Blessed Jeanne’s American miracle

jeanne_jugan_300Blessed Jeanne Jugan, who will be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009,  already has strong connections to the Church in the United States.  Though she lived and worked in France in the 1800’s, founding the Little Sisters of the Poor, the order has a strong and very admirable presence here in the U.S

But her U.S. connections are even stronger now, with the miracle that was recently approved by the Vatican as a key part in her canonization cause.  The miracle was the healing of a man from Omaha, Nebraska, who had been suffering from cancer and given six months to live.  

Since Damien of Molokai will also be canonized on October 11, that makes the day a mighty big one for the Church in this country.

When I first heard, back in January, that the final miracle necessary in the Jugan canonization cause involved an American who was still alive, I did some searching around and quickly found that very little information was available.  I made some phone calls and even received a very promising lead out of the blue in some email.  But it seemed that very few people were willing to talk about who this person was or offer many details about the miracle.  I think that’s probably connected to some expectations of secrecy in the formal cause process, but I could be wrong. 

Anyway, the details are now being made public, and they tell an very interesting tale.  They involve Dr. Edward Gatz, whose advanced esophogeal cancer was healed by Blessed Jeanne’s intercession.

A helpful article appeared two weeks ago in the Omaha World-Herald (thanks to Omaha archdiocesan vice chancellor Fr. Ryan Lewis for pointing it out to me).  The article does not seem to be available on the World-Herald website any more, but it can be found in its entirety in a blog posted by an administrative employee of the archdiocese here.  A few snips:

The doctors told Gatz he had six months to live.

“Ed’s dead,” Dr. Donald Kerr, Gatz’s partner, told their colleagues at what then was Omaha’s Bergan Mercy Hospital, now Bergan Mercy Medical Center.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., removed the tumor. Gatz viewed the surgery as merely palliative. He was resigned to dying.


The late Pope John Paul II worried that the world increasingly would view the elderly – especially those without money – as useless and a drain on society. He saw that as potentially leading not only to mistreatment of the aged but to mercy killing and euthanasia. One way to fight the trend: Promote a saint who models how the church believes people should behave.

John Paul II “really wanted to canonize somebody who served the indigent elderly,” said Eileen Burke-Sullivan, an assistant professor of theology at Creighton University.

“The church chooses its heroes overtly, often to address a social, cultural or moral problem that’s being found in the world. They want a witness to the dignity of the human life of the indigent elderly. Mother Teresa is that kind of witness. So is Jeanne Jugan.”


Gatz still has a Polaroid picture from that scope. Instead of just the normal round hole, the photo shows the esophagus surrounded by bumps and lumps – an angry, pink bulbous storm cloud of doom.

“I saw the grim faces when the doctors called our son and me into one of those conference rooms,” Jeanne Gatz said. “I knew it was bad news, but I didn’t know it was that bad. They said it would be six months.”

The tumor occupied two-thirds of Gatz’s esophagus and half his stomach. Another growth, the size of a walnut, on the other side of his abdomen indicated that the cancer had metastasized. Gatz was diagnosed with Stage 3B esophageal cancer.


Gatz began seeing to his affairs. He sold two of the family’s three cars. He shifted investments into shorter-term holdings in his wife’s name. He asked medical school professors to look out for his son, who was about to enter the school.

Meanwhile, Jeanne turned to McGloin. A former Little Sisters of the Poor chaplain, McGloin urged her to pray a novena – a specific set of prayers – to Jeanne Jugan.

Jeanne Gatz began praying a novena – a specific set of prayers – every day. McGloin did, too.

A check three months later showed no cancer. At six months, again no cancer. Then nine months. Then one year.


It might have remained local lore if not for a casual dinner chat in Omaha with a priest in 2002. Gatz happened to mention his cure to the Rev. Charles Broderson. Broderson suggested the Gatzes inform the Little Sisters of the Poor. McGloin concurred.

Jeanne Gatz dialed up Mother Marguerite McCarthy at the Little Sisters of the Poor home in Kansas City. McCarthy immediately was intrigued, although two miracle claims already were being examined by Rome.

Those two fell through. The Gatzes forwarded their information to the Little Sisters. The story went to the Vatican.

Read the whole thing.

The National Catholic Register has also published an article on the miracle.  There is also an very interesting interview with Dr. Gatz and his wife and a brief report by Dr. Gatz himself posted on the Little Sisters of the Poor website.  Here’s a bit from the interview:

I had palliative surgery, which means it was not curative because it was a systemic disease. You just go after the tumors—the big ones—the size of my doubled-up fists in my chest, esophagus, stomach cavity… There was never any talk of it being curative. Afterwards the oncologists came by to offer chemotherapy. I said, “Why would I do that? Will you cure me?” They said, “Oh no, oh no.” “Well then, why would I have it?” I said. They said maybe they could extend my life. So I asked them if they could really extend my life, or if they might shorten it. “Well, we don’t know,” they said. So I replied, “Well if you can’t cure me and you can’t guarantee to extend my life why would I have it?” “I wouldn’t,” the oncologist replied. It was an honest answer from a physician to a physician—“I wouldn’t if were you. Why go through that?”

Thanks to God for this sign of his grace, and for the triumph of his grace in the life of Jeanne Jugan.

Blessed Jeanne Jugan, pray for us.


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