Doing the ridiculous for God

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In Miracles: Healing for a Broken World, Father Stefan Starzynski tells us he has seen Jesus, Mary in the form of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the late Father Nelson H. Baker. The first two need no further introduction, and we will get to Father Baker a little later. He also has tangled with some nasty demons as the reader will discover in Chapter 12: "Curses, Evil Spirits and Generational Healing."

The parochial vicar at St. Mary of Sorrows Parish in Fairfax, in conjunction with Chris Grzasko, a teacher in the Stafford County school system, has written a fascinating book that details those visions, his personal faith journey and the widespread success of his healing ministry that began modestly in the Arlington Diocese. It has spread to far-flung corners of the world like Miri, Malaysia, where he was the featured speaker at a recent conference for 640 men.

Whether he's in the midst of a small group of parishioners or preaching to hundreds as he did during the Malaysian trip, Father Starzynski always makes the point that he is just God's "imperfect instrument." In the introduction to Miracles, he says:

"I pray that this book will help you believe that 'with God all things are possible' (Mt 19:26) - that He can do wonders through us when we have faith. But always keep in mind that God is the healer. I do believe that I have a charism of healing, but it is God who gave it, and all glory goes to God. In my experience, the more healing that takes place, the more obvious it becomes that it is God who is working through me."

So who is this young man for whom people will wait in line for hours just so that he can lay his hands on their heads? He was born in Bangkok on Mother's Day in 1969 to Florence and Paul Starzynski, an employee of the United States Information Service. His father describes him as just a regular kid, a product of Northern Virginia and St. Ann Church in Arlington where he was an altar boy. His father says he always used good judgment and related a favorite story from his son's high school days.

Paul gave his son some money to get the car washed and told him exactly where to go. His teenager went off with a friend in the car but did not return for quite a while. Instead of heading to the designated car wash, the teens had gone to a drive-through where the car's antenna was snapped off. So, the young Stefan first went to the bank and withdrew some money from his savings account, found an auto supply shop, and then got the new antenna installed before coming home.

There is an unmistakable hint of pride and awe in his voice when Paul Starzynski is asked for his reaction to Miracles. "To think that a boy we raised could accomplish so much through the Holy Spirit!"

Father Starzynski went on to Gannon University in Erie, Pa. The undergraduate managed to incorporate daily pious practices along with his curriculum of studies that included spending some time before the Blessed Sacrament every day. It was at Gannon that he felt moved to make a promise that he interpreted as a call from God to the priesthood. The promise? He has never missed a day saying the rosary.

The admission process to a Catholic seminary is rigorous and acceptance is never guaranteed. Like other young applicants the future priest was anxious as he worked with the sick and dying for two months during that summer in India. Unlike many other seminary candidates, though, this young volunteer had some powerful prayer warriors on his side: Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity. He will never forget the day in Calcutta that he got accepted to Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

Ordination Day for Father Starzynski was May 18, 1996, and it would take just a few hours for the mysterious to occur. He writes in Miracles that while prostrate before the late Arlington Bishop John Keating, he said a prayer to Jesus in his heart:

"Jesus, I know I am going to be a priest in the sacramental sense, but I want to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, too. I need this Holy Spirit."

He goes on to relate two special things that happened during the post-ordination reception for family and friends at his parents' house. His uncle was startled to see a white dove come out of the sky and land right above the head of the newly minted priest. This symbol of the Holy Spirit stayed there as long as Father Starzynski remained outside and left when he entered the house.

The second event marked the first of many encounters Father Starzynski would have with sick babies. As he retells the experience, a good friend whose neighbor's baby had been desperately ill from birth asked if he would leave the party to anoint the little one. Allen, nicknamed "A. J.," had never left the hospital in six months. Father relates that he quickly left the celebration, stopped at St. Ann Church in Arlington to obtain the sacred oils for anointing, and hurried to Fairfax Hospital. Three days later, he received a call from the family that Allen had been miraculously healed. His reaction? "Isn't this what we expected?"

One half of the book is devoted to testimonials from individuals and families who have obtained healing from God through the priest's hands. The inspirational accounts are all concise and can be read at random. The problem is that it's hard to stop with just one or two.

Bestseller list

According to the publisher, Our Sunday Visitor (OSV), the paperback has been wildly popular since its release at the end of March. It was second on OSV's April bestseller's list. By comparison, Pope Benedict XVI was in eighth place and Father Benedict Groeschel held the 10th slot.

Enthusiasm for Miracles: Healing for a Broken World is good news for the Paul Stefan Foundation, the recipient of the author's royalties. The organization (paulstefanhome.org) was named for Paul Stefan James, who was born and died Dec. 13, 2005. In naming their baby his parents chose to honor both Father Starzynski and Father Paul Scalia.

The non-profit, pro-life, public foundation has grown to three homes, two in Orange County and the newest in Falls Church. With the motto of "Saving babies, one Mom at a time," each Paul Stefan Home of Our Lady of Guadalupe is open to all races and creeds. Chapter 6, " A Home for Unwed Mothers," fills in all the details.

Father Nelson Baker

It's an appropriate time to get back to Servant of God Father Nelson Baker, because the author gives him a lion's share of the credit, along with Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Andrew, for the foundation's establishment.

In the chapter "A Ghost in My Room" Father Starzynski, then assigned to St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg, describes seeing a "man" with a bald head and a very thin face wearing a cassock. He didn't find him frightening at all and, in fact, he just rolled over and went back to sleep.

He wouldn't find out the identity of his vision until two years later when he was a parochial vicar of St. Patrick Church in Spotsylvania. An acquaintance who had traveled to the church of Our Lady of Victory in Lackawanna, N.Y., showed him a picture upon her return of Father Baker (1842-1936), and "I recognized him as the ghost who had appeared in my bedroom."

Intrigued, he began to research his subject and found a wealth of information on this humble priest credited with feeding and clothing thousands during the Depression in the Buffalo area. It was reported that Father Baker, currently at the initial step toward sainthood, felt his calling was to help abandoned boys and unwed mothers. Father Starzynski took this as a positive sign to proceed when, a few years later, he was prayerfully contemplating the creation of the Paul Stefan Home.

"Since I have come to know Father Baker, I have fallen in love with him," the author writes in this chapter. "Here was a man who was willing to do the ridiculous so that God could do the miraculous."

Doing the ridiculous for God, an idea first articulated by EWTN's Mother Angelica, has now become Father Starzynski's mantra. His can-do, trusting attitude is contagious and you will come to love this book and its author.

Mahoney is a freelance writer from Fredericksburg.

Meet the author

Father Starzynski will sign his book June 5 at Christ the King Catholic Books & Gift Store, 10813 Courthouse Rd., Fredericksburg, from noon to 2 p.m.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010