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A special kind of miracle has permitted eight Grey Nuns from D'Youville College to fly to Rome this week for what they say should be the "event of a lifetime" for any Grey Nun.

Pope John Paul II will canonize their founder, Marguerite D'Youville, during a three-hour ceremony Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica.

The local nuns will be there to observe the canonization, thanks mainly to a Presbyterian.

When the official word of the canonization was received at D'Youville, the nine Grey Nuns at the college realized that there was money enough for only a couple of them to go to Rome. But, then, sacrifice is a way of life for the sisters.

Unaware of the financial problem, Dr. J. Warren Perry, one of the college's staunchest supporters and emeritus member of the College Council, casually approached D'Youville's president, Sister Denise Roche. "How many of the sisters are going to Rome?" asked Perry, a Presbyterian.

"Maybe one or two," Sister Roche replied, "because we don't have the money to send all our sisters to Rome."

Perry immediately drafted three other college supporters -- Mary E. Kirwan, Sara "Sally" O'Roarke and Richard Baumann -- and the drive was begun to send at least four of the sisters to Rome.

"Within a matter of weeks," Perry said, "we had raised $8,500, which was enough to send eight of the sisters, all who wanted to go." He said Sister R. Patricia Smith, "who had been to Rome several times, had volunteered to stay home and keep an eye on things at the college while the other sisters were gone."

Personal letters were sent to friends and alumni, Perry said.

"The contributions came in all amounts," he said. "One reply had three one-dollar bills in the envelope, and another had a $2,000 check." When the final tally came in, there was enough money for the flight, hotel rooms and meals plus the added bonus of pocket money.

"We got each sister $25 worth of lira, and that was a real fistful of bills," Perry said with a smile.

Accompanying Sister Roche on Wednesday for the trip to Rome were Sisters Mary Ellen Hoen, Nancy Kaczmarek, Alice McCollester, Joan Maureen McInerney, Jean Scharf and Ann Marie Striegl. Sister Mary Sheila Driscoll was planning to leave today.

Along with the sisters, about 90 D'Youville alumni will be in Rome as well as a group of 43 from Holy Angels Academy, where other Grey Nuns teach.

For 18 other Grey Nuns who work in the Buffalo area and are not going to Rome, a Mass of Thanksgiving will be offered at 5 p.m. Sunday in Holy Angels Church, 348 Porter Ave. Holy Angels was the parish the Grey Nuns joined when they first came to Buffalo in 1857.

After the Mass, the Rev. Angelo Rigoli, pastor of Holy Angels, will serve the sisters an Italian dinner to help give them the feeling of being in Rome for the ceremony.

Among the gifts that will be offered to the Pope from the six congregations of Grey Nuns in the U.S. and Europe will be a white and gold ceramic chalice and paten crafted by Sister Ann Marie Gastle, art instructor at Holy Angels Academy.

Marguerite D'Youville will be the first Canadian-born saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John XXIII beatified her, the step before canonization, on May 3, 1959. Her canonization was approved after church authorities determined that she was responsible for the cure of a 29-year-old Canadian woman who had an untreatable form of leukemia.

A widow and mother, Marguerite D'Youville founded the Sisters of Charity in Montreal, also known as the Grey Nuns, in 1737. D'Youville was founded in 1908 by the Grey Nuns of the Cross of Ottawa but, through the years, has been taken over by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, an American congregation.

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