Nancy Foytik of Reedsville, WI, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, and it had metastasized into both lungs. Doctors gave her a grim prognosis. After one round of chemotherapy, Foytik and her family decided to visit the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in the town of Champion, not far from Green Bay, in 2012.
“We didn’t have any hope. We went there for guidance,” she wept while telling her story on NBC’s Today last year. Yet after praying to the Virgin Mary there, “We just knew when I walked out of the chapel that day I was going to be cured… I can’t explain it other than that. I didn’t hear the words, but I felt them, that said ‘you’re going to be okay.’”
Surgeons removed a softball-sized tumor from her colon and smaller tumors from her right lung. When they performed a third surgery, they found the tumors in her left lung had disappeared. Foytik has been cancer-free ever since.
“I was an active Catholic,” she said. “I prayed, but I never prayed to Mary as much as I did to God. Mary was just the one I needed to go to at that time.”
What makes a miracle?
Foytik said she and her family never used the word “miracle” to describe her experience. Many Catholics, however, claim that their healings — whether physical, emotional, or spiritual — occurred through Mary’s intercession.
Often these healings are associated with Marian pilgrimage sites such as Our Lady of Good Help, the only Church-approved apparition site in the United States. Healings and conversions have been reported from there dating nearly to the time the Virgin Mary first appeared to young Adele Brise in 1859.
Perhaps the best-known of these shrines is Our Lady of Lourdes in France, where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858, one year prior to the Wisconsin apparition. Although more than 7,000 healings have been claimed at Lourdes, the Church has officially recognized just 70 of them. That’s largely because such miracles, like the miraculous healings investigated in causes for canonization, undergo painstaking scrutiny to ensure there is no natural explanation.
“For a cure to be considered a true miracle at Lourdes or at the Consulta Romana in the Vatican’s examination of intercessory miracles to be used for sainthood causes, it must pass the very old and strict ‘Lambertini criteria’ named for Prospero Lambertini, an Italian cardinal who later became Pope Benedict XIV, who was born in 1675,” explained Michael O’Neill, author of the 2015 book Exploring the Miraculous and host of “The Miracle Hunter” program on Relevant Radio. “The healing must be of a serious condition not liable to go away on its own, instantaneous, complete, and lasting — normally at least 10 years.
“Most difficult of all in our modern age,” he added, “there can be no medical treatment that relates to the cure.”
In 2018, the Church officially recognized the 70th miracle of healing to have taken place at Lourdes. It involved Sister Bernadette Moriau, a French nun who visited there in 2008. For 28 years she had suffered spinal complications that caused disabilities requiring use of a wheelchair. She regularly took prescription morphine to ease her pain.
After receiving a blessing for the sick at the shrine, Sister Moriau felt a warm, relaxing surge of well-being throughout her body. “I returned to my room and there, a voice told me to ‘take off your braces,’” she later recalled.
Not only could she move, but she immediately was able to walk away from her wheelchair, leg braces, and painkillers — and felt so good she took a three-mile walk the next day
As with many credible healing claims at the shrine, Sister Moriau’s case was referred to the International Medical Committee of Lourdes. Their painstaking research found no scientific explanation. After approval from the bishop of Sister Moriau’s home diocese, the healing received official recognition. It was the first miracle declared there since 2013.
To Jesus through Mary
Healings are also commonly reported at sites of alleged apparitions that lack official sanction, including Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herezegovina, where Mary is said to been appearing to visionaries since 1981.
In 1999, Artie Boyle of Hingham, MA, was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. Not long after undergoing surgery to remove his diseased kidney, Boyle was told the cancer had metastasized aggressively to his lungs. “Renal cell carcinoma was definitely going to kill me,” he writes in his book, Six Months to Live.
The following year, Boyle traveled to Medjugorje with two close friends. There on Cross Mountain, rosary in hand, he felt an intense pain in his lung. Convinced he had been healed, he called his wife and asked her to make an appointment for a CT scan before his scheduled surgery to remove one of his diseased lungs. Upon returning home, the scan revealed his cancer was gone. Not only that, he and his friends had each experienced profound spiritual healings in Medjugorje.
“The graces received, the prayers answered, and the miracles witnessed are vivid proof to us of [Mary’s] intervention and of the generous response of her Son,” writes Boyle, now a development officer for the Archdiocese of Boston.
Sometimes the apparent healings do not happen by way of pilgrimage, but when Mary answers prayers of intercessions — or simply touches someone’s spirit out of the blue.
Leo de Bondt was raised a Protestant in the Netherlands. At 25, he married into the Catholic Church, but he lost all faith in God after his three-year-old daughter died of leukemia in 1972.
Fifteen years later, he saw a photo depicting Our Lady of the Miracle, a painting in the Basilica of St. Andrea delle Fratte in Rome. It depicts a 19th-century apparition of Mary to a virulently anti- Catholic Jewish man which brought about his immediate conversion. De Bondt was deeply moved by the image and the story behind it.
“It was from that moment that my life changed completely,” he remembered. The Virgin Mary “brought me back to Christ. It was she who called this man who had lived as an atheist for 15 years. I became Catholic again, but this time as I had never been, while discovering the wonder of the Catholic faith.”
De Bondt, who has founded a website dedicated to spreading devotion to the Blessed Mother, says of his reversion to Catholicism: “I hated the Church until Mary called me.”
Power of the Rosary
Catholic evangelist and author Kathleen Beckman tells of how Mary’s intercession turned her son’s life around.
The younger of her two boys was going through a rough time. “I could see the spirit of the world trying to pull him away from our family and take him into a dark world,” Beckman related in a blog post. She began to pray the rosary daily “for our son to be delivered away from all the bad influences and temptations that were pulling him down. I prayed the Glorious Mysteries because I was interceding for my son’s resurrection.”
She continued for a year with no visible results. When her older son returned home from study in Europe, however, things changed unexpectedly. The big brother assessed the situation, wrote his troubled sibling a long and affirming letter, and read it to him. The transformation in the younger son was dramatic and immediate.
“At the end of that day, our son was healed and delivered,” said Beckman. “It was the power of a brother’s love that overcame the power of evil that had a grip on our son…. [But] I have no doubt my son’s healing and deliverance was the fruit of the one-year novena of the Holy Rosary.”
Mark Miravalle, the Saint John Paul II Chair of Mariology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, believes Mary always stands ready to strengthen and heal us.
“Where there is suffering and sickness, there is the Mother, hovering in wait to mediate graces of consolation, healing, and courage, all in conformity to the perfect and generous will of the Heavenly Father,” Miravalle said. “She waits only for our fiat in faith, to be freely welcomed into our homes, into our hearts … to bring to each one of us extraordinary healing graces of the Crucified Christ.”
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.