Father Richard Woldum had only shortly been ordained a priest when he was assigned to be a chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Alton, Illinois. He tells the following story about an experience there:
“One morning I received a call to come to the emergency room to see an 11-year-old boy named Johnny who was dying. I found him on a breathing machine, his head swollen very large.
“Johnny’s parents told me that he had been riding his bike on a gravel road near his home when a truck came flying over the hill and hit him head-on. The collision caused him to be thrown into the nearby field. When the ambulance arrived the medics found his head cut wide open with half his brains scattered in the field. They literally picked up pieces of his brain, shoved them into his head, and took him to the hospital.
“When I asked Johnny’s parents if he had been baptized, they said, ‘No,’ They informed me they attended no church but prayed at home as a family. I asked them if they would like me to baptize Johnny. They glanced at each other as if to say, “It couldn’t cause any harm,’ then said to me, ‘Go ahead.’ They also said if I wanted to I could baptize him into the Catholic faith. That night, with the parents and two nurses as witnesses, I baptized Johnny.
“The next morning I was doing communion rounds when my beeper went off. Johnny’s doctor wanter me in the intensive care unit. ‘What you do last night?’ he asked in broken English, as I met him outside Johnny’s room. I explained to the doctor, a Buddhist, that I had baptized Johnny (with the permission of his parents) so that he could go to heaven. When I asked him why he was so concerned, he informed me that the boy’s swelling had disappeared. The doctor was still convinced that the boy would die, however; or if he lived, remain a vegetable, never moving, talking or even moving his eyes.
“That night Johnny’s parents thanked me for baptizing him. I then explained about the anointing of the sick, and asked if they would like Johnny to receive that sacrament. With their agreement and in their presence, I annointed Johnny.
“The next morning during communion rounds the doctor again paged me on my beeper. He met me at the door of intensive care and directed me to Johnny’s room, explaining on the way that he had heard from the nursed that I had again prayed for Johnny.
“Then he pointed to Johnny’s eyes and asked, ‘What you do?’ I saw that Johnny’s eyes were moving. ‘It was just the power of Jesus through prayers for the sick,’ I responded. He gave a fairly sarcastic grin and said, ‘It no matter. Boy no talk or move. He remain vegetable.’
“It was now the third night, counting the night of the accident. I suggested to the parents that they permit me to give Johnny the sacrament of confirmation. They agreed.
“The following morning, his legs and arms were moving. The doctor said to me in front of the parents, ‘I no longer in control.’ He was simply unable to explain what was happening. The parents turned to me and said they wanted to become Catholics. I recommended that they wait and see what happened to Johnny before making a final decision.
“That evening when I explained to them about the Eucharist, they said they wanted this for Johnny too. I gave him some Precious Blood through an eye dropper. The next morning he was making sounds.
“The weekend was now upon me. It was Labor Day 1979 and I went home to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday. When I checked in on Johnny upon my return, I learned he had been transferred to the third floor, which was the surgery unit. I went upstairs to see him, fearing that he had gone back to surgery. He was sitting on his bed, talking to his mother.
“After his recover they took another x-ray of his head and found that the part of his brain that had spilled out into the field had grown back.
When I eventually talked to Johnny’s parents about becoming Catholics, they informed me they would continue praying at home. The doctor in the case started looking into Christianity. Three nurses converted to Catholicism.”
DeGrandis, Robert, S.S.J., Healing Through the Mass. Totowa, New Jersey: Resurrection Press, 1992. p. 13-15.