In the Spirit: Rare remains of a disciple of Jesus to visit Madison

Summer is a time to hit the road. So it is with Jude Thaddeus.

You may know him as St. Jude, one of the 12 disciples commissioned by Jesus to be the leaders of the early church. A small part of his remains — a right forearm bone — will travel to Madison this month from its permanent home in Chicago, where it is on daily display at a shrine.

It is the largest remains of an Apostle outside of Rome, said the Rev. Michail Ford, the director of the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus in Chicago. The term “Apostle” denotes one of the 12 disciples who traveled with Jesus, as well as the people who directly knew Jesus and were sent out to teach the Gospel, Ford said.

“It’s tangible proof these people were real,” he said.

From Thursday through July 26, the bone fragment will be at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on Madison’s Near West Side, where it will be part of a special nine-day series of Masses. Parishioners will pray to St. Jude, the patron saint of desperate cases, for help for illness, financial difficulties and marital problems and for the safety of loved ones.

“For local Catholics, this is an invitation to be just like the Apostles, to wait upon the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives,” said the Rev. DePorres Durham, pastor of Blessed Sacrament, 2116 Hollister Avenue.

Catholics call the bone fragment a “relic,” a term used to refer to anything connected to a saint. There are various classes of relics, depending on an item’s proximity to a saint.

The bone fragment is a first-class relic because it was part of St. Jude’s body, Ford said. An item that belonged to a saint or was used by a saint, such as a piece of clothing, is a second-class relic. Anything that came into contact with the other two classes of relics is a third-class relic.

Many first-class relics are teeny — no bigger than a grain of sand, Ford said. “This one is large enough to recognize it as a human bone,” he said. “So as relics go, it’s gigantic.”

The bone fragment has been in the possession of the Dominicans, a Catholic religious order, for several centuries, Ford said. It was bequeathed to the shrine in Chicago in 1949 by the Dominicans in Turin, Italy.

It travels occasionally to remind Catholics of the power of praying to saints, Ford said. “It’s a part of our heritage that has sort of fallen by the wayside with younger generations,” he said. “We hope efforts like this will awaken the practice.”

Catholics believe saints sit with Christ in heaven and can intercede with God on a parishioner’s behalf, Ford said. “We believe they have a little more access to God in heaven,” he said. “We believe we can pray to God directly, but the more people we have praying for us, the better off we are.”

Last summer, hundreds attended Masses each night that the fragment was in Denver, Ford said. The relic most recently was in St. Louis and Indiana in October.

Blessed Sacrament Parish is staffed by Dominicans. Durham said that, to his knowledge, the relic has never been to Madison before.

The special nine days of prayers, called a novena, provide an opportunity to slow down a bit and think about our lives, our blessings and the areas where God wants to help us grow spiritually, Durham said.

“Life can be hard for many, and so it also invites us to receive healing from God,” he said. A list of Mass times is available at

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