Shortly after marrying Joe in October, 1976, I began to develop mouth ulcerations. These ulcerations would cover the sides of my mouth, my tongue, the back of my throat, and many times extended into my esophagus and covered my larynx — which would give me laryngitis. One year, I had no voice for more than nine months! The ulcerations were very painful, would last 10-14 days, and cause me to lose a lot of work time.
I was seen by my family doctor, by an ear nose and throat specialist, by dentists, and by infectious disease specialists. Initially, they all suspected I had cancer and was a smoker and drinker. I didn’t — and don’t — smoke or drink, and I didn’t have cancer. They couldn’t understand how someone could have the sores and sound like I did and not have cancer. None of the physicians could determine the cause of the ulcerations or how to cure them. So I was treated symptomatically: Tylenol for fever and Lidocaine for the painful sores.
The pattern was set: I would feel extreme, unexplainable exhaustion one week, which would always be followed by the sores. Normal life was difficult at best. This continued year after year, with several occurrences per year, which seemed to just get more and more severe. I was told to limit my stress, stop eating cheese, avoid breads and white flour, stop eating chocolate, give up drinking tea. Still, nothing stopped the ulcerations. I tried herbal remedies, shots, and homeopathic and many other treatments. All of them failed.
In May 2000, the same month that St. Faustina was canonized by Pope John Paul II, I was diagnosed with having a mass in my breast. As if that news was not bad enough, after seeing a surgeon, I was told I would have to wait six weeks before I could have her perform the biopsy (she was going on vacation). A friend at the Catholic hospital where I worked gave me a Divine Mercy booklet that explained the message given to St. Faustina in a series of revelations in the 1930s. My friend assured me that if I prayed the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, a prayer given to St. Faustina by Jesus Christ, I would be fine. I read this wonderful booklet and began to pray the chaplet. The more I read the more I wanted to know about this wonderful Polish nun known as the “Secretary of The Divine Mercy.”
I read about the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. I discovered it was only a few hours from my home! I read St. Faustina’s Diary. I was elated to learn about the promises Jesus gave to her, including:
• “Souls who spread the honor of My mercy I shield through their entire lives as a tender mother her infant, and at the hour of death I will not be a Judge for them, but the Merciful Savior.” (1075)
• “My daughter, write that the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy; [urge] all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all. On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls — no one have I excluded!” (1182)
• “Say unceasingly the chaplet that I have taught you. Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death.” (687)
• “I desire that the whole world know My infinite mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those who trust in my Mercy.” (687)
• And, “Write that when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the Merciful Savior.” (1541)
What a wonderful message! The promises from Jesus filled me with great hope, that even I, a sinner, has a tool by which I can receive mercy — and one day see our Lord in heaven!
Following the sixth week of waiting, I had my biopsy. A few days later, I received the results. I was told that everything was negative. It was then that I promised St. Faustina three things. (Remember, I said to be careful what you promise …)
I promised her the following:
1. I would visit the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
2. I would pray the chaplet as often as possible.
3. I would do everything I could to spread the message of The Divine Mercy and to encourage prayer and devotion to Jesus and St. Faustina.
Keeping my promise to pray the chaplet was easy: I had a 50-mile-a-day commute to my job over a very treacherous stretch of interstate highway. I spent the time praying. It would usually take three chaplets to get to work and three to get home. But I was never stranded or had any accident on this roadway, thanks to St. Faustina!
Keeping my promise to spread the message of The Divine Mercy was easy as well. Any friends, family, or coworkers I knew who were facing surgery, serious illness, or impending death of a loved one, I gave them a Divine Mercy prayercard with instructions on how to pray the chaplet or a booklet explaining the devotions to The Divine Mercy. I also started a prayer shawl ministry at my parish and was able to provide shawls, stoles, blankets, and afghans to those suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses. I gladly gave many of them the prayercard, chaplet rosary, and booklets on The Divine Mercy to pray.
But keeping my promise to come to her National Shrine in Stockbridge was a bit more difficult. Year after year I failed to come to “visit her.” Oh, there were reasons: Many times I was simply too sick with the ulcerations to come; or sick with pneumonia other years; or I had had a bad year with the ulcerations and had used up all my sick and vacation time! I just didn’t get here to the Shrine.
After 2000, I continued to suffer from the ulcerations, but by this time, the doctors had a name for it: Recurrent Aphthous Stomatitis (RAS). It has no known cause or cure.
For whatever reason, in July, August, and September of 2007, my conditions changed for the worse. The ulcerations would form all over the roof of my mouth. But before they would appear, I would experience a prodrome — an early symptom or warning. The prodrome started with a feeling like someone was repeatedly stabbing the roof of my mouth and lower lip with a needle. This sensation would continue for several hours. Then, a series of ulcerations would form.
The exhaustion was overwhelming. After the stabbing pain stopped, the roof of my mouth would feel like sandpaper, rough and scratchy. Within a few more hours I would have a huge, painful lesion that would make talking and eating difficult. This would last 10 to 14 days, sometimes longer.
During August of 2007, I saw my family doctor while I had a huge lesion on the roof of my mouth. She had never seen one so large (she even felt compelled to show it to her medical students!). I was given a prescription for Tylenol III for pain and for something called Miracle Swish — a liquid given to cancer patients who sometimes get these sores.
By September 2007, with another attack of the lesions starting, I felt I just couldn’t keep having this month after month. I decided that someone “out there on the internet” must know something about this illness. So I began doing web searches for a clinical trial. I was just so desperate. I found a doctor at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. At last, I thought, I would get some help! But after being interviewed, the doctor turned me down for his clinical trial since my symptoms were “too severe” and would have skewed his data.
I begged him for any kind of help. He said he had a friend, a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who handled medically complex oral medicine! I was told this doctor would be expecting my call. I decided then and there, that at the start of the next attack, I would call this physician.
In October 2007, my desire grew stronger to finally keep my promise and visit the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. So, on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007, my husband and I drove to Stockbridge. I checked the National Shrine’s website and noticed that Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC, was being buried that day. I wondered if they would still have the chaplet and Mass in the afternoon. I checked the website, and it seemed like the day’s schedule was in place. So after waiting out some valley fog, we set out.
It was one of those “top ten days,” as I call them. A perfect day. The sky turned clear and deep blue. The trees were dressed in their finest fall colors. The temperature was cool. But then, as we started to drive, I started to feel the dreaded needle-like stabbing in the roof of my mouth. Another attack.
I told my husband. He wondered if we should turn back. He knew by the time we got to Stockbridge I’d have another painful lesion. I said, “No, let’s keep going.” We arrived at the Shrine about 2 p.m. I was in awe: Here I was, at St. Faustina’s Shrine!
We attended the Mass and stayed to pray the chaplet. My mind and prayers were focused on so many people: my parents who had health issues; my brother and his wife who had been diagnosed with cancer; the many recipients in my prayer shawl ministry who had died and some who were living/surviving with cancer; and my husband, who had stents, a heart problem, and diabetes. I honestly didn’t asked for anything for me. I didn’t even think of it!
I didn’t realize that we’d have a chance to kiss the relic of St. Faustina! I was thrilled. I couldn’t have been happier. Sick by then, but definitely happy.
Following the Mass, our time was limited since we wanted to return home soon. I wanted to see the outdoor A-frame altar behind the church that I had seen on TV for Divine Mercy Sunday celebrations. It was about 4:15 p.m. The sun was setting over the mountains and glistening through the fall leaves. It was a magnificent sight. I felt humbled to be where so many other pilgrims have stood — before the image of The Divine Mercy at the outside altar. I took several pictures, and we soon walked back to the car to leave.
As I headed down the drive from Eden Hill, I suddenly stopped the car and pulled to the side. My husband wondered if I was too sick to drive. I told him, “You’re not going to believe this, but my sores are gone! They’re all gone!” The roof of my mouth, where the lesion had been just a few hours ago, was as smooth and clear as the other side of the roof of my mouth! I said, “Maybe I’ve been cured.”
When we arrived home, I told my parents what had happened. I cautiously used the word “cure.” But in my heart, I knew that if, through the intercession of St. Faustina, The Divine Mercy had cured me, I would not get them back.
I decided to hold off celebrating, just in case. The longest time I had gone without the sores was usually three to four months. So, I thought I’d wait until January. Sometime in December 2007, I finally had the photos printed from my trip to the Shrine. I had passed them around to folks at work, friends, my family, and I never noticed anything peculiar until one day someone handed me the photos back, and there above the outside A-frame altar, next to the image of The Divine Mercy, was a beautiful angel! Now I was certain I was cured. I’ve had the picture enlarged — the angel gets lovelier. I’ve also had the photo and digital card analyzed by digital photographers who have certified I have not altered the image in any way. They cannot explain how the angel got there!
I said nothing for another couple of months, until one evening I talked with my pastor, Fr. Bob Kelleher, about what happened. I showed him the photo. Father Bob saw the angel and told me I needed to contact the Shrine and tell them what happened — how I was healed! Which I did.
I’ve given a lot of thought and prayer to the question I’ve asked myself many times: Why me? Why would I be healed? I think it goes back to my promise to St. Faustina in 2000. I promised I would do all I could to spread the message of The Divine Mercy, and she could use me to do so; I would pray the chaplet; and I would come to “visit her.”
Once I came here to the Shrine to “see her,” I was healed! Makes me wish I came much sooner!
I certainly never thought when we started out on our drive here on Oct. 25, 2007, that I would leave here healed, let alone that she would use me to tell my story to bring others to her and The Divine Mercy!
Pray this chaplet often. Believe in the chaplet’s power. Jesus and St. Faustina are here to assist us and want us to get to Heaven. Promise her (St. Faustina) anything — but remember, she will hold you to it.