If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals,or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case. St. Therese of Lisieux
I grew up on Detroit’s east side, in a neighborhood that had a large if not majority, Catholic population; there were at least 2 Catholic parishes within a 2 mile radius of my house. Many of my friends were Catholic and I probably thought I knew what being Catholic was all about. Yet, as familiar as I was to living in a Catholic environment, I knew next to nothing about the heart and soul of the faith. For example, on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, well Royal Oak, there is a Catholic Church called the Shrine of the Little Flower. I’m sure, if you’d asked me back then, I would have said that this church had something to do with commemorating some little meadow flower. I also would have told you it had a deep, dark past. You see, that’s where Fr. Coughlin was.
I knew about Fr. Couglin because, whenever we happened to drive down Woodward Ave in the family car, my parents would begin speaking of him in the very hushed tones they used when speaking of dangerous politicians or those people who had committed horrible crimes. You probably don’t know who this priest is, so a little back story is in order.
During the 1930s until 1969, Father Coughlin was a priest at the Shrine of the Little Flower who became famous in the 1930s and early ’40s for his politics; at the beginning of his fame, he strongly supported President Franklin Roosevelt, and later turned very much against him, saying he supported “Jewish bankers.” He earned a national reputation and actually had a national radio show on CBS which he broadcast from the tower of the church. As time went on, being as opposed to FDR as he was, he became an outspoken supporter of both Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini, along with being, as mentioned above, an anti-Semite. The situation became so untoward that the archdiocese of Detroit forced him off the air by the start of WWII and Federal prosecutors even threatened to try him for sedition during the war. He finally retired, quietly, from The Shrine of the Little Flower in 1966 and died in 1979. In the 1950s, with memories of the war caused by the Nazis very vivid in everyone’s mind, Fr Coughlin was viewed as an embarrassment for the city and the country at the very least.
Today, when I think of St. Therese, I invariably think of Fr Coughlin, to my regret. Even though I lived surrounded by Catholic families and had Catholic friends, I knew nothing of the truth of the story of St Therese, and no one bothered to fill me in. What if someone had shared with me “all God had done” for them through the prayers of St. Therese? Would it have sparked just a little interest in me about being Catholic? I’ll never know, but I wouldn’t have such negative ideas about St Therese lingering in my mind. So, if the opportunity arises today, please tell someone the true story of this beautiful saint, Therese of Lisieux; they may be glad you did!