On Wednesday, the Massachusetts deacon whose miraculous cure from a serious spinal injury allowed for the upcoming beatification of Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman provided more details about his healing to Vatican Radio. The medical miracle has been ridiculed by some opponents of the beatification, including a traditionalist Catholic group which has frequently criticized Pope Benedict XVI.
Deacon Jack Sullivan, who will appear on EWTN's “The World Over” tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, described an ordeal which, according to doctors, could easily have left him crippled, and should have involved an extended and agonizing recovery period. The doctors who treated him said at the time, and confirmed in the course of the Vatican's investigation, that there was no medical explanation for what he experienced during 2000 and 2001.
The future deacon's knowledge about Cardinal Newman was, he said, quite limited in the summer of June 2000. It was then that he first awoke with excruciating, crippling pain. Sullivan was in the second year of courses for the permanent diaconate, when he learned through a CT scan that most of his vertebrae had become twisted, along with the discs in his back.
While he was enduring this condition, Deacon Sullivan watched a television program about Newman on EWTN finished with the address of the religious community Newman joined after his conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism. Viewers were advised to contact the Birmingham Oratory if they received favors from God through Newman's intercession.
Sullivan explained to Vatican Radio that his prayer, that night, was simply to be able to walk and return to his classes to become a deacon. To his surprise, the pain was gone the next day, and for the next nine months of his courses. Afterward, however, it returned with a vengeance, and he was notified that he would need surgery to prevent paralysis.
In the course of the operation on his back, surgeons discovered even more injuries than before. Sullivan was completely unable to walk, and again in agonizing pain. The diaconate, again, seemed out of reach. After four days, he prayed to Cardinal Newman.
In the Vatican Radio interview, Sullivan described in detail how he experienced both a supernatural healing –accompanied by heat and a tingling feeling which lasted about 10 minutes-- and also a kind of ecstatic trance, accompanied by a feeling of unexplainable peace, joy, and an awareness of the presence of God. He “came to,” standing up, announcing to the hospital staff that his pain was gone.
It has been gone ever since, for reasons his doctors say they cannot explain. Ironically, the “devil's advocate” in this case was Sullivan's wife, who thought that the healing could be explained naturally. But as she compared his former bedridden agonies to his new routine of heavy lifting and yardwork, she realized his recovery “wasn't normal” but something “very special.”
“Surely,” the deacon said, “Cardinal Newman had come to my aid . . . in a very dramatic fashion.” He emphasized that the most direct sign of this intercession was not initially the healing, but his profound, mystical experience of God while in the hospital.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, Deacon Sullivan was ordained to his position on the same day that those responsible for Newman's canonization cause in England had voted to move forward with the process, on the basis of Sullivan's evidence of a miracle.
Ven. Cardinal Newman will be beatified at the end of the Papal visit to the U.K., on September 19.