In November 2018, Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan opened the cause of canonization for Servant of God Irving C. Houle, who passed away Jan. 3, 2009 at the age of 83.
Houle believed he first saw Jesus when he was a young child, but didn’t recognize him at the time. He suffered near-fatal injuries in a fall from a horse, and his doctor said he was too weak for surgery.
A nun in the family encouraged prayers for him, and the next morning new X-rays showed no evidence of severe injuries. Young Irving told his mother a man in white robes and upraised hand had been standing by his crib in the night, and a bishop told his parents this figure must have been Jesus, the National Catholic Register’s Joseph Pronechen said in a blog post.
Houle graduated from high school in 1944. He served in the U.S. Army for two years in Europe and the Middle East, then worked at a shoe store and a Montgomery Ward department store before becoming a cleaning supplies salesman. He then served as a plant manager for a machinery manufacturer.
He and his family were parishioners at St. Joseph and St. Patrick Church in Escabana, a city of over 12,000 on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In addition to his five children, he had seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“He was a joker,” his wife Gail said. “He was a little tease; he was a lot of fun. The kids miss him terribly.”
Irving Houle said he received his mission in visions from Jesus and Mary: to suffer the Passion every night to save sinners and to bring people back to confession and to the Eucharist.
He began a healing ministry, often in churches after Mass. He would pray and place his hands on people’s heads. His travels took him across Michigan, to South Dakota and, one time, to Fatima. He never took payment for the healings.
Though the healings were often spiritual, rather than physical in nature, some people reported immediate physical cures as well.
He prayed over one wheelchair-bound woman, a cancer patient given only four months to live. Five months later she came to him, walking, reporting that she was free of cancer. An eight-year-old boy suffering leukemia also reported healing after his prayers.
Witnesses, including his wife Gail, said Houle first received the stigmata in 1993, at the age of 67.
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“I didn’t notice any real changes in him before it happened,” she said.
On Holy Thursday of that year, he felt sick and went home to lay on the couch after Adoration at the parish church.
“That night, he said his hands hurt,” Gail said. “I looked but there was nothing. I asked him if his arms hurt too, but he said no. Later, he said his head hurt.”
On Good Friday, he stayed home, an unusual action for the devout churchgoer. This continued through Easter.
“After Easter, he had red spots the size of dimes on his hands. He said they hurt, but didn’t want to discuss it.”
Deacon Terry Saunders told the U.P. Catholic he saw Houle immediately after Easter, when Houle brought him Holy Communion.