It's not every day that the Catholic Church advances a Jersey girl towards canonization, and likewise it's not every day that NBC News gets religion. But miracles do happen, and NBCNews.com's Tracey Connor -- whose byline earlier ran atop a predictable take on the roundly misinterpreted "who am I to judge" -- offers a story on Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich's beatification that is almost perfection.
The story hooks the reader from the get-go with a tale of a misplaced missive:
A mystical New Jersey nun who took vows on her deathbed will become the first person beatified on American soil — a historic moment that might not have happened but for a misplaced letter that languished between two file folders for a quarter-century.
It was a note from a grateful mom who was convinced that prayers to Sister Miriam Teresa had cured her young son of encroaching blindness years before, a medical mystery that would eventually become the first of two miracles needed for sainthood.
"That letter sat there in the filing cabinet for 27 years," said Dr. Mary Mazzarella, a retired pediatrician who was recruited by the local church to investigate the mother's claim before presenting the findings to the Vatican. "Just finding it was some kind of miracle."
I like how Connor packs a lot of factual material into a short space, including two good quotes, and makes it flow. (Granted, the run-on sentence lead is a bit of a cheat, but I wonder how many people other than grammarians notice things like that nowadays.)
Then comes some background on the sainthood process:
In the Catholic Church, there are three major steps to getting a halo: the first is being venerated, or recognized for heroic virtue; beatification comes next, after the pope validates a miracle; a candidate can then be sainted through canonization after the declaration of a second miracle.
The entire process can take hundreds of years, and only a handful of Americans have been beatified or canonized. The ceremonies have traditionally taken place in Rome, and Miriam Teresa's Mass on Saturday at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark will be the first of its kind in the United States.
Again, it's all good -- though it would have helped to add that canonization does not actually give a person a halo, so to speak. Rather, canonization is the official acknowledgement that a person already has one -- that he or she is already in heaven. Given more space, it could also be noted that the pope has the authority to waive any of the steps to sainthood if he so chooses -- as Pope Francis did last year when he declared Peter Faber, an early Jesuit, to be a saint.
What really makes Connor's story rise above the norm is the depth she brings as she narrates the story of the miracle that led to the beatification of Sister Miriam Teresa, who died of a burst appendix in 1927 at the age of 26:
One day in 1964, a fellow member of her order gave a religious memento to a third-grade student, Michael Mencer, who had just been diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration.
The boy had been having trouble seeing for months. It began with walking into trees, dropping balls and wobbling on his bike and took a dire turn when he walked into a moving car. His mother, Barbara, brought him to an ophthalmologist, who gave the family a dreaded diagnosis.
"The doctor told my mother that in six months, I'll be totally blind," Mencer, now 58, said from his home in Nebraska. "But I had this feeling that everything would be all right."
The day his teacher gave him the memento — a prayer card and a strand of Miriam Teresa's hair encased in plastic — Mencer says he decided to walk home alone, even though he had only peripheral vision by then.
"I was about two blocks from the house when I think it happened," he said. "I looked up at what I thought was the sun, and it didn't hurt my eyes, but I could see an orb, a bright light. And when I looked back down I could see the hair in the memento," he said.
You'll want to read the rest, including the beautiful final quote from Mencer that emphasizes the key point about the Communion of Saints. It emphasizes a key point about the Catholic understanding of Communion of Saints that I have noted here before: The faithful who venerate saints do not see them as plaster figures. They see them as friends.