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Apostolate to Assist Dying Non-Catholics

December 13th, 2017posted by Sarah L. Ater

Seminarian Raphael Markham in 1903.

Monsignor Raphael J. Markham was born in Pleasant Run in 1882 and ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati on June 5, 1909 at St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome. Returning to Cincinnati, he taught theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary until 1934. At that time he was made chaplain at St. Clare Convent, Hartwell, as well as representative to the Archbishop of women’s religious communities.

It was during his time at Hartwell that Msgr. Markham began his ministry to dying non-Catholics. He composed a prayer to be used on the deathbed as a way to prompt devotion to Jesus and hopefully gain salvation. So popular did this prayer become that it was translated into 25 languages and used around the world. Called “The Prayer Card Apostolate,” Msgr. Markham gained the nickname “The Merciful Monsignor.”

He writes, “How strange it is that so much is done for the dying Catholic, and so little, and sometimes nothing at all, for the non-Catholic about to enter eternity! Both souls are of equal value in God’s sight, in the sense that Christ shed His Precious Blood on the Cross for the salvation of all. There are many priests who do not consider themselves in anyway responsible for anyone except Catholics in their territory or in the hospitals or institutions of which they are chaplains…where would we be today is all the priests of the past had confined their labors to Catholics only?”

In the introduction to a work on his life, The Merciful Monsignor and His Prayer Card by Alberta Schumacher, Rev. Herman Kenning says of Msgr. Markham that he was “a man who is remarkable not only for the magnitude of his service to others but for the warm humane spirit that characterized everything he did. [His] interest in people was genuine; he wanted to bring God’s love into every man’s heart…The Prayer Card Apostolate was founded as an outgrowth of a keen sense of his own personal responsibility to assist anyone who needed help to come to a knowledge and love of God.”

This biography includes a chapter dedicated to testimonies of the efficacy of the prayer. “A nun in charge of a hospital” has this to say:

You will be pleased to hear that we had two happy deaths here due to your cards – two men sick with tuberculosis, one a Christian Scientist, the other never baptized. Both were with us only a short time. They were given the cards about two weeks before they died. They read them every day, and were baptized and anointed before they died. Thank God for His goodness and mercy!

On the back of the prayer card, Msgr. Markham had this to say:

My dear child of God,
“My Daily Prayer” comes to you as one of God’s children. God is your kind, merciful, and loving Father. He is the most understanding and the most forgiving of all fathers. He really cares for you. He loves you; and He wants you to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world, and be perfectly happy, for all eternity, in the world to come. This is your longing desire – the salvation of your soul – after all, the only thing that counts. “My Daily Prayer” will be for you a wonderful help in attaining this all important end. Say it earnestly and fervently. Make it a real prayer. Let every word come from your heart. Say it every day.
May God bless your efforts!

Msgr. Raphael Markham died on January 1, 1955 at St. Francis Hospital. He was survived by three sisters: Sister Mary Carmelita, R.S.M.; Sister Agnes, S.N.D.; and Miss Cora Markham, all of Cincinnati. Archbishop Karl Alter presided at a solemn pontifical requiem high mass at the then St. Monica Cathedral on January 5.

Laboring on the Mission is a blog of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives. The title is taken from a letter written by Bishop Edward Fenwick, OP, describing his mission work in Ohio. Whether in the wilds of the 19th century or the baby boom of the 1950s, the Catholic Church continues the mission entrusted to her by Jesus Christ. Here we tell that story.