Shrewsbury-born nun could become Britain’s first female non-martyr saint in 800 years
A Shrewsbury-born nun is on course to become Britain’s first female non-martyr saint in 800 years after the Vatican ruled she lived a life of ‘heroic virtue’.
Mother Elizabeth Prout laboured in the slums of Victorian Manchester and towns of North West England until her death at 43 from tuberculosis.
The so-called “Mother Teresa of Manchester” opened a chain of schools for poor children and homes for destitute women across the industrialised region, and was ahead of her time in teaching women crucial skills to earn their own livings.
Her sainthood cause was submitted to the Vatican in 2008 for scrutiny by theologians who have now concluded that she lived a life of “heroic virtue”.
The ruling means not only that there is nothing in her background that would disqualify her from sainthood but also that evidence of her sanctity has been proven.
A document on her life is due to be examined by top-ranking cardinals and bishops in Rome who will then ask Pope Francis to declare Mother Elizabeth as “Venerable”.
At that point, the search for two miracles will begin in earnest – one to declare her as blessed and the other as a saint.
Her canonisation could mean she will become the first English female saint since Pope St Paul VI in 1970 included Saint Margaret Clitheroe, Anne Line and Margaret Ward among 40 canonised martyrs of England and Wales.
But she would be the first non-martyr English female saint since St Margaret of Wessex, an 11th century Anglo-Saxon princess who became Queen of Scotland after the Norman invasion of William the Conqueror, and who was canonised in 1250.
The breakthrough in the cause was revealed by Sister Dominic Savio Hamer, her biographer and a member of the Passionist Sisters, the order founded by Mother Elizabeth in 1854.
Writing in the Christmas edition of the Shrewsbury Catholic Voice, she said: “All the material for her cause presented to the Holy See has been accepted by the competent authorities, including a committee of theologians, but we still await the verdict of the responsible cardinals and bishops that she should be entitled Venerable.”
Elizabeth was born into an Anglican family in Shrewsbury in 1820 and has been described as “refined, intelligent and gently nurtured”.
She was received into the Catholic faith in her early 20s and at the age of 28 became a nun.
Mother Elizabeth died in St Helens, Lancashire, in 1864 and was buried alongside Blessed Dominic and Fr Ignatius Spencer, a relative of Princes William and Harry whose sainthood cause is also being scrutinised by the Vatican.
The Diocese of Shrewsbury will next year commemorate the bicentenary of her birth in her home town with a pilgrimage in her honour.
The Right Reverend Mark Davies, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, said: “Elizabeth Prout stands with the great figures of the Second Spring of the Catholic Church in this land.
“Her witness has special significance in a time of new evangelisation. Elizabeth saw the great human and spiritual crisis of her time and responded by dedicating her life with courageous faith and perseverance.
“We continue to pray that Mother Elizabeth Prout will one day be recognised among the great saints.”