Answered prayers lead to beatification

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LONDON - An American deacon has recounted how he was suddenly and inexplicably cured from a severe spinal condition after he prayed for healing to Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Deacon Jack Sullivan, 71, of Marshfield, Mass., told a Nov. 9 press conference in London that he was transformed after praying to Cardinal Newman, a 19th-century theologian and former Anglican who died in 1890.

In July Pope Benedict XVI announced the beatification of Cardinal Newman after the Congregation for Saints' Causes decided Deacon Sullivan's healing was a miracle due to his intercession. The beatification ceremony is set for May 2 at the Birmingham Oratory, which he founded after he became a Catholic in 1845.

Deacon Sullivan said doctors told him he was on the "brink of complete paralysis" because several of his lumbar vertebrae were crushing his spinal cord.

Even after surgery in August 2001 in Boston the protective lining around Deacon Sullivan's spinal cord was badly torn, leaving him in "incredible pain," he said.

He said surgeons told him it would take up to a year before he could be able to begin to walk again.

Deacon Sullivan said he was upset by the prognosis because he had trained for three years to be a deacon for the Boston Archdiocese and wanted to be ordained with his class the following year. He said he prayed: "Please, Cardinal Newman, help me to walk, so that I can return to my classes and be ordained."

The deacon explained how "suddenly I felt hot all over, very tense and a tingling over my body that lasted a long time."

"I also felt a sense of joy and peace that I had never experienced before in my life and a sense of God's presence and I had no willpower of my own," he said. "I was just standing there and all these things were happening to me. I had no control and then I developed a sense of confidence and determination that finally I could walk."

He recalled how he shouted to a nurse that his pain had disappeared even through he had been in agony moments earlier.

"The pain had left me and I was left with a feeling of entire joy and confidence that something special was happening to me," he said.

Deacon Sullivan said he was not only able to walk unaided but was moving so quickly that the nurses had to tell him to "slow down."

Doctors studying his case in the following months determined that Sullivan had regained the lifting capability of a 30-year-old man. They were baffled by the his recovery and after an array of tests in October 2001 admitted they had no explanation for it.

At that point Sullivan decided to write to Father Paul Chavasse, postulator for Cardinal Newman's sainthood cause, at the Birmingham Oratory.

On Sept.14, 2002, the day of his ordination as deacon, he received notification that his case had been selected by the fathers of the oratory as the possible miracle needed to beatify Newman.

"To my mind that was a sign that this process happened in a wondrous way," Deacon Sullivan told the London press conference.

He spoke to journalists at the start of a visit to England at the invitation of Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. The deacon afterward preached a homily at a Mass in London's Westminster Cathedral.

During his visit Deacon Sullivan will tour the oratory and be shown other sites associated with Cardinal Newman's life.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009