The seemingly inexplicable healing of a Baptist woman from Florida may provide the miracle necessary for the canonization of Emperor Charles of Austria. The woman, in her mid-50s, suffered from breast cancer and was bedridden after the cancer had spread to her liver and bones. Despite treatment and hospitalization, doctors diagnosed her case as terminal. But after intercessory prayers to the Emperor Charles, the woman (who wishes to maintain her privacy and remain unnamed) was completely healed.
The story begins when Joseph and Paula Melançon, a married couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and friends of the healed woman, travelled to Austria, where they met Archduke Karl Peter, son of Archduke Rudolf, and grandson of the holy Emperor Charles. The Archduke invited the couple to his grandfather’s beatification in Rome in 2004. Mrs. Melançon gave the novena to Blessed Charles to her sister-in-law, Vanessa Lynn O’Neill of Atlanta.
“I knew that when I got that novena — I knew that my mother’s best friend was sick — I just knew at that moment that it was something I was going to do,” Mrs. O’Neill told the Florida Catholic in an interview. “And that is how I got started, I just prayed the novena.”
The woman’s recovery was investigated by an official church tribunal consisting of Father Fernando Gil (judicial vicar of the Diocese of Orlando), Father Gregory Parkes (chancellor of canonical affairs of the Diocese), Father Larry Lossing, diocesan notary Delma Santiago, as well as an unnamed medical doctor. The tribunal examined the evidence at hand and invited the participation of medical experts, who could find no earthly explanation for the woman’s recovery.
“Other alleged miracles attributed to the intercession of Blessed Karl I are currently being investigated in different places in the world,” Fr. Gil said.
The sixteen-month investigation has now concluded, and the conclusions have been signed by the participants, sealed, and placed in special boxes which are then themselves tied, sealed with wax, and sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in Rome via diplomatic pouch. The Congregation will examine the case further and then present its findings to Pope Benedict XVI, who will decided if a miracle has taken place. If the Pope is convinced by the evidence, then the Emperor’s canonization can proceed.
The future emperor, 1889
Blessed Charles’s reign as Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary began in November 1916 during the First World War. The Emperor realized the heavy toll the Christian countries were suffering and almost immediately began to make peace manouevers. The insane obstinacy of both his German allies and the enemy alliance of France, Great Britain, and the United States, however, meant that Charles’s multiple attempts to negotiate a mutually-acceptable end to the war were not even considered.
After the war, President Woodrow Wilson insisted on dismantling the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Emperor was forced into exile, first in Switzerland and finally, after two attempts to regain his Hungarian throne, on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Charles had always been particularly devout, and his devotion to God only increased when he caught a severe case of pneumonia on Madeira. He died from the illness in April 1922.
The English writer Herbert Vivian wrote that Charles was “a great leader, a prince of peace, who wanted to save the world from a year of war; a statesman with ideas to save his people from the complicated problems of his empire; a king who loved his people, a fearless man, a noble soul, distinguished, a saint from whose grave blessings come.”
Even Anatole France, the radical French intellectual and novelist, wrote “Emperor Karl is the only decent man to come out of the war in a leadership position, yet he was a saint and no one listened to him. He sincerely wanted peace, and therefore was despised by the whole world. It was a wonderful chance that was lost.”
Recent history has come to fulfil the expectations of Pope St. Pius X, who received Charles when the Austrian was a young archduke and not in direct line to succeed to the throne, saying “I bless Archduke Charles, who will be the future Emperor of Austria and will help lead his countries and peoples to great honor and many blessings–but this will not become obvious until after his death.”