Elizabeth Prout supporters await saint decision

Elizabeth Prout icon - Aidan Hart Image copyright Aidan Hart
Image caption An icon of Elizabeth Prout has been unveiled at Shrewsbury Cathedral

Twenty years on and still some way to go.

The process of recognising someone as a saint can be a slow process, as supporters of Victorian nun Elizabeth Prout have discovered.

Born in Coleham, Shrewsbury in 1820, it is for her teaching and support for the poor in the industrial slums of Manchester which have led to calls for her to be canonised.

The Archdiocese of Liverpool, which has led the campaign, supported by the Diocese of Shrewsbury, spent 15 years compiling evidence and analysing Prout's life.

"Boxes and boxes" of evidence was sent to the Congregation for Cases of Saints in Rome, which is due to make a decision on whether to proceed with the case.

Despite submitting details in 2008, campaigners are still waiting to hear from Rome if Prout has completed step three of a five-stage process.

Sister Dominic Savio, Prout's biographer and one of three people responsible for compiling the evidence, said she "would be delighted if she was canonised", but acknowledged "that's not going to be today or tomorrow".

Despite the wait Sister Dominic said the matter was "in the hands of the Lord" and she was confident a decision would be made at the right time.

After local interest the diocese was instructed to compile Prout's case, meaning she could be referred to as a "Servant of God".

The Catholic Church in England and Wales said if the committee in Rome approves the application, Prout would be declared "venerable".

Two miracles

The matter would then return to the diocese as they seek further information to back up step four, beatification.

It is at this point that the first of two miracles will need to be identified.

Sister Dominic said there would have to be "full proof" before the title of "blessed" would be granted.

"People will have to pray to her and nobody else, and be healed. That's an example of the level of proof they are looking for," she said.

A second miracle, after beatification, would prove that Prout was interceding directly on behalf of people and only then could she be canonised and recognised as a saint.

Campaigners have become used to waiting and said the system was lengthy, partly due to the volume of evidence.

The diocese has three applications lodged with Rome's Congregation for Cases of Saints. The Blessed Dominic Barberi was beatified in 1963 and his case for canonisation is still being considered.

Yet the process has not stopped a number of people being fast-tracked.

Pope John Paul II made a number of changes to the process in 1983 and his beatification in May 2011 is thought to be the quickest in modern times.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was beatified in 2003, just a year more than the minimum five years required after death.

Despite reports of miracles being done in Prout's name, the diocese said the search was still continuing.

Potato famine

In her early 20s Prout converted to Catholicism in Stone, Staffordshire, probably as a result of a preaching by Passionist Dominic Barberi, according to Sister Dominic.

Barberi was also the man responsible for bringing the now Blessed John Henry Newman to Catholicism. Newman was beatified in a ceremony in Birmingham in 2010.

In 1848 Prout joined a convent in Northampton, but was soon forced to return to the family home in Stone after the first of many attacks of TB.

But Sister Dominic said Prout soon faced a choice between her family and her faith, which took her to some of the poorest areas of Manchester, teaching mill workers and Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine.

Despite her "delicate" state, and bouts of TB, Prout co-founded the order of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion, championing the care and education of the poor.

In all Prout taught at or set up nine schools across the country.

When Sister Dominic joined the Sisters of the Cross and Passion herself at the age of 17, she said very little was known about the foundress.

Now 75 years old, Sister Dominic, who was educated at one of the schools set up by the order in the wake of Prout's death, studied Prout's life as part of a PhD at the University of Manchester and went on to write three books about her life.

She said renewed interest in Prout was rekindled after the centenary of her death in 1964.

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