When you look through the baptismal records of St. Alphonsus parish, you will see the signature of a Redemptorist priest who is on the road to becoming a saint.
Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos (1819-67) came to Pittsburgh and worked with St. John Neumann in the 1840s at St. Philomena Church in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, which is where the Redemptorist order was centered. Priests from the Redemptorist order served the fledgling St. Alphonsus parish.
Born in Bavaria, he was known for his power to heal body and spirit. After serving in the Pittsburgh area, Blessed Francis Seelos moved to New Orleans, where he died of yellow fever at the age of 48. He was proclaimed blessed by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
A 90-minute one-man play about Blessed Seelos, developed by actor and playwright Casey Groves, was performed in 2012 at St. Alphonsus Church and again in 2016 in the Ryan Center.
A National Catholic Reporter article by Retta Blaney states: “One-man show puts spotlight on Blessed Seelos’ healing ministry”, Groves says he got to see just how much his work with the Seelos play is a sacred art.
After a performance at St. Alphonsus Church in Wexford, PA near Pittsburgh, Groves found one woman with an intimate connection to Simon Sell, one of the petitioners at the start of the play and one whose voice of gratitude is heard at the conclusion.
At the last minute in developing the work, Groves decided to bring Sell into the action as a character, a man who had fallen from a scaffold in Cumberland, Md., and because of his internal injuries had not been expected to live out the day. He had six children and Groves portrays him expressing his fear to Seelos that they would be homeless without (Sell) to provide for them. Then, as Seelos, he kneels beside the gravely injured man and reassures him he will not die, that he won’t be rich, but his family will always have a home. Sell was healed of his injuries and lived for another nine years.
After the performance, a middle-aged woman introduced herself as Sell’s great-granddaughter.
“If Fr. Seelos hadn’t healed him I wouldn’t be here,” she told Groves, who is still in awe of that experience.
“It was a basherte moment,” he said, using a Yiddish word for something that is meant to be.
Here are more sources of information about Blessed Francis Xaver Seelos:
Books (as listed on Amazon.com):
A Life of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos: Redemptorist by Rev. Carl Hoegerl C.Ss.R. and Alicia von Stamwitz (Mar 8, 2000)
Cheerful ascetic: The life of Francis Xavier Seelos, C.Ss.R by Michael J Curley (2002)
Novena in Honor of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos by Byron Miller CSsR (Jan 24, 2013)
The Way of the Cross with Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos by Byron Miller CSSR (Feb 1, 2012)
Seelos: The Cumberland Years by Fr. Blaine Burkey O.F.M.Cap. (Jul 1, 2010)
Death, Where Is Your Sting? Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos & His Edifying Encounter with Yellow Fever by C.Ss.R. Byron Miller (2006)
The Little Way of Faithfulness: A Life of Francis Xavier Seelos by Fr. Thomas M. Santa [Kindle Edition]
One-Man Play: Seelos: Doctor of Souls, developed by actor and playwright Casey Groves