A Miracle in Peoria?

A team of Vatican medical experts believes a stillborn child regained consciousness via an intercession from a dead priest.
More
heatheronhertravels/flickr

On September 16, 2010, a miracle happened in Peoria. Or at least, a seven-member panel of medical advisors at the Vatican says so: On Thursday, the group reported that it couldn't find a scientific explanation for the survival of James Fulton Engstrom, a stillborn baby who suddenly started breathing after doctors spent more than an hour trying to revive him. While they watched their silent son get CPR, Bonnie and Travis Engstrom prayed to Fulton John Sheen, a deceased priest who lived and worked in Illinois, D.C., and New York before his death in 1979. The parents think this prayer is what helped the baby live. “I believe it was Sheen’s intercession that played a key role in it, but it was Jesus who healed my son," the mother said in 2012.

The baby is now three years old and in good health.

How exactly does a resuscitation become a miracle in the eyes of the Church? There are a few steps. Potential miracles are first examined by local Church investigators, who decide whether to submit evidence to the Vatican. This is reviewed by a panel of medical advisors, who are picked from a large pool of doctors with various specialities, said Monsignor Stanley Deptula, the executive director of the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation. Contrary to what one might expect, "many of them wouldn't be Catholic or even Christian—they're really looking for medical experts," he explained over the phone.

Now this case will be reviewed by a team of theologians and Vatican advisors, who will decide whether to present it to the Pope. He will make the final decision about whether this is a full-fledged miracle.

Three other possible miracles tied to Sheen have been formally investigated by the local team in Peoria, Deptula said. "We had to select one of the three to move forward to the Vatican, and a canon lawyer helped us to discern that this was the best. It was so clear: The baby was dead, then the baby was alive." A campaign for Sheen's beatification and canonization was started in 2002, and Deptula sees James Engstrom's birth as "part of the way God manifests his will through the discernment of canonization." In other words, by reviving the baby, God was offering evidence that Sheen should be beatified, Deptula says. 

Sheen was born outside of Peoria in 1895 and ordained in the town in 1919. He taught philosophy and religion at the Catholic University of America, hosted his own radio show, and later won an Emmy award for a television show he hosted in the 1950s, Life Is Worth Living. He served as the Bishop of Rochester from the mid 1960s until his retirement, and after he died, he was named an honorary Archbishop by Pope Paul VI. In the summer of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared that Sheen lived a life of  "heroic virtue," earning him the title of "Venerable." 

If this miracle is fully confirmed by the Vatican and the Pope, it would take one more miracle for Sheen to be considered for canonization, which would earn him the title of "Saint."  

It doesn't have to happen in Peoria, Deptula said, but who knows—it might. "How appropriate that Fulton Sheen works a miracle so close to his birthplace, not far from his hometown," he said. "I like to think that there is a special connection between the miracle and Peoria."

Jump to comments
Presented by

Emma Green is the assistant managing editor of TheAtlantic.com, where she also oversees the National Channel and writes about religion and culture.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

Just In