From an article in the National Catholic Register April 1992
MAKING OF A SAINT
At death’s door, a California priest is saved by the intercession of a 17th-century Jesuit.
Most Catholics, if their memories are jostled, will recall that the formal process of canonizing a saint involves a miracle or two. But for Father John Houle, it’s more than a matter of speculative interest. For when a 17th century priest, Blessed Claude la Colombiere, is canonized in Rome on May 31 this year, Houle will be there as a witness to a miracle wrought through his fellow Jesuit’s intercession – namely, his own.
The veteran Los Angeles-based member of the Society of Jesus, with nearly half a century of service to the Church to his credit, tells the story in a disarmingly straight-forward, undramatic way. “I entered Santa Teresita Hospital in Duarte, CA, on Dec. 23, 1989,” the priest relates, “with a history of serious coronary disturbances.” Father Houle had had coronary-by-pass surgery, for example, in 1983. By early February, with his condition worsening by the day, Houle’s physician, cardiologist Dr. Gary Conrad, diagnosed the priest as having pulmonary fibrosis, in most cases, a terminal complaint.
Enter Father Frank Parrish, superior of the Jesuit house in Hollywood. Father Parrish had had a long-standing interest in the revival of devotion to the Sacred heart, a devotion which Blessed Claude la Colombiere had been instrumental in fostering. Eager for Colombiere’s cause, Father Parrish encouraged the many Sacred Heart prayer groups he had formed to pray that a miracle be worked through the beatified’s intercession. When Father Houle began succumbing to his disease in February 1990, Father Parrish visited the unconscious priest, prayed with him and blessed him with a Colombiere relic. Father Houle’s sister-in-law, a witness to the event, who asked to remain anonymous, relates that when Father Parrish rose to leave Father Houle’s bedside, he told her simply, “Don’t worry, John will be all right. There will be a miracle.”
Father Houle says: “Three days later, on Feb. 23, 1990, I was sitting up and taking nourishment. A week earlier, I’d been dying. Now my lung had been restored, and there was no sign whatsoever of illness.” (The priest, however, cannot resist a wry aside when he points out that, while apparently dispatching a terminal illness, “God has still not seen fit to rid me of the back problems I’ve had since childhood.)”
Father Houle’s physician confirms the “miraculous” claim. “There’s no doubt in my mind that John Houle was dying in February 1990,” the cardiologist says. “He’d been on oxygen for a month and was in an increasingly weakened state. While, as a physician, I can’t affirm or deny miracles as such,” he says, “I’d have to say, and I have attested, that there’s simply no medical explanation for the sudden turn-around in his condition. He was too far gone for that.”
With Conrad’s assistance, Sister Maria Elia, O.C.D., Santa Teresita Hospital’s pastoral director for patients, and Father Parrish patiently gathered the pertinent x-rays and other medical data in order to submit a report to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Cause of Saints, a process which required many months. Los Angeles Archdiocesan officials, Bishop John Ward particularly, repeatedly interrogated hospital doctors and staff about the case. And in October 1990, Father Paul Molinari, postulator for the cause of Jesuit saints and martyrs in Rome, visited Father Houle and conducted his own inquiry on the reported miracle. Eventually the more than 200 page report on Father Houle’s healing made its way to Rome where, after extensive examination, Roman officials unanimously ruled last year that there was no question of human agency in the events surrounding the Jesuit’s remarkable recovery. That verdict was then recommended to the Pope.
Testimony of Father John Houle, S.J.
I noticed after the first of the year, 1990, that I was getting weaker and sometimes had to resort to oxygen. Sometime in February, 1990, I had to have a mask with oxygen all the time. In the 2nd or 3rd week if February, I was getting weaker, and found it difficult to recall any specific details of the treatment. I have been told that I was not able to participate in the Holy Mass, and the only specific remembrance of those days was a vivid memory that I had undergone this preparation for death while in a prison in China.
I remember telling Fr. Parrish, my superior at the time, that I didn’t want any extraordinary means to prolong my life. I told him this before the last danger before my memory went out.
I do not remember Fr. Parrish blessing me with the relic of Bl. Claude La Colombiere.
I don’t know what day it was later, but I do remember recognizing things around me. I don’t know when they took the oxygen mask off, but I was able to breathe O.K. From that time on I began to be stronger and didn’t have to have the oxygen.
Testimony of Father Frank Parrish, S.J.
Thurs, Feb. 22, 1990 – I wrote in the date book, “No hope for Fr. Houle.”
Fri. Feb 23, 1990 – I blessed Fr. Houle with a first class relic of Bl. Claude la Colombiere and placed it upon his chest. I said that he would be O.K.
Santa Teresita Hospital – Fr. Houle not expected to live over the weekend; 2 to 6 days at the most. Prayers asking the intercession of Bl. Claude were asked. Dr. Conrad (cardiologist) and Dr. Luke (lung specialist) declared his prognosis was negative. He was dying from pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal illness. Oxygen mask over his mouth and nose.
Sat. Feb. 24, 1990 – Prayers through Bl. Claude’s intercession asked of Promoters of the Sacred Heart, Apostleship of Prayer, Monastery of the Angeles, Padre Pio Prayer Group, Heart of the Nations TV people, St. John of God Hospital, etc.
Mon. Feb 26, 1990 – Fr Houle is in critical state. One nurse told me that if he is cured it would be a miracle, and would testify to this. Sister Maria Elia, O.C.D., at present in charge of the pastoral work of Santa Teresita Hospital, formerly in the lung dept. emphatically said that if he is cure it definitely is a miracle, and that she would go to Rome to testify to this effect.
Tue. Feb 27, 1990 – Prayers continued for Fr. Houle through the intercession of Bl. Claude
Wed. Feb 28, 1990 – Fr. Houle’s sister-in-law came here to Connolly House; said Fr. Houle was much better, and was sitting up eating pizza. Prayers continued. She being a non-catholic didn’t know what I had done. She told Fr. Houle that I placed something round on his chest. She said, I said, “Don’t worry there is going to be a miracle and he will be alright.”
Thurs. Mar 1, 1990 – I visited Fr. Houle at the hospital, and found him sitting up at his bedside with a big lunch before him. He was cutting up an apple and eating it. He was alert and talked clearly. Sister Maria Elia declared it to be a miracle, and will testify.
Tues. Mar 6, 1990 – Visited Fr. Houle at the hospital. He was resting and O.K. but still needs prayers.
Wed. Mar. 12, 1990 – Fr. Houle called from Santa Teresita. His voice was strong, and he was eating and walking.
Wed. Mar. 21, 1990 – Visited Fr. Houle, found his sitting up, no oxygen, speaking well, breathing good, eating mince meat pie, cakes, spaghetti.
Wed. May 9, 1990 – Visited Fr. Houle at hospital, pulmonary fibrosis gone, but pain in back still there. He is walking around the hospital, walked to car with me. Doctors reports and x-rays sent to Rome.
Father Parrish’s Report
After witnessing these happenings which resulted from the blessing of Fr. John Houle with the first class relic (a piece of the bone) of Bl. Claude la Colombiere, along with the prayers of many devout people, it seemed to me to be definitely a miracle.
June 26, and July 5, 1990, I wrote to the Postulator General for the Cause of Blessed Claude la Colombiere in Rome, Fr. Paul Molinari, S.J., regarding my conviction that God had worked a miracle through the intercession of Bl. Claude la Colombiere. With the help of Sister Maria Elia, O.C.D., who was in charge of Pastoral Care Department at Santa Teresita Medical Center, Duarte, CA., I gathered together the medical reports of the doctors who were taking care of Fr. Houle in his illness (terminal pulmonary fibrosis), the x-rays of his lungs and the statements of the people who were praying for the cure of Fr. Houle through the intercession of Bl. Claude la Colombiere.
Why did this miracle occur? First of all, because I believe God wanted it, because He willed to have Blessed Claude la Colombiere declared a Saint. But, most especially, to give an impetus to the devotion to the Sacred Heart.
n this world of materialism and pleasure-seeking so rampant everywhere, the love of the Sacred Heart will conquer the minds and hearts of all peoples to turn away from sin and hatred and bring them to be one with God in Heaven forever.
In February 2020, Sister Maria Elia, O.C.D. shared how special it was for the Sisters to witness the miracle that helped canonize St. Claude de la Colombiere!