By LORRAINE V. MURRAY | Published February 4, 2010
Some people were disappointed when the man dubbed the “mystery priest” turned out to be just an ordinary clergyman who showed up at the right place at precisely the right time.
Still, the fact that he was a flesh-and-blood human being—rather than, say, an angel from heaven—doesn’t detract from the mystical wonder of that day’s events.
An ordinary drive turned into a nightmare for Katie Lentz, 19, who was struck head-on by another car on a Missouri highway on Aug. 11. Her vehicle was so badly crushed that rescue workers tried for an hour—unsuccessfully—to cut through the wreckage to release her. She was in terrible pain and her vital signs were failing fast, and she begged workers to pray aloud for her.
It was then that a Catholic clergyman showed up on the scene. He’d just come from celebrating an early-morning Mass, and when he saw the accident, he certainly didn’t sit in his car stewing about the gridlock.
Instead, he threaded his way through the crowd to the injured woman so he could pray with her and anoint her with the holy oils priests carry with them at all times.
After anointing her, he stepped aside to say the rosary and then left. Soon additional workers arrived with equipment that was able to free Katie from the wreckage. She was airlifted to a hospital, and the priest went on with his day.
He was quite surprised when media headlines began announcing a “mystery priest” and an “angel priest” who had shown up out of nowhere and then vanished after praying with the young woman.
Even normally skeptical news outlets such as The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom entertained the notion that a supernatural event had occurred. Their online headline read: “Holy man appeared from nowhere to pray with trapped girl and rescuers … and then vanished.”
The New York Daily News announced “Mystery priest performs miracle at Missouri crash—then disappears!”
But then a flesh-and-blood human being named Father Patrick Dowling stepped forth and calmly explained—in his wonderful Irish brogue—that he was not an angel at all. He was simply doing what a priest is supposed to do.
At that point, the secular media abandoned the notion that the event was otherworldly in any way and returned to cynicism as usual.
Father Dowling, however, saw the hand of God in the day’s events. In fact, he pointed the attention in exactly the right direction when he said, “It was the Almighty God who took care of that little girl because he loves her so much.”
The story reveals something we often forget. Divine intervention happens all the time but doesn’t make the nightly news. And sometimes God sends everyday people to do the work of angels.
To me, it is not at all surprising that these everyday people often are priests, who get little fanfare for all that they do.
We see them mostly on Sunday, but in fact, they are busy all week, administering the sacraments, celebrating daily Mass—and rushing to the bedsides of the severely ill and the dying at all hours of the day and night.
Who hasn’t invited a parish priest over for supper and had him tell you ahead of time that he was on call and might have to leave if someone needed him? Who hasn’t had a priest say something, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that immediately made bearable an otherwise dark day?
Many people prayed the day of that terrible accident, and many people tirelessly worked to free Katie from that twisted hunk of metal. As Father Dowling humbly put it, “I have no doubt the Most High answered their prayers and I was part of his answer, but only part.”
Father Dowling told reporters that when he later met Katie in the hospital, she broke down and cried. With his wry sense of humor, he postulated that she cried out of disappointment because the “mystery priest” turned out to be a mere mortal, not an angel.
But Katie is clearly a lady of great faith, and I would say that she wept with joy to meet, face to face, the answer to her prayers.