Pope Francis has declared a Shrewsbury-born religious sister to be venerable, putting her a crucial step closer to final recognition as a saint.
The Holy Father authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree on Thursday 21st January formally recognising that the Servant of God Mother Elizabeth Prout lived a life of heroic virtue.
The announcement means that the Catholic Church has concluded its theological and historical investigations into the life and work of the so-called ‘Mother Teresa of Manchester’.
It will now seek two miracles as supernatural signs from God that Mother Elizabeth is a saint.
The first will lead to her beatification, when she will be given the title ‘Blessed’ and the second will lead to her canonisation.
The announcement was welcomed by the Archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon, leader of the archdiocese in which Mother Elizabeth is buried and where her sainthood cause was opened in 1994.
The archbishop said he would like to see her shrine in St Helens become a place of prayer for her canonisation.
“I am delighted that the Holy See has further recognised the holiness of Mother Elizabeth Prout, foundress of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion,” he said.
“Her contribution to the Church and people of England and further afield in the education and healthcare through the institutions she founded and the Sisters of the congregation continues to show the care of the Catholic Church for those in need. My prayer is that the shrine at Sutton will be a place of prayer for her eventual canonisation.”
The Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, who has repeatedly called for prayers for the progress of Mother Elizabeth’s sainthood cause, also welcomed the announcement by the Holy See.
He suggested that Mother Elizabeth’s heroic service to poor people who were afflicted by outbreaks of cholera and typhoid served as fine example in the contemporary age benighted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was with great joy that we received the news today that Elizabeth Prout, an Englishwoman born in Shrewsbury, is advancing towards being recognised as a saint,” he said.
“The Church has declared her Christian life and virtues worthy of our veneration.
“It seems appropriate this announcement came during the pandemic when we can look to Elizabeth’s example and ask the help of her prayers as a woman who helped many during the epidemics which swept the industrial communities of Victorian England.”
Passionist Sr Dominic Savio Hamer, the author of Elizabeth Prout: A Religious Life for Industrial England, also welcomed the announcement, saying it is “wonderful news for Congregation of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ”.
“She loved Our Lord so much and also knew so much suffering in her own life and was conversant with the bad social conditions in which so many people lived in Manchester that she will be an ideal person to pray to in our difficulties today,” she said.
In a homily at a Mass in Shrewsbury Cathedral to mark the bicentenary of her birth on 2ndSeptember 1820, Bishop Davies had earlier described Mother Elizabeth as an “educational pioneer” who founded schools for the industrialised poor and refuges for factory girls as she “dedicated her life to the service of the most abandoned”.
He said she was inspired by her Catholic faith to confront “the most degrading situations with the confidence of the revolution which flows from Christ’s command: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’.”
The bishop expressed the hope that Mother Elizabeth would be recognised for her witness to the inviolable dignity of all human life, which he described as the “labour of her life”.
Picture: A stained glass image of Mother Elizabeth Prout. (Diocese of Shrewsbury).