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The Inside Story on Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s “Miracle Baby”

The Inside Story on Archbishop Fulton Sheens Miracle Baby Wilsonian2112


Cari Donaldson - published on 03/11/14

This is the real deal.

The cyberspace staked out by Catholics runs a wild gamut – from brilliant contemporary theologians to paranoid conspiracy theorists – with a whole slew of memes, tumblrs, and tweets in-between.  We are spoiled for choices, and don’t have to mine very deeply to find some true gems, throwing out flashes of God’s love into a dark world.

There, tucked away in the blogosphere, is one such gem.  At first glance, A Knotted Life looks like every other Catholic mommy blog: pictures of cute kids, honest admissions of daily struggles, recipes – the gracious sharing of domestic minutiae that helps build community in an increasingly fragmented world.  But then, you notice a tab sitting unobstrusively at the top of the page that reads, “James and Fulton Sheen.”

That’s when you realize you’re not reading the story of your average family.

The James in question is the son of Bonnie and Travis, who, after a completely normal pregnancy and labor, was delivered stillborn.  For 61 minutes, the child was without a heartbeat despite the heroic efforts of medical staff.  The situation seemed hopeless – the oxygen bag wouldn’t seal around James’s mouth and nose.  They attempted intubating his tiny body three times, and three times they failed.  Two shots of epinephrine were given, neither of which resulted in a heartbeat.  While doctors, nurses, and hospital staff did all they could, James had no heartbeat, no oxygen, and no signs of life.

Meanwhile, Bonnie and Travis prayed.  Their family prayed.  Their friends prayed.  Specifically, they prayed to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, asking him to intercede for James at the throne of God.

Bonnie and Travis had started watching old videos of Archbishop Sheen while Bonnie was pregnant with James.  Convinced of Sheen’s holiness, and knowing that his cause for canonization was open, they decided to name their unborn son after the Archbishop.  Bonnie began to ask for Sheen’s intercession over her pregnancy, labor, delivery, and entire life of the unborn James Fulton.

During those 61 minutes, the worst, most profoundly dark moments a parent can go through, Bonnie found herself unable to think, unable to even pray.  In a state of total shock, the only thing she could think to do was just say the name of the man she’d formed the habit of talking to over the course of James’s pregnancy.   She called on him, and relied on his prayers.  It was all she could do.

Then, when everyone stopped working on James and the time of death was about to be called, there was a heartbeat.

James Fulton was rushed to NICU, where he spent the next three days being “cooled,” a therapy designed to spare the tiny body further damage.

Further damage.  It was this phrase that hovered in the air.  If James continued to live, doctors counseled the parents, the amount of further damage would be astronomical.  Massive injury to the brain.  Possible amputation from the second epinephrine shot, which had leaked all over James’s tiny leg.  The EEGs showed abnormal brain activity.  The MRIs showed brain damage.  Bonnie and Travis were reeling, envisioning a life radically different from anything they ever thought they could shoulder.  

Here, the couple relied on their faith.  God had been so generous to them during the pregnancy, providing for their every need.  During that time James was in the NICU, when Bonnie and Travis were told to expect their son’s death either from massive organ failure or severe disability, they reminded themselves that God is good – that he has always been faithful – and that this would not change.

Time passed.  Over a hundred people gathered in the Peoria cathedral in Illinois, the place Fulton Sheen served at Mass and was later ordained, holding a Holy Hour and Mass.  They prayed for Sheen’s intercession, for him to continue looking after James, as he had during Bonnie’s pregnancy, and as he had during the hour James was lifeless.  The story of James, the Boy Who Lived, spread across the world.  Non-believers asked believers to pray.  Family members started attending Mass again in thanksgiving.  Schoolchildren spiritually adopted James and asked Fulton Sheen’s intercession for him daily.

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