God’s Merciful Judgement: A Priest’s True Story

October 18, 1985 will be a date that I will remember until I take my dying breath. At this time, I was a Diocesan priest in the Diocese of Wichita and was stationed in a small town in Southeast Kansas by the name of Fredonia. I was pastor of a parish named Sacred Heart. On that particular day, I decided to go to Wichita, Kansas, about eighty-six miles away to get some advice on a parish problem from one of my brother priests. I didn’t have any appointments that day or that evening and I recall that going to Wichita was a first in my stay in Fredonia.

The Accident

I had to travel to Wichita by way of a State highway called Highway 96. This particular highway was one that had no shoulders, was very, very hilly and went through the Flint Hills. It was traversed by big trucks and semis and was very dangerous, to say the least. I remember returning from Wichita late in the afternoon; and that is the last thing I remember.

I was involved in a head-on collision with a truck from Hutchison, Kansas. There were three persons in that vehicle. Nobody was killed in the accident thank God! As a result of the collision, I was thrown out of my vehicle (I was not wearing my seatbelt at the time) and landed on the ground outside my car. I suffered a major head concussion at the time and the scalp on the right side of my head was ripped from my skull. That is, as far as I remember, and I don’t clearly remember anything.

Not Expected to Live

Behind me, traveling on the same highway was a Mennonite nurse from Fontenac, Kansas, who stopped and stayed with me until the ambulance came and picked me up. It was because of her expertise that it was discovered that I had suffered a broken neck. She informed the drivers of the ambulance when they arrived to treat me accordingly. Had my head been turned either way at the scene of the accident, I would have died of asphyxiation. I later learned that I had suffered a C-2 break of the vertebrae of the neck which they refer to as the “hang-man’s break,” because this is the break of the neck that occurs when a person is hung by the neck.

I was taken by ambulance to a nearby town called Eureka, which had a small hospital. The doctor in charge sewed my scalp back on my skull and then, realizing that he couldn’t do anything else for me, called the Lifewatch helicopter from Wesley Hospital in Wichita, Kansas to come and pick me up. As the helicopter was lifting off the hospital grounds in Eureka, the doctor said to his sister, who was a nurse, that he didn’t expect me to survive the trip between Eureka and Wichita, which was not that far away.

Upon arrival in Wichita, the helicopter landed on top of Wesley Hospital, a Methodist hospital, and
I was rushed to the Trauma Center. I was treated there and then admitted to the main hospital in the Intensive Care Unit. I was only about five blocks from my home in Wichita, so my mother, who was still living at the time, came up to the hospital that night and stayed with me.

I was assigned to a neurosurgeon who worked at the hospital and had his office in Wichita; and he treated me according to the damage that I suffered. I did not have to have surgery for fusion; I was put into traction and was also fitted for what is normally referred to as a “halo.” The technical term for this orthotic device is called a cervical thoracic orthosis. This orthotic device is used to treat a lot of neck injuries. The “halo” was around my head with four screws, two in the front and two in the back, screwed into my skull, so that I could not bend or move my neck in any way. This device was fitted onto a “jacket” which was irremovable also.

I wore these two devices for a period of almost eight months. I do remember that at one time, during visitation hours at the hospital, the screw came out of the head. I have never felt pain like that before or since. Apparently, along with this orthotic device, I was also put in traction so that the bones of the vertebrae could be aligned and start the healing process. I don’t remember this procedure at all! The doctors told me that since I lived through this accident they expected that I would be laying on my back, looking up at the ceiling for the rest of my life, completely paralyzed from the neck down. Apparently, God had other plans!

Prayers of the Faithful

The evening of the accident, a phone call came into the hospital from one of the parishioners at Sacred Heart in Fredonia asking a nurse on my floor about my condition. This person was told by the nurse on duty that evening that the doctors were giving me a 15% chance to live. That was pretty serious! I later heard that on the evening of the accident the doors of my church, Sacred Heart, were opened for people to come in and pray for me. The Christian church and the Methodist church in Fredonia also opened their doors that night so people could come in and pray for me. The Assembly of God Minister later told me that he spent the entire night in prayer for me. I was also on the Mennonite prayer line. So I had a lot of prayer support. I later heard that my parish prayed the Rosary twice a day for me: once in the morning and then again in the evening.

Toward the end of my recovery period in the hospital, my neurosurgeon assigned me to a Clinical Psychologist for treatment called Concussive Head Syndrome. This therapy was greatly needed and appreciated. I could stand very little emotional trauma and very little sound. It was good to talk to a person who seemed to know what I was going through and what I needed.

I was released from the hospital December 2, 1985 and then went home to recuperate as best I could with my mom and my younger brother who lived not too far away in Wichita. One of my other brothers was home on leave from the Navy, and so he was in the house night and day – to my benefit. My doctor informed me that I made record time in recovering from my injury and that in the report he could not use the word “miracle” but that anyone reading my report would have to come to that conclusion on their own.

My bishop, who was the Bishop of the Wichita Diocese, left my parish in Fredonia vacant as far as a permanent pastor was concerned. A priest was sent to the parish to have weekend liturgies there and at Neodesha until I was completely recovered. I was sent back to the parish in Fredonia in May of 1986. I remember having to shop for another automobile and then travel the same highway back to my parish. I am glad that I had to do it, but I recall that it was a difficult experience at the time. I had gone back to the parish previously in April of the same year for First Holy Communion. Another priest of the Diocese took me down that particular weekend so that I could be there for this special event.

I was treated very well upon my return to Sacred Heart Parish and the city of Fredonia. My parishioners were quick to tell me of their concern and their prayers for my recovery and my return. The people of Fredonia, Kansas, and especially Sacred Heart Parish, are a God-fearing, Catholic people who take their religion very seriously. When I returned, it was noticeable that they did not demand much from me because of my previous condition. This fact was very much appreciated by myself and made a big difference on my performance at the parish there and in Neodesha at St. Ignatius Parish.

 One day, not too long after my return to the parish, I was saying morning Mass as I was accustomed to, when something extremely supernatural happened. I was about to read the Gospel for that day, a Gospel that we have heard many times throughout the years. It is from the Gospel according to Luke. To be exact, it was Luke 13:6-9 and it read this way: “And he told them this parable: There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. (So) I cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

When I read this passage from the Scripture, it was as if I was remembering a conversation. Besides this, the page itself, from the Lectionary, became illumined, enlarged and actually came off of the Lectionary toward me. I had to finish Mass as normally as I could and when I was finished, I went to my rectory, sat down in my lounge chair with about four cups of coffee and tried to remember why this particular gospel brought back so many memories – and memories concerning what?

The Illumination

It did not take long before everything seemed to come back to me. The following seemed to happen immediately after the accident. I was before the Throne of Judgment! Jesus Christ was the Judge. I didn’t see Him, I merely heard Him. What took place was instantaneous as far as “our time” is concerned. He went through my entire life on earth and accused me of sins of commission and omission that were unconfessed and therefore unforgiven and unrepented sins. To each offense, I said, “Yes, Lord!” I had planned that when this would happen I would have all kinds of excuses to say to the Lord. For example, “Well, Lord, you know, she was a pretty feisty woman, and one lost his patience very easily with her all the time!” Well, when you are talking to Truth personified, you don’t have any excuses; so all you say is “Yes, Lord!”

The rest of this article can be found in Signs and Wonders Volume 34#1/2Become a member today!