. Siffrin noted.
For nearly a decade during her life and for almost 70 years following her death in 1948, many people admired Wise and came to her home at 2337 25th St. N.E., Canton, for healing or solace.
This is the first major step in the process of canonization, by which the Church, after years of examination and consideration, can officially recognize a person as a saint, someone who is the subject of devotion and whose life is considered worthy for imitation by other Catholics.
“This is the realization of years of work, hope, and prayers,” said Karen Sigler, who directs the Rhoda Wise Shrine, at the site of her residence during her life.
“We are excited that someone who was a parishioner here is being proposed for canonization,” said Father Edward Beneleit, pastor of St. Peter Parish here.
Sigler, who has lived at the home here since 1982 is fostering the ministry, said that Wise had visions of Jesus and of St. Therese of Lisieux – often known as “The Little Flower.” She also experienced the stigmata, wounds that resemble those of Christ on the Cross, and offered spiritual consolation and physical healings for thousands who came to her home.
Among those who experienced healing there was the Canton-born Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) and various associated ministries, Sigler said.
Sigler, in addition to meeting and praying with those who made pilgrimages to the shrine, wrote “Her Name Means Rose: The Rhoda Wise Story,” published by EWTN in 2000.
Wise was born in Cadiz, Ohio, in 1888 to Eli and Anna Greer. Her family moved to Wheeling, W.Va., when she was two. She grew up as one of eight children in a staunchly Protestant family – members of the First Christian Church there.
She met and married Ernest Wissmar, a young widower from Canton, and moved here, but her husband died the following year from a cerebral hemorrhage in a home where he was doing plaster work.
She married George Wise the next year, but their marriage was marred by her own health problems and her husband’s drinking problem and chronic unemployment.
They adopted two children, Ruth, who died as a baby during a flu epidemic, and later Anna Mae.
Through most of the 1930s, Rhoda Wise experienced a series of serious health complications including an ovarian cyst, abdominal adhesions, complications from surgery, leg and foot injuries which required her to use crutches, and related psychological trauma. Her various ailments required hospitalizations in a number of institutions.
Eventually, in December of 1936, she was hospitalized at Mercy Hospital, Canton, where she came under the care of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, nursing sisters who cared for her spiritually as well as physically.
Even before she got to know the sisters, Anna Mae Wise recalled that her mother had a vision of Jesus offering her husband and her daughter a lamb.
From the sisters, she was drawn to the crucifix on the rosary and asked the sisters to teach her to pray the rosary. Later, she asked about prayers to St. Therese, the Little Flower.
In time, she asked to see Msgr. George Habig, pastor of St. Peter Parish, who instructed her in Catholicism, and she came into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Her physical condition, however, did not improve. At one point she prayed to stay alive until Anna Mae was old enough to care for herself.
In May of 1939, after 10 weeks at Mercy, her doctor sent her home with little hope, Sigler said.
Yet, one morning she woke up and told of a vision of Jesus and St. Therese appearing to her. She was cured of her physical ailments and dedicated herself to a life of prayer, as she had been told in the vision.
Word spread, Sigler explained. In the next decade thousands of people came to see her. Wise experienced suffering over time but she maintained her home, having been told in a vison by Jesus: “This place is to be a shrine and cures more wonderful than your own will take place on this spot.”
“People reported cures,” and the crowds grew until June 28, 1948, when more than 10,000 came, Sigler said. Wise died 10 days later.
Anna Mae, who had married, moved back with family after her mother died to care of her father, “but she also told her mother’s story,” Sigler noted.
When Anna Mae died in 1995, EWTN purchased the home but later transferred ownership to Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, which Mother Angelica also founded. Early last year, the shrine established itself as independent, Sigler explained.
The shrine continues to draw visitors, Sigler said, sometimes from as far as California and St. Louis, “and they are not even coming to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Sigler sees a key moment when Bishop Murry came to visit on March 19, 2012. In April, Bishop Murry signed a formal decree erecting Rhoda Wise Shrine, Inc. as a Private Association of the Faithful, in accord with Canon Law.
Sigler said she is hopeful that more people will hear about the shrine and the message of Wise’s life.
“We ask only that people call or email before they visit at 330-453-0322 or
.” More information is available on the website www.rhodawise.com.
“The message of her life is that there are people who live lives of love and faith and that Our Lord loves you more than you can know.”