Servant of God Cora Evans: Sainthood cause of California wife, mother advances to Rome

By Lidia Wasowicz

Imagine the world as one where Jesus dwells in every person.

Unlike the vision of global unity in legendary singer John Lennon’s still popular 1971 hit, the dream of a humble Mormon housewife who converted to Catholicism and her promoters for sainthood embraces rather than eschews religion.

Enduring profound physical and psychological pain, Servant of God Cora Louise Evans pushed for the mission commissioned by Christ with whom she reported sharing intimate conversations and precious moments in His earthly life.

Shedding her cradle allegiance to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on her wedding day in the famed Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, the 19-year-old bride sought spiritual truths for a decade before finding them on her sickbed as she listened to a radio program hosted by a local Catholic pastor.

As a convert, she ignored persecution and inspired hundreds to follow her lead during her lifetime cut short by stomach cancer at age 52 on March 30, 1957, the 22nd anniversary of her reception of the Sacrament of Baptism in the Catholic Church.

Since her passing, the message of the “mystical humanity (indwelling) of Christ” spread by those who have publicized her voluminous writings and taken up her cause has resonated with thousands more.

New developments are bound to augment universal attention.

With the cutting of crimson ribbons on 22 boxes holding 5,702 pages of documentation, a 45-minute ceremony on a bright Italian morning last spring launched the Vatican stage of an odyssey that may culminate in the first canonization of a lay California woman.

Select theologians and historians will scrutinize the words, wisdom and worthiness of the “ordinary” wife and mother with barely a 10th grade education who, according to her detailed descriptions, encountered Jesus, Mary and other saints during trancelike ecstasies observed by dozens of eyewitnesses.

Over an indefinite period and with no guarantees, they will seek evidence of “heroic virtue” to carry the servant of God — a title indicating initial approval of her candidacy — through the next three steps: recognition as “venerable,” then “blessed,” then “saint,” the latter two designations requiring proof of separate miracles attributed to her intercession.

To reach the current crossroad, Evans had to pass local ecclesial examination instigated in 2012 by the Monterey Diocese, where she worshipped at the time of her death.

Satisfied with the findings, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops unanimously voted Nov. 16, 2022, to proceed with the beatification and canonization process for Evans and two other American women.

Michelle Duppong, a North Dakota campus missionary and evangelist, succumbed to cancer at age 31 on Christmas Day in 2015.

Irish native Mother Margaret Mary Healy Murphy assisted the poor, ministered to Latino and African American communities, fought for civil rights and founded a religious order in Texas before her demise in 1907 at age 74.

The three causes are now following separate, independent tracks.

Evans officially completed the U.S. leg of her journey toward sainthood with closing canonical rites at the diocesan level Jan. 22, 2023, at San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey.

Signed, sealed and secured in a strictly specified manner, the testimonies by and about the 20th-century mystic headed for the transcontinental transfer.

On April 20, 2023, at 9:30 a.m., the carefully orchestrated Roman festivities began with escorted U.S. guests crossing a sun-sprinkled St. Peter’s Square to a large conference room of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, which oversees the course to canonization that has toughened considerably since the early centuries when popular acclaim bestowed sainthood.

Set on a massive wood table, the boxes holding the American-approved documentation, termed the Acts of the Inquiry, awaited further action.

One by one, each was opened, its contents briefly viewed. When the last was inspected, a canon lawyer pronounced the official start to the Vatican phase of the investigation.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” recalled Michael McDevitt, longtime promoter of the sainthood cause, promulgator of the mission and custodian of the writings of Evans, a family friend during his childhood.

The parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Burlingame has served as executive director of the Mystical Humanity of Christ, Inc. since its founding in 1999 by his late uncle, Jesuit Father Frank Parrish, Evans’ confessor and spiritual director. ›

The nonprofit carries on the mission entrusted to Evans and coinciding with the National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative the U.S. bishops launched June 19, 2022, on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ to instruct about, inspire by and unite around Jesus in a world that desperately needs Him.

“(As Evans taught), we receive Him in the Eucharist, then we are called to take Him with us wherever we go,” explained McDevitt, who conducted the first of numerous retreats on the topic 30 years ago. “It ties in with the eucharistic revival because it treats the presence of Christ as a way of life.”

The timely connection provides more evidence of divine guidance and secures hopes that have sustained him through the decades, said the former accounting and consulting specialist.

“Over and over again, doors opened, and Jesus breathed life to our motto, ‘led by Our Lord,’” recalled McDevitt, whose physician father doctored Evans until his retirement in 1946 and whose mother observed and wrote about some of her raptures.

“I believe that, if it is God’s will, one day Cora will be recognized as a saint, that her writings will have far-reaching impact on the faithful, that the devotion to Jesus in his mystical humanity will flourish, there will be substantial conversions to the Catholic faith, especially among Mormons, her heritage people,” McDevitt asserted.

“I believe all of this is for the benefit of the universal Church.”

Michael Huston, his cousin and partner since their first retreat and initial petition to the Monterey Diocese to start the proceedings, shares his confidence and commitment.

“Michael and I have done all we can and succeeded in getting her to the Vatican; now it’s out of our hands, and Our Lord will take it from here,” assured Huston, a Mystical Humanity board member who accompanied McDevitt to Rome.

“Our role now is to promulgate Jesus’s mission by publishing her books and telling her story to the world.”

Her story begins in Midvale, Utah, on July 9, 1904, when Laura and Robert Yorgason welcomed their daughter into a family that traced its roots to the early Mormon pioneers who settled the state.

Spirituality, suffering, piety, perseverance, fidelity and fortitude marked her life from early childhood.

At age 3, she had a vision of an unforgettable lady she would come to know years later as the Blessed Mother.

As she grew, health struggles limited her formal education. A weak heart and other lifelong ailments forced her to quit before completing the sophomore year in high school.

Through it all, she remained humbly devout, earning the privilege to marry Maclellan “Mack” Evans, the love of her life, in the world headquarters of the LDS church, which restricts temple entry to faithful members with two recommendations attesting to their worthiness.

Ironically, the June 4, 1924, wedding disappointed her with its secret rituals and what she considered false declarations about God and drove her away from the religion of her birth and toward one she had never previously considered.

The destination “was a surprise to her as she was brought up with great suspicions about Catholics,” said Father Gary Thomas, director of the Propaedeutic Year program at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park who joined the Mystical Humanity board 10 years ago at the invitation of McDevitt and Huston, head usher at the parish he pastored.

Evans reached the final stop in December 1934 when, alone and too ill to leave her bed to change the station on a radio across the room, she listened to “The Catholic Hour.”

The broadcast about the Virgin Mary whom she recognized as the lady she met as a tot so intrigued her she started making inquiries at the nearby St. Joseph Catholic Church as soon as she recovered.

The visit influenced others to follow suit. Father Edward Vaughn, the parish priest, confirmed her evangelization efforts led to hundreds of conversions of Mormons to the Catholic faith.

Her husband and daughters LaVonne and Dorothy — son Bobby had died before his first birthday — numbered among them.

They paid a painful price: rejection, ridicule, rancor from colleagues, neighbors, friends, even family.

Evans stood fast against the onslaught with characteristic heart and humility. She treated her tormentors with respect and their beliefs with reverence.

Her outpouring of affection proved to no avail.

On March 17, 1941, out of work and welcome, the family moved to California, spending 15 years in the Los Angeles area before relocating to the small, scenic town of Boulder Creek among the redwoods of the coastal Santa Cruz Mountains.

Her visions intensified, as did her commitment to spend her life serving God made in July 1938 on what she termed her “vow day.”

She received Communion, attended Mass, walked the Stations of the Cross, sometimes in reverse to follow in Mary’s footsteps as she descended Calvary after the crucifixion, and prayed 15 decades of the rosary daily for the last 15 years of her life.

Upon orders from Jesus and instructions from Father Parrish, Evans penned more than 3,000 pages of letters, poems, notes, reflections, diaries, meditations, manuscripts and accounts of her supernatural encounters that defy her academic deficiencies.

She would spend hours at her manual typewriter vividly depicting the scenes and stories revealed during her ecstasies.

Her output outpaced that of many of the 10,000 saints, including a dozen Americans, of the past 2,000 years.

Jesus disclosed the primary purpose of these efforts on Christmas Eve 1946: “to promulgate the mystical humanity of Christ (the divine indwelling) within souls as a way of prayer in the United States and throughout the world,” according to materials promoting her cause.

The following year, Evans began bearing painful stigmata — the wounds of Christ — in her head, palms, feet and heart, witnessed, among others, by Huston’s parents and grandmother, counted among the mystic’s closest friends.

In and of themselves, such gifts and graces do not suffice as grounds for canonization, noted Deacon David Ford, vice chancellor and director of pastoral ministry in the Monterey Diocese.

“The important consideration is heroic charity, faith and martyrdom for justice,” he clarified. “As a married woman, a mother suffering the death of her only son when just a baby, a convert to the faith from Mormonism, a promoter of active lay spirituality, she hits some of the marks.”

Her candidacy answers the call started by the late Pope St. John Paul II for greater inclusion in the ranks of the universally venerated, he added.

“The Church said, ‘We can’t just canonize monks and nuns and priests and deacons because saints are supposed to be models for everyday baptized Christians,’” the deacon said.

Evans has served as a model for everyday folks like Scott Borba.

Inspired by the evocative portrayals of the life and times of Jesus in her best-known work, “The Refugee from Heaven,” published in 2014, he traded sinful stints as a Hollywood jet-setter for simple service as a St. Patrick’s seminarian.

“When I read how Granny Mary, Joseph’s mother, would feed the boy Jesus cookies that he loved, all of a sudden I understood He was not a myth but just like us in every way except in His divinity,” Borba related.

“It was so beautifully communicated in her writings, it got someone as closed as me to open up to conversion because once He became real to me in his mystical humanity, I fell in love with Him.”

However meaningful or moving, the writings remain private not public revelation — which ended with the completion of the New Testament and the death of the last apostle — and thus need not be taken as gospel, said Father Dennis McManus, professor of theology at St. Patrick’s who read Evans’ every word in preparing the “positio,” a key summary that includes a record of her life, faith and heroic virtue, a standard set by the Holy See.

“When the Church is considering a candidate for sainthood, she looks for outstanding virtue that goes a bit beyond what we are all called to practice when, for example, our spouse irritates us or our patience is tried by a demanding family member,” Father McManus explained. “Truly heroic virtue builds on daily virtue.”

Whether or not sainthood awaits her, Evans leaves a rich and relevant legacy.

“Cora’s mission was to help promulgate the revival of the Eucharist 60 years before the Church began its recent revival program,” Huston said. “I believe this will be part of changing the world.”

A world of peace and unity as Lennon desired, though not exactly as he imagined. 

Lidia Wasowicz is a former UPI science reporter and long-time freelance writer for Catholic San Francisco.