One Catholic family with local connections is particularly excited about Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's canonization this weekend: Their late father's healing at Auriesville was included in the Vatican's 1940 "positio" on the introduction of her beatification and canonization cause.

Thomas Hughes' family says the personal connection to the saint makes her big day even more special.

"It was something we'd been praying for a long time, so we were very happy to hear it," said Donna Lynch, one of the daughters of Mr. Hughes.

Mr. Hughes' childhood "hip joint disease" - "a wasting away of the bones of one foot," as the Vatican document calls it - was cured after contact with a relic of Blessed Kateri in 1915 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, the area where the new saint lived.

Guess what, dad?
Mrs. Lynch left for Rome this week with her sister, Carole Summer. "In case [our father] didn't know, we keep telling him about it," she told The Evangelist.

Mrs. Lynch and Mrs. Summer now live in Wappingers Falls and the Virgin Islands, respectively, but they travel to the Auriesville shrine frequently. They grew up in Schenectady and attended Our Lady of Fatima parish there; that parish recently merged with St. Helen's to become, fittingly, St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish. Mrs. Lynch attends a parish by the same name downstate.

After decades of hearing their grandmother tell the story of carrying her sick child up the shrine hill, Mr. Hughes' children convinced him to put his story in writing in 1982.

"A lot of it came in bits and pieces," Mrs. Lynch said. "We wanted to be more clear about it."

Mr. Hughes' letter to his daughters describes a painful limp caused by a small hole in his left hip. To prevent the spread of the disease, his Amsterdam doctor ordered him to wear a nearly full-body plaster cast for a year. It was intended to "shrink the bone," Mr. Hughes wrote, which would result in "a left leg shorter than my right, and I could wear a three- or four-inch lift on my left shoe."

Trudge to shrine
In the letter, Mr. Hughes recalled the rail trip from Amsterdam to Tribes Hill and the walk along "very steep, very dusty, very rugged" terrain to the shrine. After being carried to the shrine in his mother's arms, he saw plaques and discarded crutches, braces and canes hanging from the ceiling beams of the shrine chapel.

Like those items, Mr. Hughes' cast would be discarded just days after the trip.

"My father and Uncle Ed, armed with hatchet, saws, pliers, knives, screwdrivers, hammer and chisels, hacked and pried the entire cast off," he wrote. "My leg was about as big around as a broomstick, but it was the same length as the right, and I could walk on it without pain."

The next X-ray showed no more hole in the bone; the family doctor signed an affidavit declaring the incident "supernatural." Mr. Hughes later pitched for a baseball team and ran track in college. He raised four children and lived into his 80s.

Vatican list
The Vatican document records examples of favors obtained through the intercession of Blessed Kateri and cures granted in answer to novenas to her - especially those cited by the rectors of churches in Auriesville and Caughnawaga, Canada, where Blessed Kateri died in 1680. Mr. Hughes' story is listed as one of "two cures which were considered miraculous" up until that time.

After hearing the news of Blessed Kateri's canonization last winter, Mrs. Summer called some of the priests and deacons involved in the sainthood cause around the country to thank and congratulate them.

"It is so wonderful," she said. "I just think [Dad would] be so happy that we're going [to Rome]."

Mrs. Lynch agreed: "I pray to him thanking him for giving us life. And I pray to my grandmother, too, for taking him to Auriesville and helping him through all the pain and agony."

Blessed Kateri still intercedes in the family's life.

"I just made a novena to her that my [painful] ankle will be OK to walk around on in Rome," Mrs. Lynch said, laughing. "I know she's looking after us. She tells St. Anthony where the things are that I lost."

Family saint
Their sister-in-law, Audrey Hughes, knows it, too. Her late husband, Thomas Hughes Jr., dreamed about Blessed Kateri after being diagnosed with terminal lymphatic cancer. He lived two more years.

"I know that [in] that moment in time, Kateri was there," said Mrs. Hughes, a member of the diocesan ecumenical commission and a parishioner of Immaculate Conception in Glenville. "I just know there are moments in life you can't explain."

She said Blessed Kateri's influence continues to be "like an appendix" for the family: "It's always there."

Mrs. Hughes will travel to Auriesville on canonization day. She called Kateri's sainthood "very exciting. It's so historic and it's an answer to people who have had faith and love and have brought families together whether there was a miracle or not. It gives one hope."