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Local family attributes girl’s health to Blessed Jeanne Jugan


Jeanne Jugan Home resident Mary Russo with her great-great granddaughter Olivia Fiorentino. Pilot photo/ Jim Lockwood

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Among those travelling to Rome for the canonization of Blessed Jeanne Jugan will be 4-year-old Olivia Fiorentino and her family. Olivia’s great-great grandmother is a resident of the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Somerville.

Though not officially recognized by the Church, Olivia’s current health is nonetheless regarded by her family and friends as miraculous because of the intercession of Blessed Jeanne Jugan.

When Denise Fiorentino was pregnant with Olivia, the 20-week ultrasound revealed that parts of Olivia’s brain were not forming.

“They said she wouldn’t be able to walk or communicate much with the outside world,” Denise said. “We were looking at placements for her.”

“They wanted her to abort the baby,” added Mary Russo, 100, great-great grandmother of Olivia and Somerville resident.

The Fiorentino family recalled learning the results of the tests.

“The news and the uncertainty was the hardest part,” said Dave Fiorentino, Olivia’s father. “It would have been easier if we didn’t know anything.”

“You’re mourning the loss of what you thought your child was going to be like,” added Denise.

When Denise was pregnant, the Little Sisters who staff the residence prayed to Blessed Jeanne Jugan. The sisters also used a relic of the blessed when praying over Olivia’s mother. She, along with her family and the sisters, prayed a novena to Blessed Jeanne Jugan as well.

“I said ‘let me at least see her 10 fingers and 10 toes. That’s all I’m asking for.’ When she was born, I felt a leap. I said she was going to get better,” said Russo. “When she was born, the first thing I did was count. She looked right at me. I said ‘this is a miracle.’”

“I was so excited I was praying in thanksgiving,” Russo added. “I still pray for thanksgiving and I will pray for it as long as I live.”

Once Olivia was born, doctors ruled out their original diagnosis.

However, Olivia has cerebellar dysgenesis, where the cerebellum, which handles motor skills, does not completely form, and the corpus callosum, the structure that connects the left and right halves of the brain, is missing. She also has periventricular heterotopia, a rare condition which can cause seizures during the teenage years and dyslexia. Usually, people with this condition have normal intelligence, though some have intellectual disabilities.

So far, Olivia has not had any seizures or epilepsy.

Though she has balance and coordination delays, she is cognitively “on target,” according to her mother.

“Her speech has developed appropriately,” said her father.

Olivia’s speech began between the ages of six to nine months.

And, though Olivia was somewhat delayed in walking, “She’s nowhere near what was expected,” said Mother Gertrude Mary.

“That’s where the miracle really is,” said Denise.

Olivia’s information was sent to the Little Sisters’ motherhouse as a cause for canonization, though the miracle that served as cause for canonization was already well advanced.

Twenty years ago, in Nebraska, Edward Gatz, a retired anaesthesiologist was found to have a large tumor in his esophagus. Though he opted for surgery, doctors told him it would only ease his discomfort and he began to put his affairs in order.

Not content to watch her husband die, Gatz’s wife prayed a novena to Blessed Jeanne Jugan for a cure at the suggestion of a priest. Prior to this, the Gatzs had never heard of the Little Sisters of the Poor or Blessed Jeanne Jugan and were not praying for a cure.

Within weeks after the surgery, the signs of the cancer began to disappear despite the fact that Gatz chose not to undergo radiation or chemotherapy. Within two years, Gatz was so completely cured that his disability insurance company began to suspect fraud and ordered a medical investigation. That information later proved valuable in proving the miraculous nature of the healing.

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