By Maria Wiering | OSV News
(OSV News) — “A faithful worshiper, he often prayed in the synagogues with his brother, Andrew. It was not at all uncommon to hear Simon praise Andrew’s charitable prayers and sacrifices, for he believed those prayers to be direct channels of his good fortune in finding the best schools of fish in the rivers of the sea. Many people believed him wealthy, for he owned the largest fishing fleet in that district. However, he was not, because of his excessive charity for the poor.”
Cora Evans’ description of Simon, whom Christ would later call Peter, in the first pages of her best-known work “The Refugee from Heaven,” is indicative of the clear, descriptive storytelling that her devotees say have helped them better know the Lord. Now recognized as a “servant of God,” Evans was a Catholic convert and reported mystic whose recorded experiences with Jesus and the saints have been compiled in several volumes.
“For me, it was like being transported to Jerusalem,” said Scott Borba about her writing. The seminarian credits his vocation, in part, to Evans’ influence. “How Cora writes is so vivid, and so crystal clear when it comes down to being … (in) the scene of what’s happening in our Lord’s life.”
In November, the U.S. bishops affirmed the advancement of Evans’ cause for canonization, which the Diocese of Monterey, California, opened in 2010. The cause progressed this month, when the documentation collected during its “diocesan phase” was sent to the Vatican, where the cause’s next investigation phase is to begin this spring.
The diocese held a closing session of the cause’s diocesan phase Jan. 22 following Mass at the San Carlos Cathedral celebrated by Bishop Daniel E. Garcia of Monterey. During that session, the cause’s documentation was ceremoniously sealed with wax ahead of its transfer to the Vatican. The seal will be broken by Vatican officials when the cause’s Roman phase officially begins.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Michael McDevitt, 82, executive director of The Mystical Humanity of Christ, a nonprofit promoting Evans’ cause, speaking of the milestone. “I feel such a strong sense of gratitude, both my wife (Pam) and I. We’ve worked on it for a long time and feel like it’s been God’s will.”
Born in Utah in 1904, Evans was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but she rejected her Mormon beliefs following her 1924 marriage ceremony. Over the next 10 years, she searched for a faith she could consider true. In December 1934, while living in Ogden, Utah, she happened upon a Catholic radio program featuring Msgr. Duane G. Hunt — who would be ordained bishop of Salt Lake in 1937 — and decided to visit a local Catholic church. A few months later, she was baptized Catholic.
In the following years, she would influence the conversion of other Mormons, and she also would also have several mystical experiences. In 1938, in a pivotal experience of ecstasy, she dedicated herself to serving God, something she called her “vow day.”
In 1941, she moved to southern California, where she was active in her parish. In 1945, Jesuit Father Frank Parrish began serving as her spiritual director and would witness many of her mystical experiences. A year later, Evans had an experience that led her to believe that Jesus wanted her to spread a devotion to his mystical humanity dwelling in believers’ souls. In 1947, she reportedly received the stigmata, or physical manifestations of the wounds of Christ.
In 1956, Evans moved to northern California, where Bishop Hunt visited her in January 1957. She died two months later, on March 30, 1957, the 22nd anniversary of her baptism. She was 52.
From 1945 until her death, Evans, at the direction of Father Parrish, wrote extensively about her ecstasies and other mystical experiences. Those writings were preserved by her spiritual director and others close to her, and they have since been organized into several books.
Prior to Father Parrish’s death in 2003, he and his nephew, McDevitt, worked to share Evans’ writings and spread her devotion to Jesus through a retreat ministry. Seven years later, the Diocese of Monterey opened her cause for canonization. The following year, Father Joseph Grimaldi, who had worked on the canonization cause of St. Damian of Molokai, was appointed its postulator, or guide.
The diocesan phase of the investigation into Evans’ life has resulted in more than 5,000-pages of documentation known as the “Acts of Inquiry” that was prepared to be sent to Rome Jan. 22. There, the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints will review the cause and choose whether to advance it to the pope, who could bestow the title “venerable.” Then, a miracle must be verified before beatification, and a second miracle verified before canonization.
Evans’ mystical experiences and accompanying writings fall into the category of “private revelation,” which the church teaches can enhance but never surpass or correct “public revelation” — or how God revealed himself to his chosen people, as recorded in the Old Testament, and which Christ completed.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history.”
“I don’t know that any of us can relate to fully understanding mysticism or the stigmata, but those aren’t the things that would determine whether or not she was ever declared a saint,” McDevitt told OSV News in November. “It always comes back to … what were her heroic virtues,” he said, such as her humility and obedience.
Despite Evans’ mystical experiences, devotees remark on her ordinariness. She and her beloved husband, Mack Evans, had three children, two daughters and a son who died when he was 10 months old. She loved to garden and entertain guests, and she was known for her sense of humor.
Borba, 49, a former health and beauty business leader, was among those formally interviewed for the cause about the effect Evans had on his life. After a dramatic conversion in 2015, he was discerning priesthood when a spiritual director gave him a copy of “Refugee from Heaven.” Once he started it, he could not put it down, and he has since shared around 300 copies of the book with others, he said. He asked Jesus to make Evans his “spiritual sister,” and attributes several profound experiences — including an encounter with a poor man he believes was Jesus in disguise — to Evans’ intercession.
“She’s going to be known for educating and allowing people to connect to Jesus’ humanity through her works,” said Borba, who is now in seminary for the Diocese of Fresno, California.
Noel Fuentes, 58, said Evans has dramatically shaped her Catholic faith, beginning when she was a child in Santa Barbara. Evans died before she was born, but her mother was friends with Evans’ sister, Ruth Spaulding, who led a prayer group that studied Evans’ writings. Fuentes’ parents helped Spaulding type Evans’ manuscripts, she said.
“She taught us to see with more than our own eyes,” Fuentes said of the woman she calls “Aunt Cora.” “She completely gave her whole self to God, she trusted in God and said, ‘I surrender.'”
Ruth Spaulding’s son, Robert Spaulding, 86, said he is likely Evans’ only living relative that knew her in life, and he attributes two dramatic healings — his mother’s and his own — to her prayers. In 1945, his mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and asked Evans to pray. She recovered before her next doctor appointment, he said. That convinced her to ask Evans to pray for Robert, who had experienced great learning difficulties after being ill from measles at age 5. Evans prayed for 12-year-old Robert, and within a few months he was completely healed, he said.
“All of a sudden, the lights turned on. I could learn,” he said.
At the time, Robert Spaulding and his mother were Quakers, but they soon became Catholic. During visits to his aunt’s home, Spaulding witnessed Evans experience ecstasies, he said. Years later, he digitized hundreds of pages of Evans’ writings his mother had safeguarded and shared them with McDevitt.
“Cora’s experiences demonstrate it’s not ‘God way up there someplace, 22 billion miles from here’ — it’s in your next breath,” he said. “Her experiences and her life and the things that she wrote about, I hope demonstrate to the world that very small distance between us and the other side.”