Parish’s relic collection offers prayerful connection to Christ and saints

| Susan Klemond | October 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul’s “Heritage Room.” DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

After Bob Berendt retired from teaching high school English, one of his missions during the 1970s and 80s was tracking down saints — acquiring bits of their bones, teeth, hair and other relics for his parish, Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul.

Through connections at the Vatican and elsewhere, Berendt obtained most of the more than 100 relics the parish maintains, including of the true cross, Mary’s veil and Sts. Peter and Paul.

“He was trying to get relics for every saint that he knew,” said Patt Berendt, wife of the now-deceased collector. “I won’t say that he got all those, but he got the majority of them.”

Each month, Nativity displays the relics of saints whose feast days fall within that month in a room near its narthex. Called the “Heritage Room,” the former baptistry also has information about the parish’s founding. Whenever the church is open, parishioners and passersby can venerate the relics as tangible evidence that the saints who intercede for them are human.

The word “relic” comes from the Latin “relinquo,” which means “I leave or abandon.” The Catechism considers relics a form of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life that extends its liturgical life but doesn’t replace it (CCC 1674-75). All Saints Day, the day the Church calendar commemorates all saints, is Nov. 1.

Bob Berendt had several of his own relics before he began his great hunt. While volunteering at Nativity, he decided to get more for the parish, Patt Berendt said. Many were sent from the Vatican by a cardinal he knew, for which fellow parishioners paid Mass stipends, she said. (The Church doesn’t permit the sale of relics.) Bob also acquired relics from religious houses and other locations.

This St. Teresa of Jesus relic and eight others are on display at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul in the church’s “Heritage Room.” DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Along with major saints such as Teresa of Avila, Patrick and Ignatius of Loyola, Nativity has many relics of lesser known saints. Isaac Huss, Nativity’s marketing and communications director, said its main altar also has a relic of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a 17th century Visitation nun who had visions of Christ and spread a devotion to his Sacred Heart.

Most of the parish’s relics are first class, Huss said, meaning that they are parts of a saint’s body or items directly involved in Christ’s life, such as pieces of the cross. Second class relics consist of clothing or other items the saint touched or used often, and third-class relics are other items the saint touched or that have touched a first-class relic.

The relics were mostly stored in the church’s sacristy until 2011. After parishioners John and Catherine Michel had the former baptistery renovated, they saw a place in the new Heritage Room for the relics. The Michels asked fellow parishioner Dia Boyle to organize them and create labels to display with them. The displayed relics’ authenticity has been certified, she said.

“The ‘Heritage Room’ is truly a ‘Reliquary Room’ for meditation and quiet prayer time,” the Michels wrote about the room, which contains several kneelers for prayer.


All Saints Day – Nov. 1
The Church honors all people who have obtained heaven — saints — canonized and uncanonized.

All Souls Day – Nov. 2
The Church honors the dead and remembers in prayer the souls of all who have died and who may be suffering in purgatory.

Parishioner Barb Bowman frequently brings out relics for the month and places them in individual metal reliquaries in two display cases. Her favorite is of her confirmation patron: St. Bridget of Sweden.

“Catholics think (relics are) kind of a thing of the past,” she said. “At least in our church we’ve got them out there.”

While parishioners show interest in the relics, Huss said he doesn’t know of anyone who’s received a grace, gift or blessing by praying with them.

Saints’ relics are preserved because they’re holy, but they were human beings, not storybook characters, Boyle said.

“I don’t think that the saints listen to us more because we have a relic … but it helps our faith that we are praying to somebody,” she said. “We’re asking for the intercession of somebody who really did exist, who really does have an interest in our world and in our church, in our profession and our efforts. They’re going to listen to our prayers, and they’re going to intercede for us.”

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