A Wonder Working Saint
In theological terms, a miracle is an extradordinary event, produced by God in a religious context which is beyond the powers of corporeal nature, or at least extremely unlikely from the standpoint of those powers alone. Such events are a sign of supernatural activity.
Pope Benedict XIV set the conditions for the official acceptance of a miracle in his classic work on the Beatification and Canonization Process in the mid 1700's, and essentially these conditions still stand today. They are:
Of the hundreds of miracles claimed to have been obtained through the intercession of St. John Neumann, only three have been evaluated and accepted in accordance with the rigorous Canonization standards. The following are the miracles which satisfied those required for his Canonization. They were quite celebrated in the media at the time of their occurence. They are:
I. ITALIAN GIRL, ELEVEN, IS CURED OF ACUTE PERITONITISIn May, 1923, eleven-year-old Eva Benassi of Sassuolo, Italy was stricken with acute diffused peritonitis. By the time her family's physician, Dr. Louis Barbanti, correctly diagnosed Eva's condition, she was beyond medical help.
On a Monday morning a priest gave Eva the last rites. That afternoon Dr. Barbanti told Mr. Benassi that Eva would not live through the night.
Sister Elizabeth Romoli, a teacher at the school Eva attended, decided to pray to Bishop Neumann for Eva's recovery. Sister Elizabeth credited Bishop Neumann with her father's recovery from an illness and felt that Neumann might also help Eva.
While praying to Neumann, Sister touched Eva's swollen abdomen with a picture of the Philadelphia Bishop. Her community of nuns and the Benassi family also prayed to Bishop Neumann.
That night the peritonitis disappeared.
In December 1960, in the final examination of her case, before the beatification of Bishop Neumann, Eva, forty-eight and the mother of two children, was in perfect health.
The Vatican Medical College stated that Eva's cure was instantaneous, perfect, lasting, and "naturally unexplainable".
II. NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD VILLANOVAN SAVED AFTER CAR ACCIDENTOn the evening of July 8, 1949, nineteen-year-old Kent Lenahan of Villanova, Pennsylvania was standing on the running board of a moving car. Suddenly the car swerved out of control, crushing Lenahan against a utility pole.
When he arrived at Bryn Mawr Hospital his skull was crushed, his collarbone was broken, one of his lungs was punctured by a rib, he was bleeding from ears, nose and mouth, and he was comatose. His temperature was 107°, his pulse 160.
A few hours after being admitted to the hospital, doctors treating Lenahan decided there was no hope for his recovery, and ceased medical treatment. His parents refused to believe that no one could help their son.
They went to the Bishop Neumann Shrine and prayed for his recovery. A neighbor gave them a piece of Neumann's cassock. Shortly after the Lenahans touched their son with the cloth, J. Kent Lenahan began to recover from his injuries. His temperature dropped to 100°, his pulse dropped to normal. Less than five weeks after the accident Lenahan walked unaided from the hospital.
Now a music teacher in Pennsylvania, J. Kent Lenahan has only one explanation for being alive today: "They couldn't explain what happened, so I guess it was the Man upstairs."
III. BOY'S CANCER DISAPPEARS AFTER PRAYERS TO BISHOP NEUMANNAfter months of treatment for osteomyelitis, a bone inflammation, doctors found in July, 1963 that six-year-old Michael Flanigan of West Philadelphia had Ewing's Sarcoma, a usually lethal form of bone cancer.
Doctors gave Michael six months to live.
The cancer, virtually incurable when it spreads beyond the initial diseased area, had spread from the youth's right tibia to his jaw and lungs.
"If a similar case came to me today," a doctor who recently studied Michael's case commented, "I'd have to say that any chance of survival would be less than zero."
When doctors notified Michael's parents that their son had virtually no chance of recovering from the disease, Mr. and Mrs. John Flanigan decided to take Michael to the Bishop Neumann Shrine at St. Peter's Church, Fifth Street and Girard Avenue.
After several visits to the Shrine, Michael began to make a dramatic recovery. No signs of cancer were found in his jaw and lungs by October, 1963. By Christmas, 1963, when Michael was supposed to be dead or close to death, all signs of Ewing's Sarcoma had vanished.
In December, 1975, after a final examination of Michael's medical records, the Medical Board of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared that Michael Flanigan's cure was "scientifically and medically unexplainable," and attributed it to the intercession of Bishop Neumann.
It was this miracle that paved the way towards sainthood for the Philadelphia Bishop.
*Klappenburg, Bonaventure, O.F.M., Pastoral Practice and the Paranormal, trans. David Smith (Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, Ill., 1979), p. 134-135.
A Mother's Intuition
When Marie Milano was growing up in the row homes on Gemantown Avenue between Second and Third Streets in the 1930's and 1940's, life was a lot simpler. Her parents didn't worry about Marie and her brothers when they walked the few blocks to St. Peter's School. In fact, anyone could stroll along Girard Avenue at any time of the day without the least bit of fear. Such was Philadelphia during those years.
Some Philadelphians were hoping that the "City of Brotherly Love" might be favored with another grace in the ensuing decades as well. Fr. Waible, the Redemptorist priest from the Bishop John Neumann Shrine was the promoter of John Neumann's cause for sainthood. He had already been named "Venerable". a term which officially recognizes the heroic virtue of his life. The next step which Fr. Waible was pressing for was the rank of "Blessed".
So an awareness of the life of Bishop John Neumann was part and parcel of Marie Milano's Catholic education at St. Peter's Parish School at Fifth and Girard. The Redemptorist priests made sure of that. As a young girl Marie remembers being quite open to devotion to John Neumann. In fact, on one occasion, Fr. Waible himself took notice of Marie's artistic talent and asked her to develop some sketches for possible use for a new holy card of Bishop Neumann. When she drew those sketches in her early teens, Marie had no conception of how largely John Neumann would factor in her later life.
This was Marie's childhood association with the future saint and his shrine. In fact, Marie eventually went on to marry her husband, Robert Sr., at St. Peter's as well. They had six beautiful children: Marie, Cheryl, Kenneth, Rohbert, Jr., Linda and Michelle, all of whom went on to attend St. Peter's school like their mother.
In 1963, the efforts of Fr. Waible and his co-workers on behalf of their Redemptorist brother John Neumann, paid off. Pope Paul VI declared him blessed that year. Everyone at St. Peter's Parish rejoiced.
Marie's oldest daughter was in the first grade then. She was chosen to carry some of Blessed John Neumann's artifacts in the grand procession during the Triduum of ceremonies at St. Peter's marking this great pronouncement by Pope Paul VI. The priests gave her a gold case containing a first class relic of John Neumann for her participation in the ceremonies. A pious token? Perhaps. But how priceless that relic would become to the family in future years.
Around this time their sixth child was born. She was a blond-haired, blue-eyed little darling named Michelle. At the encouragement of Sister Timothy, a teacher at St. Peter's School, Marie brought her newborn infant to the convent and consecrated her to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Michelle was the only one of her six children to receive this grace.
Within a year or two, the Milanos moved to York Street, near Memphis Street in the Port Richmond area of Philadelphia. They became members of St. Ann's Parish. They missed the activity at the Neumann shrine, but they were quite content in their new home. They had no idea when they moved that York Street would be the setting of some profoundly dramatic events which would leave a lasting imprint on their family life.
It was May 1, 1966, Kenny's birthday. Marie took her son to a toy store on Kensington Avenue to get him some birthday gifts. Little Michelle, three years old at the time, was very attached to her mother. She was made to stay at home this time, so she began to cry.
Robert Sr. could not pacify his daughter Michelle after his wife and Kenny left for their shopping trip. Beside himself with frustration he called his two older daughters Marie, twelve, and Cheryl, ten. "Marie and Cheryl, please take Michelle down to the candy store on the corner. Michelle, here is a nickel. Get whatever you want," instructed Robert. Michelle's tears halted.
Michelle tagged along with Marie and Cheryl as they gathered some of their neighborhood friends for their little pilgrimage to the candy store. Still sulking, Michelle fell a few paces behind the girls, but stayed with them. No way would she miss this treat.
At approximately 1:15 PM while Marie and Kenny were foraging through a toy store on Kensington Avenue, Marie was seized by a terrible grip of fear. It came on instantaneously and coursed through her body like high voltage electricity. She knew with certainty that something was gravely wrong at home. She told Kenny that they would come back for the remainder of his gifts the next day, but that they had to get back home immediately. They paid for their merchandise and began the walk home. Kenny could hardly keep up with his mother.
As they turned up York Street about three blocks from their house Marie was almost running. She looked up and saw a crowd of people gathered on the street in her neighborhood. Marie hoped that it was just the familiar gang of kids who often hang out at the corner near the candy store. She didn't realize it, but she was squeezing Kenny's hand tighter and tighter.
Then Marie's heart forced its way to her throat. She spotted a car up on the sidewalk near her house. Marie dropped her shopping bags, clenched Kenny's hand with a vice-grip, and broke into a full sprint.
As they raced down York Street, the streetlight poles whizzed by surrealistically. A block from the house, a girl of about twelve was clinging to one of the streetlight poles. She was hysterical. It was Betty Ann, one of Cheryl's and Marie's friends. Without breaking stride Marie yelled out to Betty Ann, "Which one of my children is it?" Call it a mother's intuition; call it what you will, Marie was sure it was one of hers.
"Michelle," answered Betty Ann, choking back sobs.
Within seconds Marie reached the car, broke through the crowd and saw her little Michelle lying on the pavement crying, still concious.
Michelle looked at her mother with tears in her eyes and struggled to call her. "Mommy," she cried. As she did so she attempted to reach her arms out to her mother, but only her right arm extended. Her left arm fell limp at her side.
The car that was on the sidewalk had veered out of control and jumped the curb. By the time it came to a stop, the front fender had crashed through a wooden fence which ran along the side of a the neighbor's home on York Street. Michelle had been caught between the fender and the fence. On impact the fence broke, and the jagged wood of the fence severed Michelle's left arm.
When Michelle's older sister went to pick her up, Michelle's severed arm started to slip through the sleeve of her light-weight jacket. When Marie saw this, she too became hysterical. Her husband had to pull her back so that she would not touch Michelle, and perhaps further damage her arm. Helplessness and extreme frustration strained everyones' emotions as they waited those few moments, which seemed like decades, for the ambulance to arrive.
Michelle was rushed to the emergency room of St. Mary's Hospital. The doctors assessed her injuries: she had susteained a fractured skull, and her left arm was compeltely severed, except for a small strip of skin. Dr. Blaker, the orthopedic surgeon on call at the time, initiated emergency surgery on Michelle's arm immediately. He attempted to re-attach and reconstruct the bones, muscles, nerves, vessels and arteries of her left arm.
When Michelle emerged from six hours of intensive surgery, her arm and shoulder were completely encased in a plaster cast, save the tips of her fingers. Dr. Blaker explained to Marie after the procedure that he expected to amputate her daughter's arm in three or four days. The bones, nerves, muscles, vessels - everything - had been irreparably damaged.
Marie spent those four days in the hospital with her daughter. Every day she blessed Michelle's arm and head with the first class relic of St. John Neumann her daughter had received three years before from the priests at St. Peter's on the occasion of John Neumann's beatification.
At the end of the four day period Dr. Blaker was surprised to discover warmth in Michelle's fingers. He now thought that the arm could be saved, but she would never have use of it. Michelle had also survived the fractured skull with no brain damage.
When Michelle came home from the hospital and the cast was removed, she had a wrist drop - her hand hung at her side from her wrist. Michelle continued to bless her daughter's arm and wrist with the relic. She offered prayers many times per day to John Neumann. Marie also employed Michelle in a little form of physical therapy that she devised herself: she would carefully close Michelle's left hand over a small rubber ball and gently and repeatedly squeeze it. The doctor said this was useless. Michelle had no hope of using her left arm again. When Michelle went to bed at night, the relic of St. John Neumann would go with her.
Every week Michelle reported to Dr. Blaker at the orthopedic clinic for observation. On their eighth visit, Marie broke the news to Dr. Blaker, "Doctor, Michelle can control her left arm and hand". Dr. Blaker stood up, left the patient he was attending at the moment and dashed over to Michelle.
"Impossible," he retorted.
He barked out several commands to Michelle to move her left arm and hand:
"Straight out! Straight up! Down! Now, straight out again!"
Michelle readily responded to each command with fluid, controlled movements of her hand and arm.
"This is miraculous! I never thought she would use that arm or hand again," confessed Dr. Blaker.
Michelle went on to graduate from Hallahan High School. She became a typist and medical secretary, although she must use an electric typewriter. She can do everything with her left arm that she can do with her right arm, although the left arm is a little weaker.
Today she is twenty-eight, married and a mother of three children, whom she carries in her left arm. She is happily living and working in Wildwood, New Jersey, with her husband and family. Of course, her children have been baptized at the Neumann Shrine.
Michelle says that ever since her recovery she has had no fear. She feels that St. John Neumann is close to her, protecting her.
Marie still lives in the same house on York Street. When she was relating the details of this story to the author, Marie was minding her two granddaughters (Michelle's daughter Amy, eight, and Cheryl's daughter, Tonya, eleven) who overheard her. They pleaded with Marie, "Grandmom, will you take us to see St. John Neumann? Please."
At the shrine the girls were fascinated and bubbled over with questions. "Grandmom, is he the one that made mommy all better?" asked Amy.
"Yes, Amy, he certainly is," said Marie.