by Canon Michael Fitzgerald
Fr. Peyton and his brother Tom graduated from high school in 1932 and immediately entered Holy Cross novitiate which was near Notre Dame University in Indiana. Fr. Peyton was 24 years of age. For the next six years Fr Patrick gave his all to seminary life and study, until one day he noticed a speck of blood in his handkerchief. Then in November this turned into an all-out haemorrhage from his lungs. This continued into February 1939 when the haemorrhage was so violent, that he had to find a receptacle to hold the blood. Up to this he had kept secret the seriousness of the situation. The doctors were called in and he ended up three months on the flat of his back in Providence hospital. The X-rays confirmed he had advanced tuberculosis of the right upper lobe and pneumonia-type inflammation of both lungs. The 31 year old Patrick Peyton was in deep crisis, he was seriously ill and he couldn’t pray.
The doctors tried different treatments, but had no success. As a last resort the doctors proposed surgery: remove several ribs and break several others, involving three major operations, the effect to make the shoulder blade fall in, giving the lung rest in order to recover. “It would leave him handicapped for life, even if it worked. It was a desperate situation and the doctors (one Jewish and the others Protestants) spoke to him saying, “Patrick, you are a man dedicated to God. Your choice now is to put yourself in our hands and trust to our efforts, or to write us off and put your trust in God and in prayer.”
At this critical moment in the drama enters a Fr. Cornelius Hegarty whom he had met at the beginning of his training. It was October 1939. Fr. Peyton recalls that Fr. Hegarty confronted him with the question: Was my faith a sham or a reality? He said to him, “You have faith Pat, but you are not using it. You brought it with you from Ireland. Your mother gave it to you, just as her mother had given it to her.” Then he explained to Fr Patrick how meaningful prayer to Our Blessed Mother would be, if only we used the faith we possessed. “Our Lady will be as good as you think she is. If you think she is a fifty per-center, that is what she will be; if you think she is a hundred per-center, she will be for you a hundred per-center.” The priest continued, “Even Our Lord and Our Lady do not do as much as they could do, because we think they are not able. We limit them by the extent of our faith”. Then Fr. Hegarty pledged to begin a novena of masses the following day, declaring it is the greatest thing on earth. He explained it was not just some holy man or holy woman praying for nine days, but it is Jesus Christ praying to His Father and that is power infinitely greater than any power on earth. Fr. Hegarty explained to him the power of the intercession Mary.
From this conversation the young 31 year old Patrick Peyton began to see Mary, walk with her, talk to her, realizing she was a real person who would listen, love and respond. Then Fr. Peyton expresses these incredible words: “Mother, I believe that you are alive, that you are real, that you are a woman, that you have eyes, a face, a smile, a memory, intelligence, a heart. You have a mother and father of your own. You have son, who is truly God, who loves you, who will deny nothing you ask.” Following this amazing conversation, the decision was made, there would be no operations. Fr. Peyton put his trust in God and the help of His Mother.
In the following days Patrick Peyton prayed constantly to Our Lady to cure him. Fr. Hegarty’s visit was around October 25th. On the Eve of all Saints Patrick was eating his supper and listening to Irish tunes when suddenly the oppression and the depression and the darkness were swept from his soul. They were replaced by a lightness, a freedom and a hope. Fr Patrick Peyton felt suddenly better, a fog had lifted. His miraculous cure was confirmed in his following visits to the doctors and Fr Patrick Peyton was allowed to continue his studies for the priesthood. The big question remained: how could he thank God and Our Lady for the enormous favour he had received? (We will answer that in the next article).