(Before starting I should explain that Marty is my second wife; my first wife, Loretta, died of melanoma 14 years ago. Marty and I have been married for nine years. She has Alzheimer’s Disease. I mention this only because they are both mentioned here).
Loretta and I were living in northern New Jersey and had two sons, one was six and the other two. We were hoping to have a girl but my wife had been told that she would never have any more children. So be it. We had been blessed with two healthy sons.
My mother-in-law had been visiting St. Benedict’s Abbey in Massachusetts. On the way home she was going to stop at our house and stay a few days. When she arrived she said, “Wait until you see what I have.”
She reaches into her huge purse and pulls out a beautiful, gold container. “What is it?” I ask.
“Look inside the glass. It is a first class relic of St. Dymphna. She is the patron saint of mental and emotional disorders. I asked the priest at St. Benedict if I could borrow this for Marion and Kelly. I’m going to bring it to the hospital and touch it to both of them and ask St. Dymphna for her help.”
Kelly was 16 and Marion was 14. Both suffered from Anorexia Nervosa. Kelly was down to about 45 pounds and Marion, two years younger, was hovering around 65 pounds. My mother-in-law wanted desperately to help these girls who were slowly killing themselves.
My brother-in-law, Howard, came by later that afternoon and he took his mom to visit the two girls. She held the relic next to each girl’s chest and prayed to St. Dymphna to intercede for each of them to help them get well. Time would tell how God would respond.
Doctors thought that Kelly would not survive but, miraculously, both girls did recover. But the real surprise for me came about six weeks later. Loretta and I had the baby-sitter come over and we headed to the local Italian restaurant. As we ate our lasagna she says to me, “Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant.”
Holding a fork with lasagna stuck to it in front of my mouth, I stared at her. A moment or two passed and, as tears ran down her face, she said, “I used the relic.”
Unknown to me, she had taken the St. Dymphna relic and holding it to her womb, prayed to the teenage saint. She asked her if she could help her with pregnancy issues. Seven and a half months later our daughter was born. We named her Mary Dymphna.
The next day, I was visiting Loretta and, as she lay in her bed holding Mary Dymphna, an elderly lady poked her head into the room. She was delivering newspapers and nervously said, “I never speak to patients but for some reason I had to talk to you. Could you please tell me your baby’s name?”
We both looked at each other and Loretta said, “Sure, its Mary Dymphna.”
So help me, this old lady started crying and said, “I knew it, I knew it. St. Dymphna saved my life a longtime ago. I knew this baby had something to do with her.”
The lady came over, touched Mary’s face and just looked at her. She was seeing something we could not. It was an inexplicable spiritual moment that was born of faith. So, who was St. Dymphna, the teenage saint from 7th century Ireland who personally stepped into our lives so many years ago?
Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan king by the name of Damon. Her mom was Christian. When Dymphna was fourteen, she took a vow of chastity and dedicated her life to Jesus. Shortly after that her mom passed away and her father became very distraught. Damon, under pressure to remarry, insisted that any new wife would have to resemble his first wife. His aides searched far and wide but could find no one who resembled the dead queen, no one except the king’s own daughter, Dymphna.
Damon, losing all sensibilities, demanded that Dymphna marry him. The girl, along with her confessor, Father Gerebernus, fled Ireland and landed in Belgium. After a while King Damon tracked them down. He had Father Gerebernus killed and demanded that Dymphna return with him to Ireland. She refused. Her own father drew his sword and cut off her head. She was 15 years old.
When the remains of St. Dymphna were found, miracles began happening immediately. People with varied cases of mental illness were cured, A church was built in Gheel, Belgium in honor of the teenage saint. To this very day people in Gheel will always accept the mentally ill into their home without question. Sociologists still study the success of this phenomena.
The connection for me, my family and the teenage saint is a beautiful thing. I have just discovered that St. Dymphna is the patroness of Alzheimer’s patients. My wife, Marty, is an Alzheimer’s patient. The teenage saint is known as the “Lily of Eire”, because of her virtue. My mom’s name was Lily.
And finally, The US National Shrine of St. Dymphna is located at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Massilon, Ohio. My daughter, Mary Dymphna was baptized at St. Mary’s Church in Dumont, N.J. And my wife Marty, comes from Ohio. How can you not love being Catholic?
*An edited version of this appeared in Aleteia magazine on July 8, 2016
©Larry Peterson July, 2016 All Rights Reserved