The transferral and re-interment of the Venerable Suzanne Aubert’s mortal remains took place in a private ceremony at the Home of Compassion in Island Bay, Wellington, on January 25, in what was an historic occasion.
Each stage of the re-interment was accompanied by prayer: karakia, led by Maori, for whom Suzanne always had a special place in her heart; the liturgy of the Eucharist; prayers, hymns and blessings led by Cardinal John Dew and the Sisters of Compassion.
The day began with prayer at dawn, in the Maori tradition, led by Henare Walmsley. A small group gathered for this at the grave from which Suzanne’s remains were to be transferred. Another group, led by Cardinal Dew, gathered in the same place at 8.30am, to pray and witness the removal of topsoil from above the small underground vault containing her casket. Once completed, those present returned to the Lyon Room in the Home of Compassion and attended Mass celebrated by the cardinal. He was assisted by Msgr Gerard Burns, the Vicar General and Vicar for Maori in Wellington archdiocese.
In his homily, Cardinal Dew drew similarities between Venerable Suzanne Aubert and St Paul: “Paul literally saw the light on the road to Damascus.
The love of the Risen Christ transformed him and impelled him to illumine the world by the light of the Gospel. Suzanne Aubert was also impelled to illumine the world by the light of the Gospel. In the voice and light that Saul encountered on the road, he saw the truth of his life and willingly conformed himself to Jesus Christ. Suzanne Aubert willingly conformed herself to Jesus Christ so that today we refer to her as ‘Venerable’ and hopefully before too long as ‘Blessed’ and then ‘Saint’,” he said.
Sr Josephine Gorman, DOLC, and Fr Maurice Carmody, Roman Postulator for Suzanne Aubert’s cause, remained at the grave site as official witnesses of the exhumation. This was carried out under the guidance of funeral director, Michael Woolfram. The coffin was respectfully lifted and placed in another, outer, wooden casket. It was then transported, in a hearse, to the nearby chapel. Here, Cardinal Dew, the Sisters of Compassion, members of the Maori communities among whom Venerable Suzanne Aubert had once lived, and friends were waiting to receive her remains; about 80 people in all. The procession entered the chapel with the bell ringing, the conch sounding and kuia singing.
The lid being removed from the outer casket, Cardinal Dew blessed the original casket with holy water and incensed it. All present were invited to file past the casket and pay their respects to this holy woman as they deemed appropriate: bowing deeply, blessing themselves, standing quietly in the presence of this whaea tapu (holy woman), singing a gentle lament.
Fr Carmody then read a letter, written from Rome on December 10, 1926. It was written by Cardinal Gasquet, who had come to know the Venerable Mother Mary Joseph (Suzanne Aubert) while she was resident in Rome during the course of the First World War. He said: “Not only I, but many have in the eternal city regarded her as a true Servant of God and I hope I may be spared to see at least the initial stages of the process of her beatification. That she will most certainly be raised some day to the altar I feel confident.”
Cardinal Dew, Sr Margaret Anne, Fr Carmody and Sr Josephine then signed the official documents to be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, informing them that the transferral had taken place.
The outer lid being replaced, a korowai was lovingly placed over the casket. Kuia Chris Tapa from Ranana, just 10 minutes south of Jerusalem along the Whanganui River, and Sr Margaret Anne wrapped golden and red cords around the gasket as a symbolic sign that nothing more needed to be done. Venerable Mother Mary Joseph’s remains were now ready for re-burial.
With Cardinal Dew having blessed the crypt with holy water, the Venerable Suzanne’s casket was moved to her final resting place in the newly prepared chapel to the right of the sanctuary in the main chapel.
Everyone then withdrew to the dining room for lunch, leaving those appointed for the task, to lower the casket and close the vault where she will remain until the day of Resurrection.