LEFT: A local family has donated their relic of St. Martha to their parish, St. Martha in Murrieta. RIGHT: The relic came into the family’s possession in the 1970s. It was given to them by Servant of God Father Aloysius Ellacuria, CMF. Seen left to right are Vincent and Molly Gallegos, Fr. Ellacuria, Donald and Rauline LaCaze and one of their children.
By Anneliese Esparza
A local family has donated a relic of St. Martha to the parish of the same name in Murrieta. It has been verified by the Diocesan Office of Archives as authentic, and the parish hopes to put the relic in the altar, as is often customary to do.
“We decided to donate the relic of St. Martha to our parish so that all of our church family may venerate her. We have such a connection to St. Martha’s parish,” said Martha Garvin, née LaCaze. “It brings comfort and joy to our family knowing that St. Martha herself, in the relic, will soon be placed in the altar at her namesake parish for all to venerate.”
The relic has been in the possession of Garvin’s family since the 1970s. Interestingly enough, the relic was donated to them by a priest who is on the first stage towards possible canonization as a saint, Servant of God Father Aloysius Ellacuria, CMF. Fr. Ellacuria, who died in 1981, was a well-known Claretian mystic in the Los Angeles area who was even said to be able to work miracles.
The family had a close relationship with Fr. Ellacuria; Garvin’s father Donald LaCaze would drive Fr. Ellacuria around since the priest did not drive, and Fr. Ellacuria also named, baptized and gave first communion to the three youngest of the family’s nine children, including Martha (which was Fr. Ellacuria’s mother’s name). Fr. Ellacuria was able to acquire a relic of St. Martha from Italy which he then gave to the family.
“Being the youngest of nine children and hearing the stories of the many miracles granted through Fr. Aloysius was always fascinating to me and inspired in my Catholic faith. Father was always very humble, being sure people knew it wasn’t him who was doing the healing, but rather it was God using him as a vessel,” said Garvin.
The parish first became aware of the relic several months ago. Deacon Chris Ciraulo, who coordinates Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at the parish, had just finished a class on saints, mentioning relics and their significance to the faith. The Garvins were present as sponsors for their son’s girlfriend, and they approached Deacon Ciraulo afterwards to share that they had some relics in their possession, including one of St. Martha.
Deacon Ciraulo asked if they would be willing to bring the relic of St. Martha to the class the following week, which they did. At that time, the family told Deacon Ciraulo that after much prayer, they had decided to donate the relic to the parish.
From there, the parish contacted the Office of Archives, which concluded after an investigation of several months that the relic was in fact authentic. Deacon Ciraulo said that they were all “elated” to hear the news. “We all feel so blessed,” he said.
According to Office of Archives Director Arlene Gutierrez, the relic itself is in excellent condition. The relic is a bone fragment, so it is a first class relic (a body part of a saint such as bone, blood or flesh), and it is housed in a reliquary which has a red wax seal on the back. The wax seal is still intact with the red thread to show it has not been tampered with, and the relic is also accompanied with a letter of authentication from the Office of Postulator General of the Redemptorists, Father Nicolas Ferrante.
Father Carlos Martinez, Administrator of St. Martha parish, said that receiving the relic means so much to the parish community. “Receiving this relic and it being verified as belonging to our parish’s patroness is really a priceless gift and means the world to us here at St. Martha’s because we have no relic in our altar,” he said.
“It is my understanding that a small compartment had been built into our altar back when the new church was dedicated in 2005 ... awaiting the day when a relic could be placed into it. Not only have we received a true relic, but it is from our parish’s namesake. This truly shows us the great providence of God and how he provides us with gifts beyond what we could have ever hoped for,” he added.
Once the parish officially receives the relic from the family, they plan on having a public celebration so that parishioners can venerate it and also hopefully a special Mass when they place the relic inside the altar. The idea is for the celebration to be on or near the feast of St. Martha, which is July 29.
Fr. Martinez said that relics can be a “tremendous source of faith and hope for the spiritual life of the people” because they make it more apparent that the saints were real-life humans who walked the earth just like us.
“Having a tangible relic as proof of the existence of a saint helps the people relate to these holy men and women and be inspired through their examples of holiness and dedication to the Lord. All relics in and of themselves are meaningless, unless they lead the faithful into a deeper relationship with that saint, who in turn, dedicated their lives to Christ; all relics and devotions to the saints must lead to a stronger love and relationship with the Lord Jesus,” he said.
Fr. Martinez expressed his gratitude to the Garvin family for their donation, to Arlene Gutierrez from the Office of Archives and Vicar General Monsignor Gerard Lopez and to Deacon Ciraulo for helping facilitate the process.
“To have a relic of someone who actually spoke to Jesus, as did St. Martha of Bethany, and who witnessed Jesus resurrect her brother Lazarus, is just absolutely overwhelming and a blessing beyond compare for our parish. I pray that through this relic, our parishioners will learn more about St. Martha and increase their devotion to her, and through her witness and intercession, lead more souls to Christ,” said Fr. Martinez.