An American priest who was paralysed from the chest down has started to walk again after praying to a 19th-century Blessed.
When Redemptorist Fr John Murray struck his head against a railing after tripping along a walkway 15 months ago, the consequences were devastating.
The Baltimore parish priest suffered a broken neck that left him immediately paralysed. Rushed to a hospital, he underwent emergency spinal cord surgery and later began rehabilitation.
Doctors said that Fr Murray, who was known across the east coast of America, for his preaching abilities, would almost certainly never walk again.
“When they said I’d never be able to move, they took away all hope,” Fr Murray told the Catholic Review, Baltimore archdiocese’s newspaper.
But on November 28 2010 Fr Murray did something everyone said was impossible. While living and undergoing rehabilitation at Stella Maris in Timonium, Maryland, he moved his left leg ever so slightly, lifting his foot off the ground.
“I was ecstatic,” Fr Murray said. “Here I was about six weeks after they told me I’d never move again and, lo and behold, I could move. Just the foot, but it kept going and going and going.”
Today Fr Murray is completely mobile. Using a Zimmer frame he is able to walk on his own at his new residence at St Clement Mission House in Ephrata.
Fr Murray sees only one explanation: an encounter with the miraculous. In his pocket he carries a small object with him at all times. Encased in a locket is a relic – a piece of bone – of Blessed Francis Seelos, a
19th-century Redemptorist priest under consideration for canonisation, who had been a rector of the same parish Fr Murray once led. “Ultimately, all prayers go to God. Seelos can’t give the grace, but he was the conduit for my prayers,” he said.
Dr Ernestine Wright, medical director of Stella Maris, said she was shocked by Fr Murray’s recovery and that she had never seen anything like it. A born-again Christian, Dr Wright said she believed it was miraculous.
Dr Wright, who treated Fr Murray throughout his year at Stella Maris, said: “With spinal cord injuries, it’s always very difficult at the time of injury to determine whether it’s a permanent or temporary injury.” No longer in need of nursing care, the priest relocated to Pennsylvania in October.
“We could not have predicted how much he has recovered,” she said. “It’s very unusual.”
Dr Wright said that Fr Murray was an inspiration to other patients and staff.
“He was determined to get better,” she said. “He was determined that Stella Maris would not be his final place of abode. He was going to get back to ministry.”
Jessica Tewey, Fr Murray’s former occupational therapist at Stella Maris, witnessed the priest’s perseverance. She coached him on how to dress, bathe, maintain his balance, cook and get coffee.
“The first day I showed him something, he wouldn’t be sure about it,” she said, “but a week later, he’d be completely independent in whatever I gave him to do.”
She said Fr Murray helped the people of Stella Maris as much as they helped him – offering encouraging words, praying for them and being a model of positive thinking.
“The patients loved him,” she said. “He gave hope to other patients. Some other people are saying, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”