Fr. Claudio Piccinini celebrates Mass in 1977 in an all-purpose room in the Toronto hospital where Sr. Carmelina Tarantino professed her vows as the first Passionist Sister in Toronto. Photo courtesy Teopoli Catholic Spiritual Centre

The case for Sr. Carmelina's sainthood

  • March 20, 2019

Twenty-seven years after her death, Sr. Carmelina Tarantino is about to move one step closer to sainthood.

At a memorial Mass on March 27, it will be announced that a 10-year investigation into Sr. Carmelina’s cause for sainthood is set to close, and the Archdiocese of Toronto and the Passionist Sisters of St. Paul of the Cross are finalizing 10,000 pages of documents to send later this year to the Vatican.

“This city has housed a saint. There is no doubt in my mind,” said Fr. Claudio Piccinini, who was Sr. Carmelina’s spiritual director and confidant. 

Piccinni said Sr. Carmelina was “a living saint” who gave “her life to this city and this country.” Her presence changed Toronto, he believes, by the way the she captured the hearts and minds of thousands of people in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Despite being bedridden and enduring painful daily treatments in hospital throughout most of her adult life, the gentle Passionist Sister constantly welcomed visitors and prayed for their healing. When she died on March 21, 1992, a campaign began almost immediately for her sainthood.

The 10,000 pages that will be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome will be a comprehensive examination of Sr. Carmelina’s life.

“Anything that she has published, anything that she has written and of course, nowadays, that would include any video or audio tapes,” said Fr. Frank Carpinelli, the archbishop’s delegate to oversee the investigation. 

 “One of the things that is incumbent upon me is to make sure that there are not outstanding writings or documents, correspondence out there that we don’t have copies of ... to leave no stone unturned,” said Carpinelli, pastor at St. Leo’s Church in Etobicoke, Ont.

Among hundreds of testimonials collected by Carpinelli are stories of conversion and renewed devotion. Some people claim to have experienced miracles after she prayed with them.

Piccinini recalled one case in particular.

“She was crying like I haven’t seen anybody cry,” said Piccinini,  telling the story of a woman who had just been told by her doctor that she was unable to have children. Piccinini counselled the woman and promised to ask Sr. Carmelina to pray for her. He called her that night. 

“She said, ‘Tell the lady that she will have a baby,’ ” Piccinini recalled. “If she had said the opposite, I would’ve been more comfortable.” 

Reluctantly, Piccinini called the woman and relayed Sr. Carmelina’s promise. A couple months passed, and then the woman came to Piccinini and said she was pregnant. Her doctors were astounded. 

Piccinini says he knows dozens of stories like this. 

In a sainthood cause, only miracles that occur after the subject’s death are considered. But Piccinini believes it is only a matter of time until we learn that God choose to reveal His grace through Sr. Carmelina.

On July 4, 1964, 27-year-old Carmelina Tarantino was brought to Toronto from Naples, Italy, by her brothers and sister who were worried about her health. Canadian doctors suspected she had a rare type of cancer. They amputated her left leg, parts of her right leg and she had a mastectomy. Her hospital blanket was canopied over her body to avoid the blanket becoming stained by her bloodied bandages, which had to be changed every few hours as her wounds refused to heal.

Doctors said she had only months to live, but she endured for 24 years, bedridden in Room 306 West at Riverdale Hospital (now Bridgeport Health).

In conversation one day, she mentioned to Piccinini how she had wanted to become a religious sister since the age of 10 or 11. He asked her if she retained that desire, even though, he recalls now, “I knew the stupidity of the question because in her condition, you couldn’t become a sister.”

But she looked at him with a mortified expression and replied: “Are you making fun of me?” 

She said becoming a religious sister would be the greatest day of her life. In that moment, Piccinini decided to do whatever was in his power to help her. 

He approached the general mother superior of the Passionist Sisters and told her of Carmelina’s unique story. On Nov. 26, 1977, 40-year-old Sr. Carmelina was professed in her hospital room as the first Passionist Sister in Toronto. A community of Passionist Sisters was officially established years later in 1981. 

Many who visited her believed she was a saint because of the way she accepted her suffering. She met everyone with a warm smile and a joyful attitude. The hospital gave her a private phone line so people could call her directly. Others waited up to nine months for an appointment to visit her in person. 

Frank Tedesco was 58 years old when he met Sr. Carmelina in 1983. Now 93, he remembers their meeting like it was yesterday. He learned of her story from hearing Piccinini preach about suffering at the Teopoli Catholic Spiritual Centre in Gravenhurst, Ont. 

Whenever Piccinini told her story, people would ask to visit the gentle nun who bore her suffering as a gift from God. 

“I went with my family, my two kids and wife,” said Tedesco who lives in Etobicoke, Ont. “I cannot describe the feeling I got when I walked in the door and seeing a lady, sick in bed with so much energy. The hospital room was filled with religious articles everywhere. Sr. Carmelina was so happy to see me.”

In their first meeting, Sr. Carmelina gave him a rosary. Tedesco visited the bedridden nun about two or three times a year. She became a family friend who encouraged him to stay close to the Church. 

“I wish everyone could have met her,” said Tedesco. “She appreciated her suffering and she said it was a gift from God. She never complained about being sick.”

As her spiritual director and close confidant, Piccinini visited every week. He watched her receive morphine shots every six hours, suffer constant fevers and endure frequent blood transfusions because her wounds would not heal. She kept a journal.

“So when I asked that question about her diary, I was interested in knowing what she was writing,” he said. “She should be telling the whole world, this is what’s happening to me and this is how I’m going to handle it, which was miraculous.”

About 4,000 pages of her personal writings and almost 300 hours of recorded conversations have been included among the 10,000 documents in her cause for sainthood. All the documents are under a pontifical seal of secrecy as the archdiocese makes its formal application.

After Sr. Carmelina’s dossier is received in Rome, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints can choose to reject it or accept it and begin its own investigation of her life. She has held the title of “Servant of God” since her caused for sainthood was launched. 

The next step in the long path to sainthood is to be declared “Venerable.” This is done by the Pope if the Congregation confirms that the person has lived a life that is “heroic in virtue.” 

After that, in order to be beatified and declared “Blessed,” a miracle attributable to her intercession must be confirmed. A second miracle is required before someone is declared a saint.

The March 27 memorial Mass in Sr. Carmelina’s name will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the original parish of the Passionist Sisters, St. Paschal Baylon Church in Thornhill, Ont. 

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Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.