Miracle Man is ‘Made in America’October 15, 2010 - 10:41 AM | by: Lauren Green
Seventy-one-year-old Jack Sullivan is living proof to many Catholics — and to the Vatican — that miracles happen.
“If it can happen to me,” the retired lawyer says, it can happen to anybody.”
It is Sullivan’s miraculous healing from major back surgery in 2001 on which the Vatican has based its beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, a 19th century English cleric.
At his home in Marshfield, Mass., a picturesque suburb of Boston, Sullivan is still relishing his recent time in the spotlight as Pope Benedict XVI’s miracle man. He and his family recently returned from Great Britain, where he was the center of attention during the papal Mass celebrating Newman’s veneration during the pope’s historic pilgrimage to the United Kingdom.
But Sullivan’s ordeal began on June 6, 2000, when he says he awoke with “tremendous and agonizing pain in the back of my legs and back…. I could hardly walk.”
A CAT scan revealed that his lower lumbar vertebrae were turning inward, squeezing the spinal canal, causing severe stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal cavity. His doctor advised surgery…. and told him to forget about becoming a Roman Catholic deacon, because he wouldn’t be able to attend the classes.
Feeling depressed, Sullivan says he turned on the television and happened to catch a conversation two priests were having about Cardinal Newman. They asked viewers to contact them if they had received “divine favors” from the departed priest.
Sullivan immediately prayed to the cardinal to intercede, to ask God to take away his pain.
The next morning, he says, the pain was gone.
“I had strength in my legs, in my back. I could walk normally,” he recalls.
His doctor could find no reason for the symptoms disappearing, but he recommended that surgery should be postponed.
Sullivan completed his next year at seminary. But one day after classes ended, the pain returned with a vengeance, and his doctor advised him to have surgery as quickly as possible.
He underwent surgery on Aug. 9, 2001, and it was more difficult than anticipated. “The lining housing the spinal fluids was badly torn,” Sullivan recalls, and recovery could have taken months.
Faced with the prospect of not being able to finish seminary and fulfill his dream of becoming a deacon, Sullivan prayed to Cardinal Newman again. Still in pain, at the side of his hospital bed, hunched over and clutching the bedpost, and barely able to stand, Sullivan once again asked the Cardinal to to take away his pain and help him walk.
What happened next was Sullivan’s miracle.
“Immediately … I felt a tremendous heat as if I was standing in front of a blast furnace, a steelmaking furnace,” he says. “It was extremely intense. And a strong tingling feeling throughout my body. And both of these lasted for a long time.
“I felt a tremendous sense of peace and love. This was something overwhelming.”
And that wasn’t all. “When this feeling started to subside,” he says, “I noticed I was standing up straight, and I yelled to the nurse that was standing next to me, ‘I have no more pain!’ Just bang! It’s all gone.”
His doctor, Robert Banco, who declined Fox News’ requests for an interview, was quoted in a BBC article saying he testified in the Vatican’s inquiry, saying Sullivan’s recovery was “unbelievable, 100 percent totally remarkable … I have never seen a healing process occur so quickly and completely.”
But another noted physician Dr. Frank Cammisa, chief of spine surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, said “Many patients do say when they have a very positive result that it was a miracle.”
“I don’t know the Vatican’s definition of (a miracle),” says Cammisa, who has not examined Sullivan or viewed his medical records, “but obviously this person had a very good result, from a very difficult problem, and he may have been very rapid in his recovery, and so he’s very fortunate, that’s for sure.”
The Vatican’s investigations of miracles are shrouded in secrecy. Once the interviews and medical evidence are gathered in the local diocese or archdiocese where the possible miracle has occurred, they are packaged up, sealed, and hand-delivered to Rome.
Everyone takes an oath of secrecy while the investigation is ongoing, and Father Roger Landry from the Falls River Diocese, near Boston, says the main reason for the almost clandestine operation is to protect the witnesses. “The Vatican wants the truth,” he says, “but wants to protect the doctors’ reputations.”
There are three criteria for determining whether a miracle has occurred. The change must be immediate or sudden; the heading must be complete and permanent; and there must be no medical explanation of how it could have happened.
Landry says 99 percent of the putative miracles never get passed the local level. After that, 50 percent are rejected by the Consulta Medica, a group of about 60 doctors, primarily in Italy, who form the advisory council to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. And roughly half of those cases make it past the Consulta.
If the healing is considered medically unexplainable, then the case is passed on to a theological board that decides if the unexplained, “miraculous healing” can be attributed to the particular candidate, in this case Cardinal Newman.
The first declared miracle brings beatification; it takes two verifiable miracles for a person to be declared a saint. Some reviews move quickly, as in the case of Mother Teresa, who was beatified just five years after her death. Other cases wait centuries, like Nuno Álvares Pereira de Santa Maria, a 15th century mystic who was beatified in 1918 by Pope Benedict XV and was canonized just last year by Benedict XVI.
The Vatican has determined that Sullivan’s healing was a miracle attributed to Cardinal Newman. The court of public opinion on such things is always in session, and skeptics abound – but not for Jack Sullivan.
For Sullivan, a lawyer by training, the lesson is clear: “We all have trials and sorrows that are part of life. But can we persevere with faith? Can we smile? Do we have the backbone, no pun intended, to go forward?”
The happy ending to Sullivan’s story is that he was ordained a Catholic deacon on Sept. 14, 2002. That same day, he received an email from the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, that the beatification process of Cardinal Newman would go forward. They would take the case to Rome.
The rest is history. On Sept. 19, 2010, during an open air Mass in Crofton Park of Rednal in Birmingham, England, Pope Benedict XVI, with Sullivan in attendance, declared Cardinal John Henry Newman to be blessed.
It was all due to a miracle that was made in America, and forged in faith.