Of the more than 10,000 saints acknowledged by the Roman Catholic Church, only 12 are Americans. If a petition put forward by the Diocese of Monterey is successful, however, California will finally claim its first-ever canonization.
The woman at the center of the sainthood application is likely not the person you are imagining. In photographs, Cora Evans looks more bemused than beatific, her dark hair curled and smoothed back from her forehead like a typical 1950s housewife. She is often smiling brightly and attired in neat but decidedly worldly dresses.
Cora’s legend begins on her wedding day. On June 4, 1924, the couple entered the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City to perform their sacred marriage rites. According to a biography submitted to the Vatican by the Diocese of Monterey, Cora found these rituals incredibly off-putting. Then and there, she decided Mormonism was a false religion, and she was determined to find the true one.
In 1934, Cora was listening to the radio when a Catholic program came on. After contemplating it for a while, her curiosity grew and she sought out her local church in Ogden, Utah. Within a year, she was a newly baptized Catholic, along with her husband Mack and two young daughters.
It took another decade for Cora’s mysticism to begin in earnest. As the Diocese of Monterey tells it, Cora received her first mission on Christmas Eve 1946, when Jesus appeared to her in a vision. She had been specially chosen by God, she learned, and because of her devotion would learn secrets of the Bible not known to even theologians.
For the rest of her life, Cora said she received near-daily visits. With her children at school and her husband at work as an ice cream peddler, she would go into hourslong trances where she believed she walked with Christ. After emerging from these visions, Cora would write pages and pages of stream-of-consciousness recollections. Now published as religious texts, the revelations are filled with theological musings, tales from the life of Jesus and prayers for “healing, forgiveness, charity, kindness, and courage.” Her family said the room would often smell of roses after Cora’s “walks” with Jesus.
In the late 1940s, Cora’s Catholic zealotry was apparently affecting her life in a very Mormon enclave of Utah. Citing hostile neighbors and an inability to find employment for Mack, the Evans family packed up and left for California.
According to Cora’s writings, she had been manifesting stigmata on her palms since 1947. Catholics believe the open wounds, found on the parts of the body where Christ was nailed to the cross, appear on the incredibly devout. The phenomenon is an overwhelmingly female one and is found across accounts of medieval saints (although, it should be noted, most modern stigmata reports have been debunked or linked to self-harm).
Cora generally kept her revelations to family, friends and priests. Hickman said others in their California church heard rumors of her mysticism, but speaking about it with strangers “made her uncomfortable.” In 1957, her long battle with cancer began to wind down. She prayed that when she was dead, she would be given the gift of healing so ailing people could pray to her for help. She died on March 30, 1957, 22 years to the day she was baptized Catholic.