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(Photo Credit: TotallyHistory.com)

By Marjorie Jeffrey (@MarjorieJeffrey)

For the past few weeks, I, a young Catholic, have pondered the question: what does it mean to be hostis humani generis, that is, an enemy of the human race? After all, that is the title which has been bequeathed upon those who oppose gay marriage, according to Justice Antonin Scalia, by none other than the highest court in the land. In his dissent in the DOMA case, he said something which rang both true and terrifying, in the eyes of many American Christians:

“In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to disparage, injure, degrade, demean, and humiliate our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.”

They aren’t just telling us what we cannot do or cannot say. The state has attempted to take away our ability to define who we are, as Christians. Not just our freedom of action, but our very identity is at stake. What is a believer to do, in the face of such a designation?

Mary Stachowicz died ten long years ago, when gay marriage was still something that could be debated between reasonable people. She was a 51-year-old Catholic mother of four children, who worked part time at a funeral home and part time as a secretary at a parish in the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. In her time at the funeral home, she reached out to the 19-year-old janitor, Nicholas Gutierrez, questioning the wisdom of his lifestyle. Gutierrez was a practicing homosexual.

On November 13, 2002, soon after Mary had received Communion at morning Mass, Nicholas Gutierrez beat, stabbed, raped, and strangled her, finally stuffing her body beneath the floorboards of his apartment. In a video-taped statement to police, he said he had done it because she questioned his homosexual activities, asking, “Why do you sleep with boys?”

On May 31st of this year, Bishop Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, gave a talk which included a description of the life and death of Mary Stachowicz, and stated, as he has in the past, that she died a martyr for the faith.

What does Mary Stachowicz have to do with us? Well, everything. I’m not suggesting that there are homosexuals lining up to torture and kill us; the persecution we face will most likely not provide for the obvious heroism inherent in acts of martyrdom. But what is a saint, if not a role model and intercessor? What more powerful witness can we be shown than this?

Some of the most popular saints in Church history arose as powerful examples for Christians who lived in difficult times. Such were the early Christian martyrs, who shed their blood for Christ in the founding years of the Church. Such have been martyrs in various countries, who died so that Christianity might grow to thrive in those regions. Such were Thomas More and Bishop Fisher, who became symbols to the recusant Catholics of England. Such were Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe, who died at the hands of the Nazis. Such, I pray, may be Mary Stachowicz.

These martyrs become powerful symbols because they are heroes. And because they are heroes for the faith, they are more than mere symbols. They’re real. We believe that the saints are in heaven, which is why we ask them to pray with us and for us. As Bishop Paprocki has noted of Mary Stachowicz,

“Her death as a martyr for the faith means that a miracle is not necessary for her official beatification or canonization. However, even a martyr of the faith does not enter the church’s official martyrology of saints without the promotion of her cause, and the promotion of her cause requires a group of people who recognize her Christian sanctity and pray not only for the official recognition of her sainthood, but also pray through her intercession for assistance in obtaining divine favors.”

Causes for sainthood are a deeply ingrained part of Catholic life – I’ve known many parishes and dioceses that pray for the cause of their local would-be saints. But Mary Stachowicz shouldn’t just be a local cause. The tenets of the faith that she died to affirm are what unite Christians across America – and, indeed, all over the world. The Catholic Church asks for a minimum of a five-year wait before a formal cause for beatification can be opened, and that time has passed. It’s time for the cause to be opened.

We feel despair in the face of being called enemies of the human race by unordained men in robes. But we must remind ourselves and each other that we are very much not alone. We should advocate for Mary Stachowicz, as she advocates for us.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us. And pray for us, Mary Stachowicz. Truly, a saint for our time.

O merciful and loving God, you made your servant Mary Stachowicz pure of heart and devoted to chastity; listen, we ask you, to our prayers and, if it is in your divine plan that she be glorified by the church, show us your will, granting us the graces we ask of you, through her intercession, by the merits of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.