The Miracle in Room 207
by Sister Maria Elia, O.C.D.
As Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, we have a deep devotion to the Heart of Christ and as such, we had a long-standing interest in the cause for canonization of Blessed Claude de la Colombiere. Blessed Claude, a Jesuit priest who promoted the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, required a second and final miracle attributed to his intercession in order to be approved for canonization. To this day, I am overwhelmed by the loving graciousness God has shown our community by permitting that miracle, the healing of Father John Houle, SJ, to occur at Santa Teresita, our then hospital in Duarte, California.
As a missionary in China, Father John Houle underwent tremendous sufferings during his five-year imprisonment and developed severe health issues in addition to the chronic back problems that had plagued him since childhood.
Father Houle came to Santa Teresita in late December 1989, in the days when it still served as an acute-care hospital. Father already had a long history of serious coronary issues, as well as emphysema by then; however, he was still able to walk and every day I would accompany him to the main chapel so he could celebrate Mass. However, as he gradually became weaker, walking became more difficult and even a few steps would leave him very short of breath. It was apparent that his condition was worsening by the day. In February 1990, the doctor ordered a bronchoscopy, a test by which Father Houle was diagnosed as having pulmonary fibrosis, which is a terminal condition.
Father Houle’s condition deteriorated dramatically and rapidly and he was put on very high dosages of 100% pure oxygen. Just after the bronchoscope test was done, I recall that one of the doctors remarked, “I very much doubt if Father will be alive by the weekend.” It was Thursday.
Father Houle’s superior, Father Francis Parrish, SJ, had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and was in charge of the Sacred Heart devotional programs in Los Angeles. As a result, Father Parrish established many prayer groups in the U.S. and Canada. Father Parrish was also very interested in Blessed Claude’s cause. Now, Father Parrish enlisted the aid of the many Sacred Heart prayer groups he had formed in praying for Father Houle’s cure through the intercession of Blessed Claude de la Colombiere.
It was now Friday. I was scheduled to attend a two-day conference, but I would visit Father Houle upon my return in the late afternoon to see how he was doing. His condition had worsened and it was apparent that Father Houle was beginning to succumb to his disease. On Friday, Father Parrish came to visit the mostly unconscious priest, prayed for him and blessed him with a relic of Blessed Claude de la Colombiere. Father Parrish was absolutely certain that a miracle would happen.
By Saturday, a male nurse was stationed by his side. Father was almost totally unresponsive. I helped the nurse to rub his back and adjust his position. His entire body was cyanotic, (a condition in which the skin and mucous membranes take on a bluish color because there is not enough oxygen in the blood), and he was cold and clammy. I had seen many gravely ill patients in the hospital die and I knew that the doctor’s prognosis was correct; in Father Houle’s case, in all likelihood, it was probably just a matter of time. Still, I was aware that many people were praying for a miracle and that when one prays with trust and confidence, leaving things in God’s hands, miracles do happen – and He worked a miracle now!
On Sunday morning, I was surprised to find Father Houle doing much better. I wondered if he had been given any medication aside from the oxygen, but his chart confirmed that no medications had been given.
Three days later, Wednesday, Father Houle was sitting up in bed reading the newspaper and asking for his favorite food – pizza! Just days before, Father Houle was at death’s door, now his lungs had been miraculously restored and there was no sign of illness!
Father Houle’s cardiologist confirmed the miraculous healing.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Father John Houle was dying in February 1990,” the doctor said. “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 said, “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.”
“This is a miracle! Father Parrish exclaimed to me some days later. “Sister, will you help me get all the information together so we can send it the Vatican’s Congregation for the Cause of Saints?”
I said to Father Parrish, “Yes, we will help you get everything together. We’ll even testify and go to Rome with you!” Later on, we did do just that.
We were convinced that God had worked a miracle through the intercession of Blessed Claude de la Colombiere. With the assistance of Father Houle’s doctors, we set about gathering together all the medical reports of the doctors, the x-rays of his lungs and the statements of people who were praying for the cure of Father Houle through the intercession of Blessed Claude la Colombiere. Father Parrish forwarded all the information and documentation to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints.
In October 1990, Father Paul Molineri, postulator for the cause of Jesuit saints and martyrs, and Sister Anne Haysen, a sister of Orange, came from Rome to open a deposition with Bishop John J. Ward on the reported miracle. They interviewed all the doctors and nurses who had taken care of Father Houle. I was also interviewed as I was his respiratory therapist. Everything was scrupulously recorded and documented and eventually a report over 200 pages in length concerning Father Houle’s unexplainable healing made its way to Rome for a final, extensive examination.
The committee of cardinals, priests and doctors reviewed all the documentation and unanimously ruled that there was no medical explanation for Father Houle’s remarkable recovery. Their verdict was then forwarded to the Pope.
The Holy Father approved the recommendation and on May 31, 1992, Blessed Claude de la Colombiere was canonized and is now Saint Claude de la Colombiere!
Sister Vincent Marie, Sister Mary Colombiere, Sister Noella and I were in Rome for the canonization. We stayed at the North American College with all the seminarians. It was such a beautiful experience. We even had the chance to meet some of Saint Claude’s descendants. Amazingly, one particular young woman looked exactly like him, with the same profile, the same eyes and nose as Saint Claude who had died in 1682, some 300 years before this young woman was born!