The beneficiary of a Vatican-approved miracle attributed to the intercession of Servant of God John Henry Cardinal Newman says an EWTN show inspired him to pray to the saint for the healing of his back injuries that could have paralyzed him. His use of a relic of the cardinal may also be linked to a second miracle.
John “Jack” Sullivan had awoken to excruciating pain in June 2000. A CT scan revealed that all or most of the vertebrae and discs in his back had turned inward and were squeezing his spinal cord. A neurosurgeon advised him to have immediate surgery to prevent paralysis.
Sullivan, in the second year of a four-year diaconate program, knew that the pain, the surgery and recovery period would mean the end of his effort to become a deacon.
He turned on EWTN and saw a program hosted by Father C. John McCloskey, a devotee of Cardinal Newman. The episode in question featured Fr. Ian Ker, another Newman expert.
“They were discussing not only Newman’s teachings, but the process of beatification,” Sullivan explained to EWTN. “At the end of the program, they had on screen an address of the Oratory in Birmingham [England] and they said, ‘if you receive any Divine favors, please contact that Oratory.’
“I happened to have a piece of paper and a pen on the table in front of me and I wrote it down. Then, I thought, ‘If I wrote it down, I might as well pray to Newman.”
“I prayed, ‘Please Cardinal Newman, help me with God so that I might walk and go back to classes and be ordained.’”
He said he did not pray for a miracle but just wanted the pain to cease. The next morning, the pain was gone and stayed that where for a year, but came back “with a fury.”
Sullivan had surgery in the spring of 2001 during which his surgeon discovered that in addition to his other injuries the protective membrane surrounding his spine had been torn in at least two places.
Sullivan could not walk and suffered agonizing pain, facing the prospect of not being able to return to his diaconate classes.
On August 15, 2001, four days after his surgery, Sullivan again prayed to Cardinal Newman.
“I felt tremendous heat and a tingling feeling all over that lasted for five or 10 minutes,” Sullivan said. “After I experienced this, I immediately stood up straight. I was able to walk, not with a walker or cane, but on my own, without any difficulty or pain. I walked all over the hospital, just joyful. I never needed any pain medication after that.”
Sullivan was ordained to the deaconate on September 14, 2001. Now 70 years old, he walks 1.5 miles every day and performs “rigorous” outdoor work in his flower and vegetable gardens, including lifting boulders and building stone walls.
“I’ve been told I have the back of a fellow 30 years old,” he told EWTN.
Sullivan reports that his doctor, neurosurgeon Dr. Robert J. Banco of Boston, has told him he has no scientific explanation for why the pain stopped after the intensive surgery.
“If you want an answer, ask God!” the doctor said, according to Sullivan.
The deacon, a father of three, is expecting his first grandchild and now performs healing services many Fridays after benediction at St. Thecla Catholic Church in Pembroke, Massachusetts. In the services he uses a clump of Newman’s hair, a very rare first class relic.
“A lot of the results have been remarkable,” Sullivan said. “A young man in New Hampshire was literally brain dead after an automobile accident. I touched him [with the relic]; he came to life. That may be the subject of the second inquiry. There were many others.”
Sullivan, who also works as Chief Magistrate of the court in Plymouth, Massachusetts, said he has been very impressed by the thoroughness of the Vatican’s investigation.
“I’ve been in a court most of my life – I’ve seen thousands of police investigations – and I’ve never seen such an intense investigation as I’ve experienced with this,” he said.
The investigation included three panels of doctors who voted unanimously in favor of approving the healing as a miracle.
On July 3 Pope Benedict XVI signed the decree authorizing Cardinal Newman’s beatification. Once beatified, another approved miracle is necessary for him to become a saint.
Deacon Sullivan hopes to serve as a deacon at Cardinal Newman's Mass of beatification.