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Published: Friday, 5/27/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

St. Vincent de Paul shop finds relic of its saint

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Amy Aschemeier, a volunteer at the closed St. Vincent de Paul Society's downtown thrift shop, shows a first-class relic of the saint for whom the organization is named. Known for aiding the poor, he died in 1660. Amy Aschemeier, a volunteer at the closed St. Vincent de Paul Society's downtown thrift shop, shows a first-class relic of the saint for whom the organization is named. Known for aiding the poor, he died in 1660.
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A few months ago, Sandy Bloomquist was cleaning and sorting items in the former St. Vincent de Paul Society's downtown thrift shop when she opened a dusty desk drawer and pulled out a small green box.

Inside the flip-top, jewelry-style box was an ornate metal decoration with an oval piece of glass covering a small item labeled, "S. Vincent de P."

"I figured it was a relic, but that's all I knew," said Ms. Bloomquist, executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society's Toledo chapter.

Amy Aschemeier, a volunteer who had been helping organize the closed thrift shop's contents, jumped and shouted for joy when she saw it.

"She pulled this out and said, 'Look what I've got.' I said, 'Oh my gosh, Sandy, that's a first-class relic!,' " Ms. Aschemeier exclaimed.

"She hasn't settled down yet," Ms. Bloomquist said with a laugh Thursday.

What Ms. Aschemeier suspected, and has since confirmed, was that the box contained a holy relic -- a fragment of bone or body part -- from the 17th Century French saint for whom the St. Vincent de Paul Society is named.

"I was so excited. You should have seen me," Ms. Aschemeier said. "This is just so exciting. We need something positive in the Catholic faith."

Under the relic, tucked inside the green box, was a letter written in Latin, issued in 1905 by the superior general of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Paris.

"I opened it up and copied it real quick and took it home with me. I was worried that with things getting cleared out at the thrift store it might get lost or thrown away," Ms. Aschemeier said.

She and Ms. Bloomquist took the relic and a copy of the letter to the society's national headquarters in St. Louis, which confirmed that it was a first-class relic of their namesake saint. The Vatican has established three classes of relics, with first-class relics being physical remains of a saint or something directly associated with Christ's life.

Ms. Aschemeier of Perrysburg, who has volunteered at the society for six years, took the relic to the Toledo Catholic Diocese headquarters this week, where Msgr. Michael Billian affirmed its authenticity and told her the item was "a gift."

She also met with her pastor, the Rev. Kent Kaufman, of All Saints Catholic Church, who is considering displaying the relic at the Rossford church.

Local society members thought the relic, which is just a fraction of an inch in length, was a sliver of bone, but Thomas Serafin, head of the Connecticut-based International Crusade for Holy Relics, said the attached document contains the Latin term ex-carni, indicating that the relic is a piece of the saint's flesh.

Monsignor Billian, vicar for administration, moderator of the curia, and chancellor of the Toledo diocese, said it was wonderful for a relic of St. Vincent de Paul to be discovered by the local branch of the global charity named for the French saint.

St. Vincent was born into a peasant family in the village of Pouy in southwestern France around 1580 and ordained a priest at age 19. He moved to Paris in 1608, where he was known for extending charity to the needy of all ages. He died in Paris in 1660 at age 80 and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1737.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society was founded in Paris in 1833 and today has 690,000 members worldwide, according to Charles Henderson, national director of communications for the organization. He said there are 4,600 communities in the United States with 146,000 members.

Ms. Bloomquist said there are St. Vincent de Paul Society branches in 60 of the 131 parishes in the Toledo diocese, which covers 19 counties in northwest Ohio.

Mr. Serafin said relics often come from coffins of saints after their bodies are exhumed during the beatification process. Slivers and fragments found in the casket are then set aside as relics.

Mr. Henderson said the St. Vincent de Paul Society does not have a relic of the patron saint at its national headquarters in St. Louis, and he does not know how many of the saint's relics exist today.

Monsignor Billian said relics can serve as an inspiration to the faithful, providing "a doorway" to Christ.

Saints are not worshipped, nor are the relics, the monsignor said, but physical mementoes can serve as reminders of the saints who have gone before and who are now with Jesus in heaven.

"St. Vincent de Paul did so much work for the poor, it's great to have a relic of his," Monsignor Billian said. "It's just amazing that it was found in a desk drawer. We've got to do something with it. Keeping it in a drawer is not the right thing to do."

He said he will look for a reliquary, or a special case made for holy relics, to display the relic for veneration.

Monsignor Billian said most Catholic churches have relics in the altar, and the diocese has relics from the Vatican ready to go to new churches. He did not have an estimate of how many saints' relics exist in the diocese, both in churches and in individuals' homes.

Father Kaufman said parishioners will discuss displaying the relic at All Saints.

"Amy wanted to share it with us and we're open to that. I want to give some thought to how we should do it," he said.

The pastor said he is not aware of any relics now at All Saints.

"I'm excited, too, because our parish is 21 years old and our name is 'All Saints' and I think we're still looking more deeply to always bring the saints into the forefront of who we are. … It helps remind us that each one of us is striving to be a saint and striving for holiness, which we see in the outreach of the St. Vincent de Paul Society," Father Kaufman said.

Ms. Bloomquist said she and other members of the Toledo branch of the society only can wonder how the relic wound up in a desk drawer in the closed thrift shop.

Ms. Aschemeier believes the discovery was divinely inspired, coming at a time when people may have thought the society's Toledo branch -- and not just its thrift shop -- was defunct.

"We're still helping people even though we don't have a thrift store. This relic helps raise awareness that we're still alive and kicking," she said.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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