Guided by Faith: Rhoda Wise

Catholics living in Stark County and beyond are familiar with the story and legacy of Servant of God, Rhoda Wise. Wise was raised a Profestant, and became a Catholic later in life. Those who knew Wise, describe the Canton native as a mystic with many spiritual gifts. Her Canton home is now a pilgrimage site. Our Dennis Biviano recently had the chance to speak with Wise’s granddaughter Darlene Zastawny, a life-long Canton resident, and has more.  

Darlene Zastawny says her grandmother Rhoda Wise has always provided the inspiration needed to live a life closer to God. She grew up in this 25th St NE home, with her mom Anna Mae and a short time with Rhoda. Her grandfather built this altar, and the room has been preserved since her grandmother’s passing in 1948. Zastawny says she can still remember bus loads of catholics coming to visit her grandmother’s home at the age of eight. Those visits continue to this day.

“To know that, all these people have something to truly believe, in their hearts, Jesus was here. That was something I will never forget,” says Zastawny.

Rhoda Greer was born in Cadiz, Ohio on February 22nd, 1888, the 6th of 8 children. She and her husband George Wise had adopted two daughters, one who died during infancy. Wise was plagued by health issues in her 60 years on earth. In 1939 she was diagnosed with incurable stomach cancer and sent home to live out the rest of her days. Later that year her life would change forever, when she witnessed an apparition of Jesus, saying he would come again to see her with Saint Therese the following month. Wise survived and miraculously was cured of her stomach cancer.

“The more Rhoda’s suffering increased, the closer she became to Saint Therese,” says Karen Sigler.

Karen Sigler has been the director of the Rhoda Wise house for the past 41 years, writing her biography in 2000. She says Wise’s message continues to resonate with Catholics of all ages, 76 years after her death.

“There are so many people suffering, and her example of willingly accepting that, and her love for the cross, is not something to thwart you, but to make your spiritual life thrive, is an important message today,” says Sigler. 

Wise would report seeing more than two dozen apparitions of our Lord and Saint Therese from 1939 to 1948.

Just six years later, Wise suffered a stroke and passed away on July 7th, 1948. Her cause was studied for decades and in 2003, the Grotto of the Sacred Heart and Little Flower was constructed in her honor. In 2018, Bishop George Murry along with several representatives of the Diocese of Youngstown went to Rome to present evidence of her heroic virtue to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Postulator Valentina Culurgioni is overseeing the Roman phase of the investigation into whether Wise will take the next step towards her canonization, and be declared Venerable.

“She’s a source for us of hope in suffering. Because she never gave up,” says Diocese of Youngstown Bishop, The Most Reverend David J. Bonnar.

Bishop Bonnar says Rhoda Wise’s cause for canonization is unfolding right before our eyes and it’s bigger than all of us.

“The biggest role in all of this is God’s grace and the Holy Spirit. But, there’s a whole canonical process that is unfolding through Rome and there’s really no way of saying when or even if, because this is something we surrender to the Church,” says Bishop Bonnar.

For Zastawny, it would mean the world to her to have Rhoda Wise recognized as Venerable, Blessed then canonized a Saint.

“It would touch my soul, all the way through, and my heart,” says Zastawny.

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Dennis Biviano

Dennis Biviano serves as the Public Relations and Media Specialist for the Diocese of Youngstown as the diocese’s chief point of contact with journalists. Biviano brings 20 years of TV News reporting experience to the Communications Department. He is a graduate of John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Warren and Kent State University, with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism. He has worked as a Multimedia Journalist in the Mahoning Valley for WKBN & WYTV, as well as Charter Communications (Spectrum News 1) for seven years. Biviano is an active member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Niles with his family.
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