Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- At the Vatican this Sunday, two women with roots in Central and Upstate New York will be canonized. Hundreds of Catholic pilgrims are on their way to Rome right now to witness the celebration.
One of these “Saints Among Us” is Mother Marianne Cope, a Syracuse Sister of Saint Francis who founded St. Joseph’s Hospital and spent the last 35 years of her life caring for dying lepers in Hawaii. The church credits her with two miracles – inexplicable medical healings attributed solely to prayers to Marianne.
The first miracle: The recovery of a Bishop Ludden High School student 20 years ago – a case that astonished doctors and led to the making of a saint.
“I believe there are some things that are meant to be fixed,” said Dr. Russ Acevedo, “and some things are not meant to be fixed.”
Dr. Acevedo’s vocation is to fix things, if it’s meant to be. He’s the Director of Critical Care at Crouse Hospital. In December 1992, into his care came 14-year-old Kate Mahoney. She had surgery that summer for ovarian cancer and was on chemotherapy. One of the cancer drugs she had been taking caused a fluid build-up and during a procedure to remove the fluid, Kate went into cardiac arrest – for 25 minutes. By the time her heart got started again, every other vital organ was shutting down.
Her chances for survival were not good.
“It would be a chance, a very small chance,” said Dr. Acevedo. “As far as hard data, it would suggest the odds were extremely against her. But if there's a one percent, two percent chance, am I seeing that 1 or 2 percent chance?”
Dr. Acevedo didn’t think she’d make it. Neither did Dr. Richard Hehir, who later reviewed Kate’s case.
“The extent of her disease was just overwhelming,” said Dr. Hehir. “Her liver functions were terrible. I've never seen anybody with this degree of liver failure recover. That's just her liver. Her bone marrow, you know her red blood cell, white blood cell, and her platelet counts, wiped out. Her kidneys failed, weren't working at all. You just couldn't really believe that she would recover from all of these things.”
“Very rarely would you find somebody with this degree of multi-system organ failure surviving that,” Dr. Hehir continued
Kate’s mom, Mary Mahoney, knew full well the prognosis for her little girl and remembers her personal prayer to God at the depth of her desperation that December.
“I remember, just saying, you know, your will be done. You know, we did learn that in Catholic school. It is part of one of those things you go back to. And, you think, you know, whatever. You know, if this is the way it is to be, this is the way it is to be,” Mary said.
But it was not to be. First, the Mahoneys had a very deep faith.
“We have faith for a reason. If we don't have faith, forget it, we’re nothing,” Kate’s dad John said.
And, as divine providence would have it, John had spent ten years working for Congressman James Hanley. Hanley’s cousin was Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, who had been working since the mid-70s as Director of a Cause -- the cause for canonization of Mother Marianne Cope.
Sister Mary Laurence had spent 20 years filling file drawers with documents and evidence, filling volumes with research and writing the life story of this Franciscan holy woman of heroic virtue, who had cared for Hawaiian lepers. But beyond the story of a life, Sister Mary Laurence also believed in the power of prayer for Mother Marianne to intercede with God for Kate’s recovery.
“She had the relic with her at that time and she asked if she could lay the relic on Kate's head and pray for her,” Mary said. “The prayers are like, babbling prayers, when you're in that kind of intense situation. You know, 'Mother Marianne, please help her! Please!' You know, this type of thing.”
Kate had already been in Crouse Hospital’s intensive care for a good three weeks, when those intensive prayers began shortly after New Year’s Day 1993; prayers not just in the hospital, but in countless other hearts who believed in Mother Marianne’s power to intercede.
Within days, Kate’s organs began to recover one-by-one. Mom knew Sister Mary Laurence had to know the news.
“I remember the first time I felt Kate squeeze my finger, I had to call her, and tell her, you know, Mother Marianne is at work,” Mary said. “There is that intensity, which is just unbelievable, to the point of numbness. Where you go through and then all of a sudden, she gets through this, she gets through the next thing, and it's like you know what? These prayers are being answered.”
Doctors took Kate off the drug that had kept her asleep. She woke up and six weeks after she entered intensive care she was moved to a step-down unit. To the astonishment of her doctors, Kate Mahoney was on the road to recovery. She was released from the hospital in mid-March 1993.
“The fact that she recovered from this, you know, we're probably saying to ourselves, boy we did a darn good job in this case here. But, no, I would have to say this was very unexpected,” said Dr. Acevedo.
At the time, Dr. Acevedo had no clue about the prayers to Mother Marianne. As Kate got stronger, so did the belief that her recovery was a miracle, brought about by Marianne’s intercession. Her mom and dad were convinced right away.
“It was the first time we ever had been exposed to a miracle. We saw it right there in front of us,” John said.
“The doctors said there is no medical explanation for her recovery,” Mary explained. “I do believe it’s a miracle.”
Kate Mahoney is now 34 years old.
“We all know that something really amazing and miraculous happened,” Kate told NewsChannel 9.
However, Kate didn’t come to that awareness immediately. At her high school graduation in 1996, Dr. Acevedo joined the celebration. She resumed a normal, healthy life with family and friends and yet, she says, “Strangers would come up to me. You're the little girl we prayed for and you're so much better, and I sort of was like, 'Yeah, I guess that happened.' I just wasn't, I hadn't taken ownership of that yet. It took me all through high school and a couple years away from this environment where that was my identity to come back and start putting it together, kind of on my own terms.”
As Kate was putting it all together on her terms, Sister Mary Laurence, Director of the Canonization Cause for Mother Marianne, was doing the same thing.
She asked Dr. Richard Hehir for his opinion.
“I couldn't believe that she recovered. I think this is a case that warrants us asking the Bishop to set up a Tribunal, and really look at this closely,” Dr. Hehir said.
Bishop James Moynihan assembled that tribunal, to investigate Kate’s recovery as a possible miracle. The medical doctor on that tribunal was Dr. Hehir.
“The recovery has to be totally inexplicable. It has to be something beyond the beyond. From a medical standpoint, her recovery was totally unexpected,” Dr. Hehir continued.
The Tribunal interviewed 15 people, including four doctors and wrote a 1,700 page book making the case that Kate Mahoney’s recovery was a medical miracle, charting the day-by-day progress of a girl who was so close to death and came back to life.
“My discharge paperwork from the intensive care unit, I think it's the second to last sentence, is something like ‘This recovery cannot be explained medically,’” Kate said. “Yes, I do think it was a miraculous occurrence.”
The Vatican agrees with Kate, her parents and the doctors. Her recovery was a miracle. The first one attributed to the intercession of Mother Marianne Cope.
“If my only job in this whole process is to create global awareness for the remarkable woman that Mother Marianne was, that is satisfying to me,” Kate said.
On Wednesday, NewsChannel 9’s Dan Cummings will bring us the second miracle attributed to Mother Marianne Cope: The healing of a Chittenango woman seven years ago.
Dan will also be at the Vatican starting later this week to cover the Canonization. Look for his reports starting Thursday on NewsChannel 9.