Pembroke deacon’s healing could lead to beatification of Cardinal Newman

MARSHFIELD--A simple prayer changed the life of Deacon John Sullivan, 70, of Marshfield, curing him of a debilitating back injury and could alter forever the legacy of Cardinal John Henry Newman, through whose intercession Deacon Sullivan says he was healed. If confirmed by the Vatican as a miracle, Deacon Sullivan’s healing could be the final miracle needed to beatify Cardinal Newman, a 19th century British cardinal who converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism.

A British newspaper reported April 28 that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had ruled unanimously that Deacon Sullivan’s healing was a miracle due to the intercession of Cardinal Newman. As of press time, the Vatican had yet to release an official statement on the matter.

If confirmed, Pope Benedict XVI could beatify Cardinal Newman as early as this summer, said Deacon Sullivan, a deacon at St. Thecla Parish in Pembroke.

In 2000, Deacon Sullivan, a married father of three grown children and a longtime court magistrate for Plymouth District Court, was in the middle of his diaconal studies at St. John Seminary when he began experiencing severe and incapacitating back pain. Tests and scans revealed that several of Deacon Sullivan’s lumbar vertebrates and disks were squeezing his spinal cord and affecting the nerves going to his legs. Doctors told him that, without surgery, he could become paralyzed.

“I was in agony. There was no traumatic event that occurred that would have caused this pain. It just suddenly happened,” explained Deacon Sullivan. “I was doubled over in agony and experienced constant pain.”

Not only was Deacon Sullivan shocked by the diagnosis, he was also devastated that he could not return to his diaconal studies, which started back up in a month. “I enjoyed the first two years of the process and my heart was really set on being ordained because I wanted to be of service to the Church and to serve God in the best way that I knew how,” said Deacon Sulivan.

To distract himself from his pain and disappointment, he left his doctor’s office and went home to watch television. A program on the beatification process for Cardinal Newman happened to be on the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) and it caught his interest because he was not very familiar with the cardinal’s life. At the end of the program, the commentator asked viewers to contact the postulate for the cause of Cardinal Newman’s beatification if they received any divine favors through the cardinal’s intercession. “I wrote it down because they put it on the screen and there was a pad of paper and a pen in the family room,” he said. “There have been all kinds of fantastic things that have happened that would seem to be coincidences like this, but this is the way that I think that God works. He works in very subtle ways.”

After writing down the information, Deacon Sullivan said decided to recite this simple prayer to Cardinal Newman: “Please Cardinal Newman intercede with God to help me go back to classes and be ordained.”

When he awoke the next morning, Deacon Sullivan was pain-free and could walk upright for the first time in months. His doctors had no medical explanation for the turn of events. He returned to his diaconate classes and remained free of back pain for the next eight months.

In April 2001, the day after his diaconal classes ended for the year, the pain returned in “full fury,” said Deacon Sullivan. A cortisone injection to the spine provided no relief and his doctor again recommended surgery to repair his back, which he said was the worst that his doctor had ever seen. Before the surgery, Deacon Sullivan struggled to complete as many hours as he could in his diaconal internship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Surgery revealed that his back was in an even worse condition than his doctor had thought and that he probably would not be able to walk again for at least four months.

In severe pain after the surgery, Deacon Sullivan again prayed to Cardinal Newman to help him to walk so that he could finish his internship and be ordained with this class.

“I felt a very warm sensation and a tingling all over that lasted about five or 10 minutes and a tremendous sense of joy, exuberance and confidence,” said the deacon, adding that he immediately became pain-free. “I had no pain anymore and I had been in agony a couple of minutes before.”

“I walked all over the hospital and they released me immediately,” he continued. “There is no other explanation than that Cardinal Newman interceded for me.”

Deacon Sullivan’s doctor confirmed that there was again no medical explanation for his recovery. After receiving his doctor’s confirmation, Deacon Sullivan wrote to the postulate for the cause of Cardinal Newman’s beatification and the process for validating the miracle began. On the day of his diaconal ordination in September 2002, he received news that the postulators of the cause for Cardinal Newman’s beatification had voted to present the miracle to Rome for approval.

Deacon Sullivan, who now walks at least a mile and a half a day and can do hours of yard work pain free, says that he has the back of a 30-year old and he owes it all to Cardinal Newman. “I needed a lot of help because I was in serious straits and for some reason Cardinal Newman was made available to me and it was God, who answered my prayers through Newman,” said Deacon Sullivan. “I wouldn’t be deacon or a father or husband without Cardinal Newman. He gave me back my life and I am very, very grateful and I certainly had nothing to do with it.”