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"A penny for your thoughts"

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Woman's cancer vanishes after prayers to 19th-century Maryland priest

Mary Ellen Heibel, a parishioner at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Annapolis,Maryland USA, wears a charm bearing a tiny bone fragment from Francis X. Seelos, the priest to whom she turned in prayer when she learned that she had terminal cancer. Francis X. Seelos, the 19th-century Maryland priest to whom Heibel had turned in prayer for help has seeminly wiped out malignant tumors in her lungs, liver, stomach and chest, canonized as a saint.

For years Seelos - who also served as a pastor in Baltimore and Cumberland - has been a physical presence for Heibel, 71, a slim mother of four, grandmother of 11. In a brass necklace reliquary about the size of a silver dollar, the retired antiques appraiser wears a fragment of his bone no longer than the "L" in relic.

She has carried Seelos with her this way since early 2003, when she was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for esophageal cancer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. About a year later, doctors there found that the surgery had missed a cancerous lymph node. So began a seven-week, five-day-a-week regimen of radiation and chemotherapy.

HHeibel and her husband, John, parishioners at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Annapolis,continues their weekly routine at St. Mary's of early morning prayers seeking the help of Seelos, the Redemptorist priest who in several ways remains present at the church where he served two brief stints in the mid-1800s. The German native beams from stained glass in the nave, watches from a photograph on a wall near the church office, sits in a statue on a bench in the garden. A chip of his breastbone the shape and size of a pinkie fingernail is preserved in a reliquary kept in the rectory.

In the early 1970s when a local woman who had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer was found free of the disease after prayers calling on Seelos. An investigation similar to the one in Heibel's case affirmed this as a miracle, and Seelos was beatified in a ceremony in Rome in 2000, thereafter be officially known as "Blessed Seelos," standing one difficult step away from sainthood.

After moving from Germany to the United States in the 1840s, Seelos was ordained at St. James in Baltimore, and from 1854 to 1863 served as pastor at St. Alphonsus in Baltimore, Sts. Peter and Paul in Cumberland and St. Mary's in Annapolis. By all accounts, he stood out for his good humor.

Heibel turned to him when her ordeal of treatment began at Walter Reed. She sought his help when she got the word in spring 2004 that the cancer had returned, turning up in five places where it had not been found before. That May, her doctor at Walter Reed told her that she probably had six months to live. A chemotherapy trial for esophageal cancer patients conducted at Hopkins by Dr. Michael K. Gibson at best could double her life expectancy to 12 months. In January 2005, a friend who had recently converted to Catholicism suggested that the Heibels ask their pastor to begin a schedule of novenas - prayers for a particular purpose recited nine days consecutively or once a week for nine weeks - appealing to Seelos. Gibson said his recollection is that the cancer must have been diminishing along the way, but the scan of Feb.8,2009, Heibel underwent a week after her final chemotherapy treatment showed something extraordinary. Dr. Gibson called and said there is no tumors left for they are all gone and it wasn't his treatment that did it. Dr. Larry Fitzpatrick, chief of surgery at Mercy Medical Center said as to a scientist, to "be the Doubting Thomas," but as a Catholic, he says, he must entertain the possibility of a supernatural cause. A miracle or was it probably a combination of the chemotherapy and good fortune!! VIA

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