How would you react if you saw a dead man suddenly come back to life?
I was the pastor of St. Raymond Nonnatus Church in Downey, Calif., a city in southeast Los Angeles County for 18 years. But at the time this happened I was stationed at St. Raphael Parish in Goleta (just west of Santa Barbara) CA.
I had just arrived at a home in the hills to have a Mass with a group of young adults then enjoy a barbeque following. But I got a call from the hospital. Paramedics had brought in an older gentleman who had suffered a heart attack.
I rushed back down the hill to Goleta Valley Community Hospital. I remember walking into the Emergency Room. I knew the nurse in charge there, and she knew me. I was teaching her son at the local Catholic High School. She and her husband and their family were members of his parish, and she would call him whenever emergencies arrived at the hospital.
I can remember this as if it happened just recently.
I parked, and ran to the E.R. opened the door to see two firefighters standing at the end of a little room, the curtains were pulled, but I knew where to go. The receptionist was used to me just coming in, and so I walked quickly into the room and saw what was going on. “Ann said, ‘Oh, Father John, you’re too late.’ They were starting to remove the wires from the heart rate monitor. I approached the edge of the bed and looked at the man. I saw something and said: ‘Oh, he has a brown scapular, an old scapular, on.’ I touched it.
“And all of a sudden there was this beep…beep. Ann said, ‘Father! What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Nothing!’ — The man was breathing.
Right away Anne and another nurse called for help and started to reconnect the wires. Taken completely by surprise, the paramedics’ jaws dropped at what had just happened. I was shocked too. One of the Paramedics grabbed my arm gently and said “Did I just see what I thought I saw?” I said: “I don’t know. I’m not sure either!”
I remember that next the older gentleman opened his eyes, looked at me and said in an Irish accent, “Father, I’m glad you’re here. I was waiting for you. I want to go to Confession.”
I was absolutely in shock that this happened! But his Confession had to wait because “they wheeled him out of there and I gave him a blessing as he went — I had no time for anything else — because they were charging down the hall with him.” toward the operating room. The doctor in the ER hurried out of his office. I remember that he was annoyed because he had already been making out the death certificate. He followed the team on the way to the O.R.
A paramedic got me a chair. I just sat there for a few seconds. I was amazed. To this day I insist all that all I did was touch the man’s scapular.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. The Irish gentleman did come to the Church for confession a few weeks later. At that time the gentleman related the story of how the doctor could not figure out what had happened. And for another great witness, the Irish gentleman said that while he was still in the hospital those paramedic witnesses came to visit him.
“The paramedics showed me the notes they wrote,” and below on their form they had already recorded the time and place of his death, they added in big black letters — “BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE BY GOD.”
On that visit the Irish gentleman had two more things to tell me. One was that he had been put on a waiting list for a new heart. And the other was that he was feeling much better each day.
Then he found me a few months later and said he was taken off the list because his heart was healed. Doctors found nothing wrong with it.
Truly, that was a joy. It nearly knocked me over…I had no idea what happened at first as I had not planned for anything like that to happen. God worked through my hands…It just happened according to God’s will.
Today, the hospital has changed its name to Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, and if the record of that paramedics’ note still exists in the file, the hospital tells me they would need the Irish gentleman’s permission to share it. But time has not kept up with the whereabouts of him or those paramedics.
As for me, I went on and had a lot more experiences, some of which were other kinds of gentle miracles as well. I was pastor of St. Raymond Church in Downey for 18 years and am recently retired from administration and have gone back to just doing ministry. he sees miracles of a different sort in his role as the local fire department chaplain and parish Priest. But nothing miraculous like that. I love being a fire chaplain and doing other kinds of ministry. I keep a tiny sick kit with me and I look for any sign at any emergency of people being Catholic. He asks them. Both on calls with the firefighters and at the firehouse he finds everyday miracles of brotherhood, love and friendship.
But other miracles have happened since then. They aren’t as spectacular, but they are just as effective in that they are events of God’s love in people’s lives.
A few of them are:
The Miracle of Easter 1974
The Miracle of “St.” Dorothy of Downey.
The Miracle of the Crucifix at St. John’s Seminary
The Miracle of Bill W., Dr. Bob and Peter
The Miracle of the Hitching Post in Solvang, CA