From the Publisher
“Bill Briggs is that rare journalist who can report like a bulldog and write like a poet.”
—Mark Obmascik, author of The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession
“This book has the two most important ingredients for great nonfiction: a great story and a great storyteller. Bill Briggs has a marvelous voice and deft touch.”
—Adrian Wojnarowski, author of the New York Times bestseller The Miracle of St. Anthony
"[An] intriguing glimpse into the Vatican saint-making process….In page-turning prose, Briggs details not only the process by which [one] miracle was authenticated by the church, but also the personal disquiet felt by the recipient, who was forced to ask the question—why me?” Kirkus Reviews
Intriguing glimpse into the Vatican saint-making process.
In 1840, Mother Théodore Guérin left France for the unknowns of rural Indiana. In 2006, she was officially canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Veteran journalist Briggs chronicles the surrounding events during that span of time. Guérin's story is inspiring. She overcame an anti-Catholic population, a misogynist bishop and the difficulties of frontier life to establish a school—now Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College—and grow a religious order. Half a century after this great woman's death, several nuns began the work toward her canonization, a process that would take nearly a century to complete. Briggs vivifies the tale of the various women who overcame their own burdens to research, chronicle and promote this cause for sainthood, all the while battling a sluggish, male-dominated church hierarchy. After one miracle was attributed to Guérin's intercession, the drive for sainthood picked up pace as another documented miracle was required. That miracle came in an unlikely form—the healing of an eye of a non-Catholic, nominally faithful caretaker for the college and order. In page-turning prose, Briggs details not only the process by which that miracle was authenticated by the church, but also the personal disquiet felt by the recipient, who was forced to ask the question—why me? Indeed, the third miracle proved to be the simple answer to that profound question. The author presents an epic story that opens up over 150 years of church history, shining the spotlight on diligent women of faith who the world would otherwise never know.
Not to be confused with the 1997 Richard Vetere novel of the same name, Briggs's book provides an equally entertaining story, with the added benefit of being true.
Read an Excerpt
The convent’s caretaker was an ordinary man. Quiet and industrious. Good with his hands. Good with people. And while he rarely spoke of himself, if pressed, the caretaker would say he was diligent, clever, and careful about protecting precious things— such as his family and his planet. He wasn’t Catholic.
Of course, that never stopped the nuns from liking Phil McCord. He always fixed what was broken. In his fifty- plus years, the caretaker had pondered and solved many conundrums— like snarled plumbing and leaky roofs, like who he was and why he was here. But after his baffling overnight cure, McCord faced new questions. And some of those questions bothered him deeply.
Had he really deserved God’s help? Would he ever receive a bill for his divine favor? If that bill came due, how much would it cost him?
The caretaker was shaped by an endless appetite to see and to grasp the intricate machinery of this world and beyond. He peered past the obvious surface, past accepted explanations. He ripped apart riddles, busted them down to better comprehend their complexities. How did electricity work? How did a biomass furnace function? How much of our paths were forged by self- determination and how much by a higher power? By McCord’s estimation, people generally made their own choices and their own way in this life, and rarely— very rarely— did God step in. He compared his own vision of faith to the massive web of National Security Agency supercomputers that simultaneously eavesdropped on millions of e- mail chats and phone conversations.
“They listen to everything and occasionally they pick up one snippet of something. I look at it like that: God doesn’t micromanage but when something pops up, when there’s an opportunity to do something with meaning, there will be an intervention.”
That was one of the lessons he had learned after he beat the incalculable odds and suddenly got better.
In blue jeans and a gray beard, the caretaker mirrored his humble, homey surroundings. Indiana was his land, and the place had branded him with certain essential values: Earn your keep, mend your own problems, and hash out your big decisions at the supper table. That was where he spent the better part of each evening, sitting across from his wife. She once had been a farm girl. Now she was a nurse. A touch sarcastic, she had seen a lot of blood and a lot of death. She kept him grounded.
“I wonder what all this means?” he posed one night as they shared another steaming meal at the circular wooden table nestled just off their kitchen, next to a bay window. She usually just listened quietly for a while, letting him vent, letting him search.
“Was I just at the right place, at the right time? Am I worthy? How did this happen? How did that work? What caused it? It wasn’t like there was a bolt of lightning or something. I don’t understand.”
“I’ve seen people walk away from so much worse,” she finally answered. “It is what it is. Deal with it. It happens. I’ve seen it. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of it. Accept it.”
If only I could, he thought. If only it was that easy.
Looking back at his trial in 2003, he had done just as the priests had asked. He had told the truth. Yet long after he had watched the priests smile at his miraculous tale, the caretaker fought to find some context in which he could understand those facts, some universe in which that truth made sense.
Before his swift recovery, he had been so frightened. So anxious and desperate. At least now he was healthy. He had found new vision. But he had not yet found peace. He still could not answer his own immense questions. He still had not cracked the most perplexing mystery of all.