The mysterious illness didn’t seem all that scary at first. It started with little things.
“At first it seemed like fragments of problems … Hair loss, pain in my fingertips, a rash,” recalled Catherine Sims Kuiper.
But it slowly progressed into something terrifying.
A debilitating disease
“The disease accelerated and began to steal my strength,” she wrote in Church Life Journal. Her “never-ending fatigue” became “muscle deterioration and loss.”
Things went from bad to worse. She became totally unable to care for herself, much less her children.
“I became entirely dependent on my husband for all of life’s daily activities and forgot what it was like to be self-sufficient or to care for or play with my children.”
The strange, severe illness turned out to be dermatomyositis, a diagnosis that would be devastating for anyone. But it was especially concerning for Catherine, not only because of her vocation as the mother of three children under the age of 4, but also because of her professional work.
Catherine is a brilliant and accomplished scholar, an Assistant Professor of Education at Hillsdale College. At the time that the illness began, she was working and studying at the University of Notre Dame.
The demands of earning a doctorate degree while parenting a young and growing family would certainly be enough of a challenge for anyone. But with the onset of the mysterious illness, the Kuiper family found their lives turned upside down.
Her husband took on the role of full-time caregiver to Catherine and their little ones. Catherine herself experienced an intense apathy that was unfamiliar in her experience as a faithful cradle Catholic.
“Physical atrophy had, in some measure, generated spiritual apathy,” she wrote. “Life … was just passing by as I watched, without much interest.”
A pilgrimage to Lourdes
It was at that point that the Lourdes trip became possible. Catherine reminisced how her sister “burst into our house one evening with the sudden and completely unexpected offer of a trip to Lourdes.”
She would have expected to feel excited and hopeful at the prospect. After all, she had known of the healing power of the Lourdes grotto all her life: “Lourdes was one of the more brilliant stars in the constellation of living legends that framed a Catholic childhood.”
But she found herself feeling simply resigned. She couldn’t help feeling a little skeptical: “Miracles were probably reserved for people very unlike me,” she figured. “I, a mostly faithful and very average sinner, could not really expect much to happen.”
She and her husband made the journey to the famed Grotto, where she was given a wheelchair to use: “I could walk no more than a few feet at a time.” She felt conspicuous as her husband pushed her wheelchair, rattling around the cobblestones of Lourdes.
It was in the legendary waters of Lourdes that something changed for her, something important.
When we arrived in line for the baths, everyone turned and gestured us forward—yes, yes, come to the front, clearly you need this, you must go in … In those baths there are attendants who assist the sick if need be and lead every pilgrim by hand into the water. I offered my nearly useless limbs to a woman who was my mother’s age, as she gently undressed me and wrapped me in a sheet, then down into the water … She commanded me to “look to the Lady,” a ceramic relief of the Blessed Virgin on the wall. “Tell her what you need. When you make the sign of the cross, we will begin.” Too weak to immerse myself, I waded in and stood as one attendant poured water over my head, another murmured a Hail Mary in French, and another said, “St Bernadette, priez pour nous.”
The moment of healing
In the waters, leaning her head against the grotto wall, Catherine felt an inner shift.
“I prayed like I meant it because for the first time in a long time, I did mean it … I asked her to heal me not as a pious formality but because I knew she could.”
Referring to a famous poem by a Catholic priest that reads, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” Catherine wrote, “My world was charged again, with God’s grandeur, with his grace, with the power of the Mother that He gave to all of us.”
Catherine felt a profound inner movement from a “feared world of mechanical force” into “Mary’s world, of grace and prayer that is the real force in our lives.” That movement was “nothing less than a miracle.”
Her body is healing now, although she writes that she doesn’t know if her body will ever be fully restored. “I do not know if this improvement could be called miraculous by Lourdes’ fairly stringent standards,” she says candidly. (You can assist Catherine and her young family with donations here.)
But the true healing, the blessing she experienced, was spiritual rather than physical: “I do know that my soul was reborn in those waters.”
Catherine’s story is one of so many incredible occurrences at the famed springs of Lourdes. The miracle of Our Lady’s mercy is alive and well today, not only at a beautiful grotto in France but everywhere that her children call upon her name.