St. Paul Society dinner-goers in Worcester, Mass. got a bit closer to Blessed John Henry Newman last month.
Not only were the 90 people blessed by the diocese's Bishop Robert J. McManus using a relic of Cardinal Newman, but they were blessed by the presence of Deacon Jack Sullivan whose healing led to Cardinal Newman’s beatification this past September.
Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan, chancellor and director of the Office of Stewardship and Development, introduced Deacon Sullivan, recalling that the last time they were together was in England at Cardinal Newman’s beatification Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.
Deacon Sullivan, of Marshfield, Mass. shared his knowledge of Cardinal Newman with those present and told the story of his own miraculous healing through the intercession of Cardinal Newman.
A little more than 10 years ago, on June 6, 2000, Jack Sullivan awoke with tremendous pain in his back and legs. He said his legs seemed to be on fire and he could hardly walk. His doctor told him his vertebrae and discs had turned inward and “were literally squeezing the life out of his spinal cord.” He had suffered no accident, no trauma and he would never know what caused the condition. It appeared that his lower body would soon cease to function and that he would be paralyzed.
In late July a spinal surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told him: “Jack, your spine has been reduced to almost the circumference of a piece of string.” A normal spine is about the size of a quarter.
They scheduled surgery for Sept. 12.
“I had just finished my second year of diaconate studies in a four-year formation program. ... I loved the program and had my heart set on being ordained,” he said. He was supporting his family working in the court system and had two children in college and one in high school. He was devastated and discouraged.
He went home and turned on the television to take his mind off things. He tuned in to EWTN and an expert on Cardinal Newman, Father Ian Ker, was talking about the difficulties and trials Cardinal Newman had faced in his life, especially in terms of his vocation. Cardinal Newman was one of the preeminent Anglican priests in the mid-1800s who, at the height of his ministry, converted to Catholicism. “For this he was severely condemned. Even his friends abandoned him. …He became one of the most celebrated theologians of the Church,” Deacon Sullivan said.
At the end of the TV program an address flashed on the screen asking anyone who had received any divine favors through Newman’s intercession to contact postulators of his cause for sainthood.
“So, naturally, I prayed to him,” Mr. Sullivan said. He prayed a simple prayer: “Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk so that I can return to classes and be ordained.” Then he went to bed.
“The following morning I woke up for the first time in months without any pain,” he said. He had been walking in a jackknife position for weeks and that morning he could stand up straight, had strength in his legs and in his back.
“I attribute this to Cardinal Newman,” he said.
He was able to return to diaconate classes with a warning from his doctor that his improved condition was not likely to last long.
Nine months later he said he found out that Cardinal Newman gives you just what you ask for. The day after the last class, “the pain returned in all its fury,” he said.
Surgery was scheduled for Aug. 9, 2001 with the chief of spinal surgery at New England Baptist Hospital, Dr. Robert Banco, the best in the United States, he said.
“I prayed to Newman daily,” he said.
His doctor told him recovery would be months, possibly years, because the dura mater in his spine was not only compressed but torn up.
It was three weeks before the fourth-year diaconate classes were to begin. “I’ve got to try to walk,” Mr. Sullivan told his nurses.
“It took me 10 minutes to get myself to the edge of the bed. … the pain was constant,” he said. “I couldn’t get up. I was in agony. … I was brought to prayer. The same simple prayer. ‘Please Cardinal Newman help me to walk so that I can return to classes and be ordained.’
“Then something unbelievable happened. You talk about the communion of saints ... that experience I had approached that concept.
“Suddenly, I felt tremendous heat ... and a tingling feeling all over my body. I also felt a tremendous sense of peace and joy. … I was totally consumed, totally engulfed in what I have believed and will always believe was God’s presence. I had no willpower of my own. I was just totally captivated.
“I realized I was standing up, standing with no pain … I could walk normally,” he said.
The nurse offered him a walker, then a cane; but he needed neither. He walked up and down the corridors of the hospital with the nurse telling him to slow down. “How could I slow down?” he asked with a chuckle.
He was discharged that day, went on to diaconate classes, and was ordained a year later, on Sept. 14, 2002, the feast of the triumph of the cross.
On the same day as his ordination he was notified by email that the fathers at the Birmingham Oratory had voted to formally initiate the beatification process for John Henry Newman and they would take his case to Rome.
Deacon Sullivan said he took that as a sign.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Free Press, newspaper for the Diocese of Worcester, Mass.