Sunday, July 12, 2009

Father John Horgan, Hangin' With The Saints

When Pacific Theatre first staged Aldyth Morris's DAMIEN back in the spring of 1989, Father John Horgan advised us on all things Catholic - pronunciation of Latin words, gestures that were part of the Mass, how to wear a cassock and a pray with a rosary, where to get the right incense, what a breviary was. He even gave us some vestments that were used in all three mountings of the show (1989, 1994/95, 2002), which I still have today. He also shared a tremendous love for Father Damien: in fact, Father John was traveling back and forth to Rome, actively working on the case for Damien's beatification. I remember meeting with John after Saturday confessions in the rectory near Queen Elizabeth Park, and five years later when we remounted the show we spent time together in his study at St. Paul's, where he was working with AIDS patients.

In some ways, Father John seemed the antithesis of the saint he loved: soft-spoken, gentle-mannered, intellectual and meticulous where Damien was every bit the Belgian peasant, rough-hewn, coarse, outspoken and forceful. I found the contrast fascinating.

Without necessarily being spiritual about it, Father John blessed our little play. And clearly his advocacy for Father Damien didn't do any harm: a year ago (right when the events below were unfolding, curiously enough), the Vatican announced that a second miracle had been attributed to Father Damien, and he would officially be pronounced a saint - which will occur on October 11 this year.

Now Father John has been witness to something quite remarkable, and may even have played a role in another canonization...

Healed by monk's divine intervention?
After a man close to dying recovers miraculously, church begins to investigate role of a priest

by Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun, July 11 2009

Rev. John Horgan knew a dying man when he saw one. Years of working as a chaplain in Vancouver General and St. Paul's hospitals had seen to that.

So when he saw Peter Andersen in Vancouver General's intensive care unit on the afternoon of July 3, 2008, he didn't need anyone to tell him that Andersen's situation was grave. His blood stream was teeming with the bacteria from two flesh-eating diseases: myositis, which attacks the muscles, and necrotizing fasciitis, which invades the flesh beneath the skin. Andersen, on life support, was bloated beyond recognition from septic shock. Whole muscle groups of dead tissue had been stripped away by surgeons from his right leg. His blood pressure was so low it was in the range that indicates imminent death, and his kidneys and other organs had failed. He appeared to be within hours of dying.

But what happened next is going to lead to a formal investigation by the Catholic Church to determine if the spiritual intervention of an Irish monk who died in 1923 was responsible for a medical miracle. Because Andersen didn't die. He made a recovery that at first sight seems to defy medicine and logic. The canonical investigation of Andersen's healing will be the first such inquiry ever held in the history of the Vancouver archdiocese -- founded in 1863 -- and could lead to the canonization of the monk as a saint. "In fact it will be the first time such an inquiry has been held in Western Canada," said Horgan, pastor of St. Peter and Paul's parish in Vancouver. "It's extremely rare for this to happen," he said.

On June 30 last year, Andersen suddenly developed a high fever and complained of a pain in his leg. The next day he asked his wife, Charlene, to call an ambulance when the pain became unbearable. "I remember them putting me in the ambulance, but after that I lost consciousness for two weeks," Andersen said. Except for a brief moment when he remembered receiving communion from Horgan, the rest is just an awful darkness, he said.

For Charlene, it was the beginning of a nightmare. The couple, without children of their own, had a few months earlier adopted two children from the Ukraine. Until he developed what appeared to be the flu, Peter was a healthy, strapping individual with no health problems, she said.

A day after being admitted to Peace Arch Hospital he was rushed to VGH on life support after multiple organ failure with his body full of flesh-eating-disease bacteria. The overall diagnosis was that he was suffering from streptococcal myonecrosis, and on the charts his doctors had described the extent of the disease as "advanced ... severe ... extensive," she said. "The surgeons removed bagfuls of dead tissue and muscle and he'd had two skin grafts. Then he contracted severe septic shock syndrome, which caused his body to bloat like a balloon. I asked them, 'Can you save him?' and one surgeon said, 'We are trying, but no, he's not going to make it.' I pleaded with them to take his leg off but they said it was too late for that."

Charlene sent for Horgan, the couple's parish priest, who some years before had introduced them to books written by the Irish-French monk Columba Marmion. Marmion had been given the title "blessed" by Pope John Paul II based on a miraculous cure attributed to prayers for his intercession, and the couple had began a devotion to Marmion in 2005 by circulating copies of his writings and encouraging Catholic friends to read his books.

Horgan arrived carrying with him a relic of Marmion -- a fragment of his monk's habit. The nurse who met him said there was no hope, but she was glad to see him because he could comfort Charlene. The priest was gowned and masked and led into intensive care unit.While praying that God would spare his friend's life for the sake of his wife and their two adopted children, he took the relic and placed it on Andersen's head, heart and on the dressing covering his diseased leg. "I asked Blessed Marmion to intercede with the Lord and bring healing," said Horgan. At mass the next day he asked the congregation to pray for a miracle for Andersen, "as this was his only hope."

Charlene didn't believe her husband would survive: "I was beside myself looking at him. We were new parents, the kids had only arrived in April, and I didn't know what I would do. I knew he was going to die and I didn't believe a miracle was going to happen, my faith wasn't strong enough. The charge nurse told me he was at the point of death."

But Peter didn't die that Thursday, or the Friday. On Saturday, July 5, five days after he fell ill, a male nurse rushed up to Charlene. "He was really excited. He said, 'The blood culture's come back and it's negative. I'm taking him off life support.' He pulled the tube out of his mouth and Peter said to me, 'Can you give me a hug?'" One of his surgeons told Charlene her husband's recovery was a miracle, another said he was very lucky. He would be in hospital for the next four months. Doctors told her he would never walk again or drive a car, and a psychiatrist told her he would likely be brain-damaged.

None of which happened. Although he needs a cane, Peter is walking and driving a car, and has lost none of his mental faculties. He has returned to work as the pastoral care director of Columbus Residence, a care facility for the elderly in south Vancouver.

News of his inexplicable recovery eventually spread to Marmion's former abbey in Belgium and to an Irish priest, Rev. Mark Tierney of County Limerick, who is promoting Marmion's cause for sainthood.

So who was Blessed Marmion? He was born in Dublin in 1858 and was a diocesan priest until he entered Maredsous Abbey in Belgium, where he became abbot in 1909. He wrote a number of books, including Christ, the Life of the Soul, that are considered spiritual classics. A Benedictine abbey in Illinois is named after him.

Both the Maredsous Abbey and Tierney have asked the archdiocese to launch a formal investigation into the healing and Tierney has already travelled to Vancouver and met the Andersens. Horgan, an expert on the church's process for canonization, said the inquiry will gather all the medical documentation and seek to interview physicians involved in the treatment. It will take statements from himself and the Andersens. "It's a rigorous process and the word miracle isn't used. What will be investigated is whether the healing was of such an extraordinary nature as to be medically inexplicable, in other words, something that science can't account for," Horgan said. If the local investigation is satisfied the case was medically inexplicable, then all the material will be sent to Rome to the Vatican's Congregation For the Causes of Saints, the department that investigates candidates for sainthood. The dossier will be given to a medical consultation team of nine physicians to review, and if they determine the healing to be inexplicable it then passes to a committee of theologians to see if a connection can be draw between the medical outcome and Marmion, said Horgan. "If they believe that is the case, it then becomes reviewed by a committee of bishops and if it passes them it is bumped up to the Pope. He's the only one who can say it's a miracle," Horgan said.

If Andersen's recovery is declared a miracle through the intercession of Marmion, then the monk will be canonized as a saint. For the Andersens, that would be the icing on the cake. "We're hoping, too, that he is declared a doctor of the church," said Charlene. If he is, then this little-known Irish monk will join an elite club of saints, mystics and writers that now numbers only 33 and contains such luminaries as Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and Teresa of Avila.

No comments: