Known during her lifetime as “Mother Teresa,” she was canonized in September 2016.
So how did relics from a world-famous nun end up in a church in southeastern Arizona?
It all began about four months ago, when the church’s pastor, Fr. Mark Stein, commissioned a new altar to be built for Sacred Heart.
He made the discovery that the old altar contained no relics — physical objects that have a direct association with Jesus Christ or the saints.
That’s when Stein contacted Fr. Carlos Martins, one of a few Catholic priests in North America who hold the title “Custos Reliquiarum” or “Curate of Relics.”
In Catholic churches, altars usually have what is known as an “altar stone” or a “relic stone,” which Martins described as a “hollowed-out groove” in the altar that contains the relics.
Through his evangelization ministry called “Treasurers of the Church,” Martins collects relics “throughout the world,” then issues them to Catholic churches that need them.
“Sacred Heart Church is an example of that,” he said.
The Catholic Church forbids public veneration of relics unless they have been authenticated, which Martins is authorized to do. The relics Sacred Heart will house come with affidavits of authenticity, Martins said.
There are three classes of relics — first, second, and third, according to Martins’ website, treasuresofthechurch.com
First-class relics are the body or fragments of the body of a saint, such as pieces of bone or flesh.
Second-class relics are something that a saint personally owned, such as a shirt or book (or fragments of those items).
Third-class relics are those items that a saint touched or that have been touched to a first-, second-, or another third-class relic of a saint.
Since Vatican II in the 1960s, placing relics in altars is no longer mandatory, and some churches removed their relics entirely; however, “that was never the mind of the Church,” he said.
Martins said that in the 20 years he has been collecting relics, “there have been hundreds of churches — like Sacred Heart — (that) have placed relics in their churches.”
As for Willcox, on the same September weekend St. Teresa was canonized, Fr. Stein asked the parish to vote on what saints’ relics they would like to request for its new altar.
In addition to St. Teresa, Sacred Heart will also house the relics of five other saints — St. Maria Goretti, St. John Bosco, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, and Pope St. Pius X — as well as one unknown martyr.
Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, with the Diocese of Tucson, is scheduled to consecrate the new altar and celebrate Mass at Sacred Heart, on Sunday, Jan. 15, at 9:30 a.m.