Paul Kengor: Do you believe in miracles?
Do you believe in miracles? That’s a line made famous, of course, by sportscaster Al Michaels regarding the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. But that’s nothing compared to the miracle I heard about two weeks ago.
I was at Eureka College, alma mater of Ronald Reagan, speaking on Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Bishop Fulton Sheen. There I met Bonnie Engstrom, who graduated from Eureka many decades after Reagan, and her husband Travis.
Those familiar with my work know I’ve done a book on Reagan and John Paul II, but for years I’ve likewise studied Sheen. He was enormously popular, watched and beloved by huge numbers of Protestants as well as Catholics. He was on the cover of everything from Time to TV Guide. His No. 1 television show was “Life is Worth Living.”
Sheen lived not only a prolific life but a holy one — so much so that the Vatican in June 2012 declared him “venerable.” The cause for his canonization has been in process. It requires not only affirmation of holiness but the miraculous — which brings me to Bonnie Engstrom.
In 2010, Bonnie gave birth to a stillborn baby boy who showed no signs of life for 61 minutes, until he suddenly came to life with a perfectly normal heartbeat, vital signs, everything. No brain damage. That’s unheard of. Few to none escape brain damage after merely a few minutes of death. 61 minutes?
Today, James Fulton is a healthy 8-year-old.
Bonnie and her husband prayed specifically and solely to Fulton Sheen for his intercession to God. She already had a special fondness and devotion to Sheen, who hails from the same Peoria area. Bonnie kept praying to Sheen as she lay in shock, on the floor, near her bed, giving birth at home. Travis called 911 and performed an emergency baptism. The ambulance arrived and rushed the baby to nearby St. Francis Hospital.
Still with no pulse after over an hour, the ER crew gave up resuscitation to declare the child certifiably dead. Just then, his heartbeat instantly started at 148 beats per minute. What happened is not medically explainable.
This short column doesn’t allow space to go into detail, but the many confirmed facts of the case, including by medical personnel and experts, and the official Vatican team that has probed the account with microscopic scrutiny, is truly remarkable. In March 2014, the Vatican’s seven-member board of medical advisers unanimously recommended the case as a miracle. In June 2014, the team of official theologians who advise the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the miracle.
Non-Catholics, not to mention many Catholics, have no idea how intense the process is for authentication of a miracle. The Vatican has an official Devil’s Advocate, Advocatus Diaboli, tasked with the duty of trying to find flaws or falsity in claims of the miraculous. I was doing something of the same to the Engstroms when I met them at Eureka — a skepticism I’ve had my entire life, particularly back to my agnostic-atheist days as a pre-med biochem/biophysics major at Pitt. I’ve never blindly accepted things.
The vast majority of what people think are miracles do not pass muster in Rome. The case of James Fulton Engstrom, however, has. This, it appears, is a miracle to believe in.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the Institute for Faith & Freedom at Grove City College.