Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Truth is stranger, stronger than fiction

26th August 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

Happy and exhilarated in her vintage Mercedes, Katie was tooling coolly down two-way-traffic Route 19 near Center, Missouri, when she saw her life flash before her. With no room to go around the car in front, an allegedly intoxicated driver attempted an ill-advised pass and slammed head-on into Katie who was fast approaching from the oncoming lane.

The rending crash that ensued trapped Katie so tightly in her crumpled car that the jaws of life were not working for the fire chief and his men. Almost an hour had passed and the firemen were running out of options. “I don’t know how we’re going to get her out!” the chief said. “Our tools are not strong enough to cut through the car frame.”

“Pray out loud! Pray out loud all together!” pleaded Katie, her vital signs failing fast. Just then a man in priestly garb walked up to the firemen, requesting permission to anoint the young lady. The chief’s reluctant permission was rewarded by a universal feeling of calm after the priest took out a small white bottle and anointed Katie with the oil of the sick.

Shaken firemen attested, “He began to use the anointing oil. There was a calm that came over the entire scene. We’re not sure whether the words came out of the mouth of the priest himself or from a nearby source. But we plainly heard someone tell us that we should remain calm, and we were promised that our tools would soon work.”

Suddenly out of nowhere, a neighboring fire truck pulled up with more powerful jaws of life tools. As soon as the firemen had succeeded in cutting through the twisted metal, all of them turned to thank the man, but he had vanished without a trace or witness of his transit.

How could the man have reach­ed the firemen at all with a two-mile perimeter blockade of the scene? And how could anyone leave the area without being seen by dozens of people, despite that same blockade still being en­forced? For miles in nearly every direction, stately rows of corn stood at attention as firemen and others from the scene made inquiries about the mystery priest, grilling 15 churches within 30 miles of the accident, but all to no avail.

Shot from all angles, 70 photos were taken of the scene at various moments of prime interest. Yet, try as they might, no one found a trace of the priest in any photo. The best they could do was give descriptions to assist an artist in creating an inexact composite sketch of the priest. Some said that the mystery man resembled deceased movie actor Walter Matthau.

Sporting a Biblical name, Jere­miah See of the New London Fire Department said,

“This time, I think that I’ve actually witnessed a guardian angel at work.”

“Whether it was a priest serving as an angel, or whether it was an actual angel who came,” observed one rescuer, “he was an angel to all who were there.”

Katie, who became known as the teen with the beautiful smile, survived multiple broken bones and six and a half hours of surgery to get started on her way to complete healing through the gift of prayer and the intervention of a mysterious angel.

Upon hearing of the mass confusion about a mysterious priest who anointed Katie, the Rev. Patrick Dowling, who works with the Diocese of Jefferson County, Missouri, identified himself as the mystery priest who appeared at the side of Katie Lentz. In a distinct brogue, the Irish native voiced his disappointment that he was not an angelic visitor after all.

Father Dowling had pinch-hit at Mass for a sick priest and was returning home when he neared the area. “I parked behind a large vehicle about 150 yards from the scene. I asked the Sheriff’s permission and approached the scene of the accident. I absolved and anointed Katie, and, at her request, prayed that her leg would not hurt. Then I stepped aside to where some rescue personnel and the pilot were waiting, and prayed the rosary silently.”

He left as the Air Evac helicopter was about to ferry Katie to a hospital. Interestingly, he said he told someone on the scene his name, but it must not have been passed on.

I suspect that everyone else was as disappointed as I that the bubble of the mystery had burst, for the story was so wonderful. Still, though much more pedestrian now, the story remains compelling and inspiring. Furthermore, Father Dowl­ing was an angel on the spot, since angel means messenger, and he was indeed God’s messenger at that critical time.

His role as messenger, no less than our role as messengers, is not diminished by the fact that he was used as a human tool by Divine Providence to bring hope, resolution and healing to a situation where hope of rescue, salvation and healing were all but gone.

This article originally published in the August 26, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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