Meet Dominican friar who takes care of St. Jude relic

Picture: 
Meet Dominican friar who takes care of St. Jude relic
Body: 

For Dominican Father Michael Ford, the history of salvation is contained in a chunk of bone.

Ford directs the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus at St. Pius V Church, 1910 S. Ashland Ave., and as such, he takes care of the shrine’s relic of the apostle, perhaps best known as the patron saint of lost causes, and brings it to parishes and schools around the country where he offers parish missions, retreats and other events.

Relics, he said, are “a way for people to grow in their faith. Catholicism isn’t crazy for doing this.”

Many people, religious and otherwise, venerate relics in their own way, whether it’s building a shrine to one’s ancestors or displaying an autographed baseball card, “anything we keep from a previous encounter,” Ford said.

When he visits schools, Ford said, he explains that relics of the saints are physical reminders that the saints we venerate were real people. They wore clothes, they ate and drank, they embraced their loved ones. Now that they are with God in heaven, we can ask them to pray for us.

“It’s a human thing to honor the dead, and we add another layer to it with the Communion of the Saints,” Ford said. Keeping mementos of the saints, he said, “it’s not as odd as people think.”

But, Ford said, people do think it’s odd. He understands, because he used to think so, too. Ford converted to Catholicism 24 years ago, but it wasn’t until he’d been in seminary three or four years that relics started to make sense to him.

Physical remains remind Catholics of the resurrection of the dead.

“Our bodies are important,” Ford said. “We die and are going to be separated from them, but we’re going to get them back.”

When Ford travels, he brings a case of mostly small relics from various saints — a drop of blood on a cloth, or something the saint once used. Physical remains, from bones to hair to blood, are considered first-class relics; items the saint used such as articles of clothing are second-class relics. He distributes holy cards that people can touch to the relic of St. Jude, thereby creating their own third-class relics.

The St. Jude relic — a 1¼-slice of the right radius bone, taken from where the wrist bumps out — is encased in a 225-year-old reliquary shaped like a forearm and hand. It travels in a specially built case, and when Ford flies somewhere, it always goes carry-on, never checked.

A few years ago, when the airline changed the size of carry-ons allowed, Ford was able to get the gate agent to give him special permission to take the case aboard with him. The agent told her husband about it, and he got his Knights of Columbus council to donate a new case, made to fit to the smaller specifications.

Ford said he also has had his share of interesting conversations with TSA agents, although questions have diminished since he got approved for pre-check.

“You see them back it up in the machine and look again,” he said. Then they want to open the case and take a look.

“I tell them that’s fine as long as I’m the only one to handle the relic,” he said. “Once they understand what it is, they’re fine. A lot of them say it’s the coolest thing to ever come through their line.”

When Ford is not traveling with it, the relic is locked in its niche behind glass in the shrine, house in St. Pius V Church, 1910 S. Ashland Ave. Since the Dominicans learned that St. Pius V will remain open following the reorganization of parishes in Pilsen, Ford is looking for money to refurbish the shrine.

He hopes, he said, that the shrine and its relic can help spread the virtue of hope — hope and trust in the promise of the Resurrection.

To visit the shrine or request a lecture by Ford, visit the-shrine.org.

By Michelle Martin

 

(29 June 2017)