Irondale, AL (EWTN) – John “Jack” Sullivan awoke the morning of June 6, 2000 in excruciating pain.
“It seemed like the back of my legs and my back were on fire,” he said, and with good reason.
A CT scan revealed all or most of the vertebrae and discs in his back had turned inward and were squeezing his spinal cord. A neurosurgeon told him he needed surgery as soon as possible to prevent paralysis, which could occur at any moment.
Sullivan was in the second year of a four-year diaconate program, which he desperately wanted to finish. However, he knew that the surgery and recovery period, not to mention the pain, meant the end of that dream.
Despondent, Sullivan turned on EWTN and happened to catch a program hosted by Father C. John McCloskey III, STD, a devotee of Cardinal John Henry Newman.
“I wanted to help viewers to appreciate the greatness of this seminal figure of English-speaking Catholicism by examining facets both of his life and his work in 13 episodes,” said Father McCloskey. “I wanted to inspire devotion to Newman…by encouraging the viewers to pray to him and also by playing a prayer card on the screen at the end of each episode.”
Sullivan caught the episode with Fr. Ian Ker, another Newman expert.
“They were discussing not only Newman’s teachings, but the process of beatification. At the end of the program, they had on screen an address of the Oratory in Birmingham [England] and they said, ‘if you receive any Divine favors, please contact that Oratory.’ I happened to have a piece of paper and a pen on the table in front of me and I wrote it down. Then, I thought, ‘If I wrote it down, I might as well pray to Newman.”
So what complicated set of prayers did Sullivan say to obtain a miracle?
“I prayed, ‘Please Cardinal Newman, help me with God so that I might walk and go back to classes and be ordained.’”
Sullivan said he didn’t pray for a miracle – he thought that was too much – just cessation from the pain so he could finish his classes. The next morning, the pain was gone, but this was not to last.
“The pain came back with a fury [one year later], right after my last class,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan had surgery in the spring of 2001, and that is when his surgeon discovered that, in addition to everything else, the protective membrane surrounding his spine had been torn in at least two places. Despite many attempts, Sullivan could not walk and agonizing pain was his constant companion.
“I had the prospect of not being able to return to classes for my final year – it was the same situation as the year before,” Sullivan said.
So, on Aug. 15, 2001, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, only four days after his surgery, Sullivan breathed the same prayer he had prayed the first time he experienced relief. What happened next astounded everyone involved.
“I felt tremendous heat and a tingling feeling all over that lasted for five or 10 minutes,” Sullivan said. “After I experienced this, I immediately stood up straight. I was able to walk, not with a walker or cane, but on my own, without any difficulty or pain. I walked all over the hospital, just joyful. I never needed any pain medication after that.”
Sullivan, 70, now walks a mile-and-a-half every day and performs “rigorous” outdoor work in his flower and vegetable gardens, which includes lifting boulders and building stone walls. “I’ve been told I have the back of a fellow 30 years old!” he said.
The “miracle man,” as he is now being called in the secular press, said he asked his doctor, renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Robert J. Banco of Boston, if his experience was normal.
“He said, ‘Jack, I have no medical scientific explanation for you as to why the pain stopped throughout your third year and why the pain stopped after very intensive surgery after four days. If you want an answer, ask God!’”
“Deacon Jack” was ordained on Sept. 14, 2001, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Later that day, Father Paul Chavasse, postulator for Newman’s cause, called to let him know he was going to Rome to initiate Newman’s cause for beatification on his behalf. (To watch an interview with the postulator of Newman’s Cause, go to http://tr.im/rLR6.)
“I prayed that I could be ordained through Newman and, lo and behold, I get word the day of my ordination that the cause is formally beginning!”
This father of three, who is expecting his first grandchild, now performs healing services many Fridays after benediction at St Thecla Catholic Church in Pembroke, Mass., using a very rare first class relic -- a clump of Newman’s hair.
“A lot of the results have been remarkable,” Sullivan said. “A young man in New Hampshire was literally brain dead after an automobile accident. I touched him; he came to life. That may be the subject of the second inquiry. There were many others.”
Sullivan, who works as Chief Magistrate of the court in Plymouth, Mass., has been very impressed over the past eight years with the thoroughness of the Vatican’s investigation, which included three panels of doctors, who voted unanimously in favor of his miracle healing.
“I’ve been in a court most of my life – I’ve seen thousands of police investigations – and I’ve never seen such an intense investigation as I’ve experienced with this.”
The Holy Father signed the decree July 3 authorizing Newman’s beatification.
Recently, Sullivan asked Father Chavasse if he was looking for a deacon to help celebrate the mass of beatification.
“Why,” said the Postulator archly, “do you have somebody in mind?”
Says Deacon Sullivan: “Hopefully, I might be one of the deacons. That would be really something.”
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