Omaha’s Miracle Man
How Legate Dr. Edward Gatz’ extraordinary healing led to a new Catholic saint . . .
Nothing strikes the core of our being more powerfully than coming face-to-face with our own mortality. So when Dr. Edward Gatz — a member of Legatus’ Omaha Chapter — learned that he had six months to live, it sent his mind reeling.
The great irony is that Gatz was given six months to live more than 25 years ago.
His friend and anesthesiology partner, Dr. Donald Kerr, broke the news to him on Jan. 10, 1989. Gatz was 51 years old, working 80 to 100 hours a week as an anesthesiologist at Omaha’s then-Bergan Mercy Hospital.
But at the time, no one could foresee how the tragic news would one day turn into tremendous joy for thousands.
A few weeks earlier, Gatz had noticed thousands of bumps on his hands. Preliminary tests were inconclusive. Then his doctor had him undergo an endoscopy which revealed a fist-sized cancerous tumor which spread through his esophagus, around the vagus nerve and into the stomach.“We went home after the terrible news,” recalled Jeanne Gatz, his wife. “Ed was stunned and depressed. I asked him what the next step would be, and he said, ‘Nothing.’” Gatz believed that this type of cancer — adenocarcinoma of the esophagus — wouldn’t respond to radiation or chemotherapy.
“I came home and called Fr. Richard McGloin immediately, a Jesuit friend and former teacher at Creighton University. He was a walking saint,” said Jeanne. “I told him we needed his prayers.”After Jeanne explained that her husband did not want to do anything, Fr. McGloin said something which stunned her: “The doctors have never heard of Jeanne Jugan, the founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor. You and I will say a novena to her every day without fail for Ed’s cure.”Neither Jeanne nor Ed knew the Little Sisters of the Poor, but Fr. McGloin had been a chaplain at one of their centers in Milwaukee during the 1950s. During that time, he developed a profound devotion to the order’s French foundress.
Jugan had been beatified in 1982. The Little Sisters of the Poor — founded in 1839 and dedicated to helping the elderly poor — had been praying for years for another miracle that would bring Jugan to canonization.
In the meantime, the Gatz family traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for surgery, which was purely palliative. It removed as much of the tumor as possible, including 70% of the esophagus and half of the stomach. Father McGloin sent a letter to Jeanne during her time in Minnesota with an official Jugan novena prayer card. In the letter, he wrote: “If she [Jugan] wants to become a saint, she better get busy.”
Gatz’s specific cancer type had never spared anyone in U.S. history. Yet, when Gatz had his first CAT scan three months later, no cancer could be found. Six months later, no cancer. Jeanne and Fr. McGloin continued to pray the Jugan novena every day for five years. The cancer never returned.
Prior to surgery at the Mayo Clinic, Gatz received the Anointing of the Sick three times. His depression left him as soon as he had the first anointing. With each subsequent anointing, he felt more grace and more peace. It is interesting to note that Gatz never prayed the novena to Jugan.
One evening 13 years later, the Gatzes went to a dinner for their archdiocese. That evening a monsignor at their table heard of this medical miracle and suggested that it be documented.As fate would have it, the Gatz family was hosting two consecrated Legionary women at their house that weekend. One of them had just stayed at a Little Sisters of the Poor residence in Kansas City. She had a phone number and a name: Sr. Marguerite McCarthy.“This was the hand of God,” said Jeanne. “Sister Marguerite was the perfect one. I told her our story. She was convinced it was the miracle they had been praying for. She kept calling the motherhouse and pushing the process along.”
The intensive investigation took seven years — from 2002 to 2009 with several roadblocks along the way.
“I had to get my medical records from Bergen Hospital,” Gatz explained. “All of the records were on old machines that wouldn’t work. I had to literally kick a machine to get it on.”
“A tribunal was set up in Omaha to determine the authenticity of this miracle,” Sr. Marguerite added. “And then it sent all their findings to Rome.”
The Gatz family was with Sr. Marguerite in San Pedro, Calif., when they got word that the miracle had been accepted and that Jugan would be canonized.
“Our reaction was just joy and gratitude,” said Sr. Marguerite. “The Little Sisters had been praying for this. We wanted her raised to sainthood.”
The Gatzes traveled to Rome for the canonization on Oct. 11, 2009, with hundreds of Little Sisters of the Poor. They stayed at the Order’s house in Rome and met Mother General Celine de la Visitation, the order’s superior.
Since then, the couple has visited many Little Sisters facilities across the country. They are welcomed as part of the family.
Edward Gatz is now 76 and healthy, and Jeanne continues to pray to St. Jeanne Jugan every day for all her intentions — confident that she has a friend in heaven.
SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.
Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius
Despite their quiet work, the Little Sisters have launched a legal battle against the federal government’s contraceptive mandate. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm, is representing the Little Sisters in a class-action federal lawsuit which includes over 500 Catholic nonprofit organizations.
The mandate would force the nuns to go against Church teaching by forcing them provide health insurance to employees that covers abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations.
“The federal government has put the Little Sisters of the Poor to the choice of either violating their faith or paying millions of dollars in fines,” said Daniel Blomberg, a member of the Becket Fund’s legal team defending the Little Sisters. “No American should ever be placed in this situation.”
A district judge ruled against the Sisters in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 27, and four days later, an appellate judge ruled against them. However, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the Sisters temporary relief from the mandate on Dec. 31, just three hours before fines against them would have begun accruing. The case has been sent back to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to be retried.
“We are praying every day to St. Jeanne Jugan about this, and we are having our residents pray,” Sr. Marguerite explained. “Why should the government have the right to do this? We want to witness to life at the beginning and the end of life.”