Where pills can’t reach: Checking out a local miracle

Deacon John “Jack” Sullivan, 70, is Acting Clerk Magistrate of Plymouth District Court, generally not the kind of place where one expects to encounter miracles. In any case, Deacon Jack is a happily married husband, father, and soon-to-be grandfather who lives in Marshfield. He went to Suffolk Law School in Boston in the 60s, but since 2002 he has also been a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Boston, currently serving at St. Thecla’s parish in Pembroke. Describing himself as “very ordinary” though “somewhat good looking -- at least my wife thought I was,” he considers himself, “very lucky both professionally” and family-wise.

In 2000 and again in 2001, however, some extraordinary things happened to him, which make him even more fortunate. Pope Benedict XVI on July 3 decreed that he had been cured of his crippling back pain through the intercession of the Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman and that the cure had no medical or scientific explanation. The cure therefore qualifies as a miracle, which means that Cardinal Newman, the great 19th-century English convert and Catholic theologian whom many consider the Father of Vatican II, will be beatified next year. Miracles happen -- even to Boston lawyers.

Deacon Sullivan spoke last Saturday, July 18, at Arnold Hall Conference Center in Pembroke to a gathering of diocesan priests from around the country affiliated with Opus Dei’s Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. He was invited by Father C. John McCloskey, a Newman scholar who in 2000 hosted a series of programs for EWTN on Cardinal Newman. At the end of one of his programs interviewing Father Ian Ker, the renowned Newman biographer from Oxford, Father McCloskey put a message on the television screen: if you receive any favors from Cardinal Newman, please contact the Birmingham Oratory in England. (This is where Newman had lived and died and where the postulator of his cause of beatification, Father Paul Chavasse, resides.) Deacon Sullivan happened to be watching this program, which he found interesting. He said that if there had been no notice at the program’s end, he probably would not have prayed to Cardinal Newman, whom he previously knew very little about.

The program came at a crucial time for Deacon Jack, who was eager to be ordained a permanent deacon even though the way forward then seemed impossible. Deacon Jack had just finished his second year of a four-year course of studies for the diaconate, when he woke up on June 6, 2000 with such a tremendous pain in the back of his legs that he could hardly walk. At Jordan Hospital in Plymouth a CAT scan showed five vertebrae squeezing his spinal cord and creating a bulge, which meant that he could lose his lower body function at any time and be paralyzed. He could only walk doubled over. Referred to a specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, he was told it was the worst back problem the doctor had seen in 17 years.

Surgery was indicated, which would take at least six months to recuperate from. He was told to forget about resuming his studies for the diaconate. He prayed, “Please, Cardinal Newman, intercede with God so that I might go back to classes and be ordained.” He stresses that he did not pray for a miracle, just that he could resume his studies. The following morning, he felt no pain, had full mobility, and could walk without difficulty, with strength in his legs. He then met with another specialist, this time at New England Baptist Hospital, who told him that it was no longer necessary to undergo surgery and that he could resume his classes.

Deacon Jack finished his third year without difficulty, but the day after his last class in 2001 the debilitating pain resumed, so that he was effectively confined to a wheelchair. Surgery was performed in August of 2001. Complications ensued, as the surgeon discovered that the protective membrane surrounding his spine had ruptured, and the fluids had leaked out. The prognosis was not good, and recovery was expected to last eight months to a year. He needed to be carried back to his bed in the hospital.

Five days after the surgery, he prayed again to Cardinal Newman to be able to walk and resume his studies. He then felt great heat and a tingling sensation all over accompanied by a tremendous sense of peace. Though he had no sensation of time, the nurse told him this lasted for about 10 minutes. He stood up straight, was able to walk without a walker or cane, without any difficulty or pain. When he was discharged from the hospital, they gave him a huge jar of Percocet, a potent pain-killer. He didn’t take the drug because he didn’t need it. Where pills couldn’t reach, prayer did.

He called his doctor, Robert J. Banco of New England Baptist Hospital, who said he could resume his studies. It was only in October of 2001 after his post-operative meeting with Dr. Banco that he contacted Father C. John McCloskey in order to get in touch with the Birmingham Oratory. His doctor had told Deacon Jack that he had no medical or scientific explanation for his recovery: “If you want answers, ask God.”

It was the following year, on Sept. 14, 2002, that he was ordained a permanent deacon along with his classmates. The rest, as they say, is history. He walks a mile and a half every day and does heavy lifting in caring for his large home garden. He has not had any relapse or recurrence since the August 2001 cure. A tribunal in Boston gathered the evidence, and took testimony from 10 witnesses, which was then approved by panels of medical experts and theologians in Rome before being approved by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and finally by Pope Benedict XVI himself.

One might well ask, “Why Jack Sullivan?” Father George Rutler, a well-known Anglican convert himself, uncovered an interesting coincidence from the memoirs of Herbert Vaughan, future Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, which took place in 1889, the year before Cardinal Newman died: ‘‘I slept at the Oratory and the Cardinal came in to see me for twenty minutes. I hardly knew him again: doubled up like a shrimp and walking with a stick longer than his body. But a few days before his death the next year, the Cardinal surprised his caregiver, Father Neville, by returning to his rooms ‘unbent, erect to the full height of his best days in the fifties; he was without support of any kind.’” All of which means that Cardinal Newman had an affliction like Deacon Jack’s, and that he too had been cured of it. Maybe he heard Deacon Jack’s plea for intercession because he knew from personal experience how debilitating a back injury can be. Been there, done that.

Another possible connection, also speculative, is that Cardinal Newman, the “Father of Vatican II,” thought Deacon Jack’s a good cause. Perhaps the venerable Cardinal wanted to signal approval of Deacon Jack’s studies for the permanent diaconate, a feature of Newman’s beloved Church of the Fathers. The permanent diaconate had disappeared in the West during the Middle Ages, but it was restored to the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council. It was to get back on track with his studies for the diaconate that Deacon Jack had prayed to Cardinal Newman. And he was heard.

Deacon Jack’s response? “God doesn’t raise up the mighty. He lifts up the lowly.” Humble recognition of God’s favors worked through the saints and abiding gratitude to soon-to-be Blessed John Henry Newman.

Dwight G. Duncan is a professor at Southern New England School of Law. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.

Nation
Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

World
Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Nation
Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

World
Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

World
God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

World
Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

World
Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Nation
Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

Nation
N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Nation
Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Nation
Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Nation
Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

Nation
#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Nation
Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Nation
Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Nation
Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Nation
Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

World
Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Local
Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Local
Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Local
Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Local
Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Local
Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

Nation
N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

Nation
U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Nation
Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

World
Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

World
Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

World
In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Nation
Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Nation
Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

World
Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

World
Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

World
Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

World
Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

World
Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...