Cause for Beatification of South Africa’s “Little Eden” Founders “well underway”: Official

The cause for beatification of the founders of Little Eden Society, a non-profit South African entity that provides life-long care to hundreds of “children and adults with profound intellectual disability”, is progressing as per the given guidelines, a Catholic Priest involved in the process has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa, the Vice-postulator of the cause for the beatification of Maria Domitilla Hyams and her husband, Daniel George Hyams (Hyams’ cause) said the process is “still in the local or diocesan phase”.

“The possible cause of beatification and canonization of Maria Domitilla Hyams and her husband, Daniel George Hyams is well underway. We are currently still in the local or diocesan phase, busy interviewing the witnesses and gathering all the evidence available,” Fr. Deneys Williamson said during the Wednesday, May 11 interview.

The late couple that founded Little Eden Society that cares for children and adults in two residential facilities in Johannesburg – Domitilla and Danny Hyams Home in Edenvale, and Elvira Rota Village, in Bapsfontein – are the first local couple to have been given the status of Servants of God by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Referring to the cause for beatification that began in 2018, Fr. Williamson said that Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg who initiated the process expressed his desire to begin an inquiry into the lives of the South African couple for “a possible cause of beatification and canonization”.

“In 2018, the Archbishop of Johannesburg, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, indicated his desire to begin an inquiry into their lives, to see if there was a possible cause of beatification and canonization. And so, he formed a preliminary Investigative Committee to begin this process”, Fr. Williamson told ACI Africa.

The member of the Clergy of South Africa’s Johannesburg Archdiocese added, “We formed a committee, and we needed to check a few things; we managed to do that. And then a formal petition was made to the Bishop, by a person known as the postulator, who takes care of promoting the cause. The Bishop accepted that in 2018, and then in 2021, in February, we officially launched the investigation into their lives.”

In the May 11 interview, Fr. Williamson said that the “local or diocesan phase, and the Roman phase” are the two phases in the process of beatification and canonization.He explained, “In the local diocesan phase, all we are doing is simply gathering as much information as we can about the couple. So, we interview eyewitnesses, and other witnesses; a Historical Commission is formed to gather every single scrap of documentary evidence bearing on their lives.”

“We don’t form an opinion or a judgment; we just put that together, and then we send it off to the experts in the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in Rome. They then begin the second or the Roman phase, and they will then use the experts that (are) there to review all the testimony”, the Vice-Postulator of the Hyams’ cause for beatification said.

He added, “This information is collated into a document, which is then circulated amongst some Cardinals, who then make a vote. And if the vote is favorable, it goes to the Holy Father, and he, after discernment, will then decide whether to pronounce the person or persons under investigation as venerable.”

The Hyams couple who met during World War II in Italy, have been described as people who have lived out the virtues of prudence, charity, faith and hope in their married and family life, in their Parish community of Edenvale, and in their work of establishing and running Little Eden Society since 1967, the South African Catholic Priest said.

“We would like them to become blessed and saints. And what that requires, is a miracle. And only after the declaration of heroic virtue, will a miracle be considered? And so, we still await that, and if there is an alleged miracle, another investigation needs to take place to ascertain the veracity of the alleged miracle”, Fr. Williamson told ACI Africa May 11.

“And if it’s favorable, then that will be taken into consideration and the person or persons could be declared blessed,” he said, and encouraged the people of God to visit the website of the cause and to consider making use of the prayer card.

The Vice-Postulator continued, “We would like people to please report any favors or graces they may have received through the intercession of Daniel and Domitilla Hyams to us; all the information is there on the website and also on the prayer cards.”

“If we see that the couple enjoy intercessory power in heaven and favors are being granted through the intercession, this is obviously a sign that we should proceed with the investigation. So, I encourage people to make use of the prayer cards and to ask for favors,” Fr. Williamson reiterated during the May 11 interview with ACI Africa.

One year Anniversary marking the Opening of the Cause for Canonisation of Domitilla and Danny Hyams: Homily

The Church points out that Christians are not to be overly enthusiastic about receiving extraordinary gifts.  Such gifts do not necessarily account for the rich variety of the fruits of the apostolic works of the faithful (Vat. II Church, no. 12: Judges 11 – Jephthah’s daughter).  But we do believe that from time to time there are persons who are endowed with unusual gifts, extraordinary talents, i.e. blessed with five talents instead of just one talent (Mt.24:15). We acknowledge – we accept that there are persons gifted with a strong maternal instinct, who do not scatter, but who gather children like a hen that gathers her chicks under her wings (Mt. 23:37).  We equally strongly believe that there are those amongst us who have been anointed with the Spirit of God and are singularly privileged when they honestly repeat meaningfully the words of God namely: “Even if your mother abandons you, I will never forsake you” (Isaiah 49:15). With these words, they totally embrace the rejected, the marginalised, and restore their human dignity as children of God.

The mission of Little Eden is to restore the dignity of the children of God, and to assist their mothers, and that once this dignity has been restored, to guard it jealously, to go to great lengths to protect it.  It is generally clean love, pure love, simple love, unalloyed love, love that goes out of its way to accomplish this simple but extraordinary feat of loving; simple and easy to those who have the gift, the charism, the natural inclination to serve those most in need.  The work of Domitilla and Danny, the work of Little Eden, is a mission of love.  It is extraordinary because many of us might not have the heart nor the stomach to nurse, to feed, to clothe, to cleanse and to accompany children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

At times some of us are puzzled, or perhaps even baffled by the peculiarity or the quirks of nature.  Some children are born with some shortcomings.  They have a speech defect, or they walk in a peculiar way or have a stunted growth.  In the minds of some people this arouses some fear of the unknown.  To some superstitious minds, it suggests an intrusion of some unknown spirits or a curse of sorts.  Others develop a sense of guilt.  The mission of love embraced by the Hyams aims at freeing those who are concerned, from the fear of the irrational, of the unknown.  It seeks to dissipate the unwelcome sense of guilt for an unknown crime purported to have been committed.  The mission of the Hyams is a mission of acceptance and gratitude to God for the variety of gifts he has bestowed on all human beings.

Now the Hyams and no doubt their successors, have been, and are, confidants of many a parent who trust them with family concerns over their children who need special care.  The Hyams have institutionalised and professionalised the taking care of children and adults with special needs.  This has been a great relief to many families who sought a lasting solution to their family challenges.  Little Eden has given them the comfort of a permanent home where each child is known by name.  This is the legacy of Domitilla, a loving mother to each child, each “innocent angel” who committed no sin before God and who deserves nothing but to be loved.

Often, over time, institutions can become cold, loveless, mechanical and boring in the extreme.  The Hyams have bequeathed a legacy of love in the establishment of Little Eden.  They have in an extraordinary way, institutionalised love in the care offered to intellectually disabled children.

The outstanding commitment to intellectually disabled children was not just out of the abundance of Domitilla’s heart, it actually spring from her deep faith and from her response to Christ’s invitation: “When you do these things to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do them to me (Mt. 25).  Domitilla’s charism was to be the “hands of Christ”, in taking care of the children most in need.  The charism of compassion, rooted in an unshakable faith in Christ, under the watchful but caring eye of Mother Mary suggests strongly a remarkable favour shown to Domitilla.  Domitilla in all her daring project, enjoyed fully the support of her faithful husband, Danny, who calls to mind the total image of St. Joseph, who resolutely stood by Mary throughout her difficult times here on earth.

One year ago, on 10 April 2021, the local church in Johannesburg launched an investigation into the special graces or charisms of Domitilla and Danny Hyams.  This inquiry will establish from various witnesses the genuineness and proper use of these gifts and whether Domitilla and Danny practised virtue and holiness to a heroic degree.  Today we mark one year since the investigation began.[1] We pray and hope   that they may not only be considered as individual persons, but also as a couple.  Exemplary couples are sorely needed in our communities.  May the Holy Spirit also guide the faithful in private devotion to the lives of Domitilla and Danny.

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale

Feast of Our Lady of Africa
Cathedral of Christ the King

[1] Covid-19 Regulations at the time prevented the Archdiocese from celebrating the Opening Session with more than 100 people.

Knighthood of the Order of Italy for Lucy Slaviero

Lucy Maria Slaviero at the award ceremony at the Italian Consulate in Johannesburg

The cliche’ “standing on the shoulders of giants: is often glibly thrown about, but I can truly say that is why I am here today. Without the magnanimous heroic and serving life lived by Domitilla and Danny Hyams, LITTLE EDEN would not exist, and I would not be here.” That was in part Lucy Maria Hyams’ response for the award she was receiving from the Ambassador of Italy, His Excellency Dr. Paulo Cuculi, on behalf of the President of Italy. Lucy Hyams received the award of the Knighthood of the Order of the Star of Italy on the 10th March 2022 at a ceremony held the the Italian Consulate in Johannesburg.

In the recognition speech His Excellency Cuculi said Lucy “Followed in the footsteps of her parents, who founded the center fifty-five years ago. Domitilla Rota, an Italian citizen awarded the Knighthood of the Merit of Italian Republic in 1999 and whose beatification process is in progress, and the South African citizen Daniel Hyams.” Ambassador Cuculi noted the instrumental role played by Lucy Slaviero in creating a growing network of volunteers and supporters of the Little Eden, thus making it possible to increase and optimise the possibilities of care and assistance offered by its structures over time.

Lucy Slaviero reminded those who were present that Little Eden Society was founded by her parents way back in 1967. Recounting that Domitilla had left her home village of Albenza in Bergamo following her husband to Johannesburg where with a deep faith and commitment to help family in need she and her husband started from absolutely nothing a caring organisation that since inception has assisted thousands of persons with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Lucy Slaviero, the former CEO of Little Eden for over 30 years, also remarked on a Cause in progress saying it was due to the extraordinary deep faith and humanity of the founders of Little Eden that the Catholic Archbishop of Johannesburg, His Grace, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale has opened an investigation into the possible Beatification and Canonisation of both Domitilla and Danny Hyams.

The Process of the Cause of Canonisation

Why the Hyams Cause was started – Archbishop Buti Tlhagale

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