Holding a relic of St. Peregrine, Servite Fr. Chris Krymski prays with Donna Miller, a member of St. Alphonsus, Greendale, after the Mass for healing at Blessed Sacrament Parish, Milwaukee on Friday, June 4. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

It’s not the pain, the chemotherapy or even the needles. It’s the emotional turmoil of cancer that is hardest for most who are diagnosed with cancer.

Those first words, “You have cancer” make the newly-diagnosed feel vulnerable, scared and fearing that they will soon die. For Shirley Anderson, member of St. Matthias Parish, Milwaukee, the diagnosis literally brought her to her knees – in prayer.

Diagnosed with lymphoma nine years ago, Anderson is in remission and finds great comfort through prayer and attending healing Masses, such as the one dedicated to St. Peregrine celebrated June 4 at Blessed Sacrament Parish, Milwaukee.

“My faith comforts me,” she said. “I still receive four chemotherapy treatments twice a year, but this Mass gives me strength and helps me with a positive outlook and makes me realize that it is all in God’s hands.”

Although Anderson was diagnosed twice with cancer, she is confident that whatever happens, God will fill her with strength and expand her faith to go beyond any suffering.

“I have a strong faith in his healing,” she said, clutching a tattered, bookmarked prayer book. “I learned about St. Peregrine from a nurse friend of mine who ended up dying of cancer. She gave me this book titled, ‘An hour with Jesus,’ and she wrote me a note in the back that says, ‘Life is a mystery to be lived and not a problem to be solved.’ I live every day through the pages in that book, through my faith and that quote.”

Archbishop has special Peregrine devotion

Concelebrating the Mass in which the local devotion’s 10th anniversary was commemorated, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki was joined by Blessed Sacrament pastor Fr. Robert Turner, Servite Fr. Chris Krymski, national director of St. Peregrine Ministries at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, Chicago, and several other Servite priests. The archbishop acknowledged that he has a personal devotion to St. Peregrine, often known as the “cancer saint,” and carries a St. Peregrine sacramental in his pocket in memory of his mother.

“My dad died of colon cancer and my mom had a great devotion to him (St. Peregrine),” said Archbishop Listecki. “In 1998, the doctors thought I had cancer and I began my devotion to him then.”

Conversion, cure notable

St. Peregrine is not as well known as most other saints, but his life, including accounts of his conversion and his cure, is notable. Peregrine Laziosi was born in Forti, Italy in 1250. As a young man, he was a member of the anti-papal party. Similar to Francis of Assisi a couple of decades before him, Peregrine could not escape the struggles and controversies that divided the Italian peninsula during his life.

If you go:

What: Mass with prayers for healing in honor of St. Peregrine (cancer saint)

When: Every First Friday

Where: Blessed Sacrament, 3100 S. 41st St., Milwaukee, exposition of Blessed Sacrament 11 a.m. to noon; Benediction, noon; Mass 12:10 p.m.

Peregrine’s conversion occurred following his encounter with St. Phillip Benizi, a priest sent to reconcile the bitterly divided populace of Forti. When Phillip preached reconciliation and peace in Forti, the crowds heckled him, including Peregrine, who even struck the priest in the jaw. However, when Phillip turned the other check, obeying the Gospel command of Jesus, Peregrine changed. It was a turning point in his life, and he joined the Servite Order, became a preacher and cared for the sick and the poor.

After Peregrine developed cancer of the foot and leg, his doctor believed that the only way to save his life was through amputation. But after fervent prayer before the crucifix, Peregrine had a vision in which Jesus descended from the cross and healed his foot and leg. When he awoke, he was healed.

‘Divine resignation’ not giving up

Archbishop Listecki calls Peregrine’s faith and the faith of the saints, “divine resignation,” but it has nothing to do with giving up.

“It means we resign to seek to the will of God and is an active component to turning our will over to him, becoming his instrument,” he said. “It is a form of healing trust and offering our pain and suffering up for his sake.”

Mentioning his personal encounters with cancer, Archbishop Listecki reminded the gathering of several hundred people that while the world is material and earthly, the Lord molds and fashions them in his image.

“We have died to ourselves in baptism and we rise with Christ, and as people of faith, Christ lives in us,” he said. “Jesus always tells us to ask, seek and knock. God wouldn’t fool us when we ask for something. He will respond to us and our needs.”

Looking to God’s infinite blessings in life is one way to see how many gifts he provides, especially the gift of his son, the archbishop said.

“Turn all your sufferings over to God in divine resignation,” said Archbishop Listecki, who explained his devotion to St. Peregrine. “Through his intercession, I focus on God’s presence and my reliance on God. That’s the miracle in us. The Lord is with us in this struggle.”

That same divine resignation helped Blessed Sacrament parishioners Jerold and Nancy McCanna cope with their struggles with cancer and health issues. Both attend the monthly healing Masses.

“I had Lymphoma and not only did the cancer go away, it helped me spiritually and physically,” said Jerald who was diagnosed in 1996. “Four years later, after attending the healing Masses I was healed.”

For Nancy, a painful cyst on her left ring finger left her with no alternative other than surgery. That is, until God healed her.

“It was big and sore and I didn’t want surgery,” she confessed. “Every time I went to the healing Mass, I put my finger on the relic of St. Peregrine and it went away. It was so annoying and then just got smaller and disappeared.”

Mass brings her ‘one step closer to God’

While Ann Talaska of Blessed Sacrament Parish does not have cancer, several of her friends and relatives have been diagnosed. She attends to pray for them.

“I find it comforting,” she said. “Many people come from other parishes and sometimes we have gone to lunch following the Mass. Some with cancer have died and some have been healed, but all have received some sort of healing. For me, I have such peace and the Mass gives me strength. My faith is stronger and this is one more step to bring me closer to God.”

The devotion to St. Peregrine is not new, according to Fr. Turner.

“It actually began about 30 years ago by one of the priests at that time,” he said. “Things happen and the Masses stopped. I have been here for 15 years and about 10 years ago, we started it again. I have had two good friends who both had cancer. I knew briefly about the devotion to St. Peregrine, but both of them had been so close in their devotions that I wanted to know more. Fr. (Gerard) Clark passed away, and the former pastor here, Fr. Robert Katorski, is dying right now and might not live much longer.”

After Fr. Clark’s diagnosis, Fr. Turner felt compelled to study the life of St. Peregrine and the devotion to him, so he traveled to Our Lady of Sorrows to meet with Fr. Krymski.

“We became friends and he got me all the materials and we announced to the people about beginning the devotion in March 2000,” he said. “Despite a huge blizzard, more than 400 people showed up for the 12:10 p.m. first Friday Mass.”

Parish is shrine to St. Peregrine

As a gift, the Servites presented the parish with two relics of St. Peregrine that are used to bless those who attend the Mass. The parish averages between 100-200 attendees each month and as a result, has been named one of the shrines of St. Peregrine in the United States.

While he has witnessed numerous physical healings in the past 10 years, Fr. Turner has also seen tremendous emotional, mental and spiritual transformations. He said that he feels blessed that so many lives have been touched by this devotion.

“With both Fr. Clark and Fr. Katorski, I witnessed the incredible strength that both had,” he said. “I didn’t realize how strong they both were in faith and how their inner strength came through because of this devotion. It amazed me and continues to amaze me how they were both able to deal with this. Each of them had such a pleasant outlook and a great peace from their devotion.”

While he might not rack up large parish additions or huge construction projects in his life as a priest, Fr. Turner isn’t concerned. His legacy might be different and otherworldly, but that is his goal.

The priest takes pride in being the Milwaukee parish to host this Mass and devotion.

“We are the only parish in the archdiocese that has an ongoing healing Mass and devotion to St. Peregrine,” he explained. “I think when I do leave here and I think of all the things I have done, the biggest thing for me here, is that this Mass, this devotion, has touched lives by the hundreds.”