North Dakota

North Dakota millennial woman advances toward sainthood after the ‘heroic sanctity’ of her cancer battle

North Dakota’s Michelle Duppong lived just 31 years before she died of cancer on Christmas Day 2015 — but now she’s one step closer to being recognized as a canonized saint in the Catholic Church.

On Wednesday, November 16, the bishops at the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) Autumn General Assembly voted unanimously to authorize the promotion of Duppong’s cause of canonization at the local level.

This means investigations into her life will continue before eventually being sent to the Vatican for further consideration, church officials at the conference noted.

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Michelle Christine Duppong was born on January 25, 1984, and raised in a Catholic family in Haymarsh, North Dakota, church officials said at the conference as they shared her life story.

In 2006 she graduated from North Dakota State University. She became a Catholic missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

Michelle Christine Duppong of North Dakota was only 31 when she died of cancer.  She was a Catholic missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).  She is said to have had one "profound effect on those who knew her."

Michelle Christine Duppong of North Dakota was only 31 when she died of cancer. She was a Catholic missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). She is said to have had a “profound influence on those who knew her”.
(Diocese of Bismarck)

After serving six years in this capacity at four different universities, in 2012 she accepted a position as director of adult faith formation in the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota.

On December 29, 2014, she was “unexpectedly” diagnosed with advanced abdominal cancer. She battled the disease for almost a year before passing away on Christmas Day, December 25, 2015.

Duppong displayed “heroic holiness” during her battle with cancer and was a “heroic paragon of Christian suffering.”

In June 2022, Bishop David Kagan von Bismarck ushered in Duppong’s canonization.

He said that her “holiness of life and her love of God has certainly touched us here in the Diocese of Bismarck, at the University of Mary and throughout FOCUS, but it is a testimony that should also be shared with the universal Church.” as shared on the diocese’s website.

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On November 1, 2022, Kagan proclaimed Duppong the “Servant of God Michelle Duppong” during a mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck (see the mass in the video link below).

This Mass marked the formal opening of the canonization process, the website noted.

steps to holiness

With Kagan opening the canonization process, there will now be inquiries into her life, Church officials at the conference noted.

Part of this process is inviting bishops to contribute to their cause.

Since her death, Duppong’s burial site in Haymarsh has become a place of pilgrimage.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, addressing his fellow bishops on Kagan’s behalf Wednesday, said that Duppong had a “profound influence on those who knew her.”

Duppong displayed “heroic holiness,” Listecki said, during her battle with cancer — and was a “heroic paragon of Christian suffering.”

Duppong, pictured left, grew up in a rural North Dakota town.  Archbishop Listecki said her grave had become a place of pilgrimage.

Duppong, pictured left, grew up in a rural North Dakota town. Archbishop Listecki said her grave had become a place of pilgrimage.
(Diocese of Bismark/Reuters)

During her life, Duppong was “noted for her joyful witness of the gospel.”

She has an eagerness to share her faith with others, Listecki said.

Since her death, Listecki explained that her burial site in Haymarsh has become a place of pilgrimage.

He said her parents received many reports “attesting to the favors attributed to Michelle’s intercession.” People have credited her intercession particularly in the context of cancer and infertility, Listecki said.

However, none of these events have been confirmed as miracles by the Vatican.

Michelle Duppong (in red), pictured with parents Ken and Mary Ann and sister Renae, had a zeal to spread the gospel, Archbishop Listecki said.

Michelle Duppong (in red), pictured with parents Ken and Mary Ann and sister Renae, had a zeal to spread the gospel, Archbishop Listecki said.
(Diocese of Bismarck)

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas said Wednesday he had heard “many incredible stories” about Duppong’s life and work — and that “her influence certainly extends beyond North Dakota.”

Next Steps

While “all Christians are called to be saints,” according to the USCCB website, “saints are persons in heaven (officially canonized or not) who lived heroically virtuous lives, sacrificed their lives for others, or were martyred for the faith have suffered and who are worthy of emulation.”

After a person’s death, there is typically a five-year waiting period before the process of canonization begins, the USCCB says.

If she is eventually canonized, Duppong could become the first American to live in the 21st century to become a saint.

Once the person is recognized by the Vatican and declared to have lived a holy life, the person is declared “Venerable,” according to the Vatican’s website.

After this step, the Vatican must approve a miracle attributed to the intercession of the potential saint.

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In most cases, this is a medical cure that cannot be scientifically explained in any other way.

Alleged miracles can be submitted for investigation to the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, the organization that establishes the legitimacy of these claims.

Above is a woman praying.  According to the Vatican, there are a handful of US citizen saints.

Above is a woman praying. According to the Vatican, there are a handful of US citizen saints.
(Associated Press)

Scientists and doctors will vote on whether the alleged miracle can be explained by science, the Vatican website says.

Once the miracle is approved, the person is “beatified” and given the title of “Blessed.”

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A second confirmed miracle is required before canonization in most cases, the Vatican website says.

Other American Saints

According to the Vatican’s website, there are a handful of US citizen saints: St. Frances Cabrini, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and St. Katharine Drexel, among others.

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There are also several Americans who have been declared “blessed,” including Bl. Michael McGivney, Bl. Solanus Casey, and Bl. Stanley Rother.

Should she eventually be canonized, Duppong could become the first American to live in the 21st century to become a saint.

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