Thief makes off with St. Therese of Lisieux relic

  • June 11, 2009

TORONTO - A first-class relic of St. Therese of Lisieux disappeared from Toronto’s St. Michael’s Cathedral.

The cathedral’s rector, Fr. Michael Busch, believes it was stolen some time between the noon and 5 p.m. Masses on May 31.

“At the moment, we are putting (all of our relics) in a safe place and re-thinking how we will display them,” Busch said.

The items removed from the cathedral for safe keeping include first-class relics of St. Anthony, St. Jude and three of the Canadian martyrs believed to be René Goupil, St. Gabriel Lalemant and St. Jean de Brébeuf. When it comes to saints, a first-class relic is any part of a saint’s body such as hair, bone or flesh, whereas something they owned, such as their clothing, would be considered a second-class relic.

The disappearance was first noticed by a sacristan, Busch told The Catholic Register. It appeared  as though the thief had pried off the bolted-in plexi-glass and extracted the reliquary in the base of the statue of St. Therese in the southwest corner of the church.

The parish community also believes the same thief, or an aide, attempted to steal St. Anthony’s relics but was unsuccessful, as the plexi-glass cover of that second relic was tampered with, but not removed.

“A lot of people are really upset but everybody understands that we needed to take them out of the church (for now),” Busch said. “But they really should be displayed in public.”

This is the first time in about three years that a relic has been stolen from the cathedral. Busch said that just before he arrived at St. Michael’s a piece of the true cross was stolen from the Pieta statue located in the cathedral. It has not been recovered.

Busch said the cathedral has been considering video cameras as part of the plan for the renovation of the cathedral, but it would be difficult to do at the present time.

In Europe, theft of relics is more common, he said. They might either be stolen by people who feel the need to have the relics in their own home or by people intending to sell them. Some people will pay up to $5,000 or more to obtain first-class relics of their favourite saint, he said. Certain popular European shrines and churches have permanent security guards overlooking the reliquaries.

At St. Michael’s, this seemed rather inappropriate before, although it might be reconsidered.

“It is difficult to have a respectful distance from those who are praying, yet to make sure that things are protected,” he said.

The relic of St. Therese should be encased in a very small circle of material comparable in size to a pill case. A tiny tag on it reads “S. Theresa.”

He added that although something like this could be re-sold for a lot of money, it’s currently useless to the thief who does not have the papers that authenticate it.

“This is unfortunate but certainly unusual and rare,” said Neil MacCarthy, communications director for the archdiocese. “The (cathedral) parish is obviously taking measures that are appropriate to them at this point and hopefully there will be a time when they can put the relics back on display.”

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