Parish priest Fr Mark Harold holds the small reliquary as he stands alongside Nicky Woods in a blue coat. In between is a statue of St Gerard Majella in black vestment and stole, with white Rosary beads handing from his waist. He has a golden halo and is holding a wooden cross. He stands in between two tall candles above a votive candle stand.

Chance discovery signals exciting new chapter for Lancashire parish

Wednesday 12th June 2024

A Lancashire parish is celebrating a wonderful new connection to its patron saint, after a step back into one woman’s family history brought about a rare discovery.

The Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Gerard Majella in Lostock Hall has recently welcomed what is believed to be a relic of the 18th-century Italian saint – Gerard Majella – following its chance discovery at a home in Sheffield.

Nicky Woods came upon this rare find when looking through the personal items belonging to her late mother.

She explained: “My mother died in 2013 but my father died in 1958, so she’d been a widow for a very, very long time and she kept this little box of very special things.

“There were letters from my father from when they were courting and such really little, personal things, which I always felt I couldn’t look at yet.

“Eventually, I braced myself to have a look and in the bottom, there was a small, circular box with this relic in.”

Thanks to a background in archaeology and an early childhood spent listening to Latin Mass, Nicky’s grasp of the Latin label in the box enabled her to identify the item as a tiny piece of bone from 18th-century saint, Gerard Majella.

St Gerard Majella

Born in 1726 in the Kingdom of Naples, Gerard Majella is today venerated as the patron saint of mothers, expectant mothers, children (particularly unborn children), good confessions, and the falsely accused.

In 1749, he joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer – known as the Redemptorists – and is remembered for his dedication and service to others, as well as numerous miracles.

One such miracle tells the story of a visit St Gerard paid to a local family. During this visit, he dropped his handkerchief and when one of the girls rushed to return it, he told her to keep hold of it as she might have need of it one day. Years later, the girl – now married – was on the verge of dying in childbirth and she asked the handkerchief to be brought to her. Almost immediately after receiving it, her pain stopped and she gave birth to a healthy child.

St Gerard Majella died on 16 October 1755, aged 29, and was canonised in 1904.

Reflecting on this little-known saint, Nicky said: “I’m quite intrigued. He’s the patron saint of motherhood and pregnant women, so he’s probably a saint much beloved of people, particularly women.”

Rehoming the relic

After making her discovery, Nicky was then faced with the decision of what to do next – as well as questions of how what is understood to be a tiny bone fragment of an Italian saint ended up in her mother’s possession.

She said: “Her family and my father’s family were both Roman Catholic, but I wondered if it had actually come from his family – as my mother’s family were, I think, slightly less devout in that particular way. I suspect my mother may have kept it in devotion to my father most of all because she didn’t have it with her own prayer books or things, but rather in this little memory box.

“For me, relics aren’t part of my own personal spirituality or devotion, so I thought I should put it in the hands of the Church and an appropriate parish where they will be good custodians of it for the future.”

As such, Nicky began to research churches in and around the area where her father grew up – near Brownedge, in Lancashire – and came upon the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Gerard Majella’s.

Located in Lostock Hall, this beautiful parish was consecrated in 1910, just a few years after Pope Pius X introduced the feast of the apparition of the Immaculate Virgin of Lourdes and canonised St Gerard Majella.

These important events inspired the dedication of the church, but could also explain how this remarkable item arrived in the possession of Nicky’s family, following the tradition of disseminating relics to relevant parishes throughout the world after the canonisation of a saint.

Although impossible to trace the origins of the find or its connection to the church, parish priest – Fr Mark Harold – was delighted to hear from Nicky and to welcome her and her discovery to the parish with prayerful ceremony.

He said: “We’re very grateful to receive it. It came completely out of the blue, but I was delighted and thought it was a wonderful thing for our parish to have.

“The tradition of keeping relics is about being in touch with holiness. If you think about it in terms of a loved one, we keep safe things belonging to our loved ones: something belonging to your grandma or grandad becomes precious.

“And so it was with saints. It was something belonging to them that reminded us of them, brought us closer to them, and closer to holiness, and that’s really special.”

A Legacy for Future Generations

The reliquary is now housed at the parish, where the hope is to enable people to spend time with it in prayer.

Fr Mark said: “As Catholics, we’re into tangible signs – things we can touch, see, and smell.

“It reminds us of the Incarnation, that the Lord became flesh. This isn’t just some sort of ethereal, nice idea, it’s a concrete incarnational thing that God came to earth, came to us, and we can touch, and sense, and feel.

“It’s a sensory thing that connects us in our physical realm to the realm of God.”


Facebook Twitter

Tagged | Catholic Church | Parishes | Prayer

In other news