Sheen intercession cited in area boy’s alleged miraculous healing

Photo Caption: James Fulton Engstrom is held by his parents, Travis and Bonnie Engstrom of Goodfield, as they are joined by Dr. Andrea Ambrosi (left) and Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, of the tribunal of inquiry.

By: By Jennifer Willems

That James Fulton Engstrom is celebrating his first birthday on Friday is amazing. In fact, some would call his life a miracle.

Considered stillborn on Sept. 16, 2010 after a healthy pregnancy and “a beautiful, short labor,” James was without a pulse for the first 61 minutes of his life. It was only when doctors at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria were ready to call the time of death that his little heart started beating.

His parents, Travis and Bonnie Engstrom, believe James is alive due to the intercession of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Servant of God.

On Sept. 7, a tribunal of inquiry was sworn in to investigate the Goodfield tot’s alleged miraculous healing. Joining James and his family at the ceremony in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in the Spalding Renewal Center in Peoria were Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC; Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, postulator for Archbishop Sheen’s cause for beatification and canonization; and members of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation board, some of whom are relatives of the late archbishop.

In addition to Bishop Jenky and Dr. Ambrosi, those sworn in were:

— Msgr. Jason Gray, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Peoria and judicial vicar of the diocesan Marriage Tribunal. Designated the episcopal delegate to the Sheen tribunal, he is responsible for guiding the process.

— Father James Kruse, vicar general of the Diocese of Peoria and pastor of St. Monica’s Parish in East Peoria. As promoter of justice it is his duty to make sure that canon law is followed.

— Dr. Louis Varela, who practices family medicine in Houston, Texas, and chairs the board of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation. He is the medical expert for the Sheen tribunal.

— Janice Vicary, who works in accounts payable in the diocesan Office of Finance, notary.

— Ann Hill, ecclesiastical notary for the diocesan Marriage Tribunal, copyist.

The work of the tribunal takes place in secret, so there is much that Msgr. Gray cannot say. But since the Engstroms have shared their story widely, he said the general details could be made public.

Msgr. Gray noted that the tribunal’s task is to investigate the alleged miraculous healing and determine whether or not it can be proved through medical documents and the testimony of witnesses.

“We call them to testify to different things,” he said, including the seriousness of the medical condition. “We call them to testify about the fact that prayers were addressed to Fulton Sheen asking for his intercession.
And then we need witnesses to testify to the end result, meaning that the crisis situation was cured, that health was restored.”

Not only will the tribunal confer with the doctors and nurses involved in the case, but also with two outside doctors who can report on the child’s current state of health.

“That way we can see that this isn’t something that has resurfaced,” Msgr. Gray told The Catholic Post. “In other words, it’s a lasting healing.”

He said the number of witnesses is not large, so testimony should be collected relatively quickly. Some time will be needed, however, for the two outside doctors to make their examinations, write reports and then explain the contents to the tribunal.

“My guess, though, is we’re talking about months, not years,” Msgr. Gray said.

Don’t expect a ruling soon, though.

“The alleged healing took place in Peoria; that’s why we’re investigating it here,” he said. “When all’s said and done, it goes to the Congregation for the Causes for Saints in Rome and then they open another phase of this tribunal.”

Only after that investigation is done will recommendations be sent to the pope, who will decide the matter “according to his prudent judgment,” Msgr. Gray said.

Archbishop Sheen is a native of El Paso, “down the road” from Germantown Hills where Bonnie Engstrom grew up. “I always heard people say he was going to be a saint,” she told The Post.

She got to know more about the media evangelist as a student at the Salve Regina Newman Center at Eureka College, where Msgr. Stanley Deptula was chaplain. He is now executive director of the Sheen Foundation.

She got to know a little more last year as she wrote the proposal for a grant from the diocese’s Fulton Sheen Endowment for Religious Education and Adult Faith Formation on behalf of “Behold! A Catholic Conference on the Dignity and Vocation of Women.” She is assistant director of the annual event.

Six or seven months pregnant at the time, Bonnie said she started to pray that this “hometown hero” would pull some strings for the conference and that he would watch over her pregnancy. As she and Travis watched Archbishop Sheen on YouTube they decided that Fulton would be a good middle name if their baby was a boy.

When her son was born in crisis at home a year ago, Travis baptized him James Fulton before the ambulance came.

“I have a memory of watching the midwife perform CPR and praying to Sheen,” Bonnie said. She added that later in the day she asked people through her blog, Learning to Be a Newlywed, to pray for Sheen’s intercession. A Holy Hour and Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, where the archbishop had been ordained in 1919, came two days later.

While doctors had warned that he might be blind and unable to function normally, James is medication free and almost walking. “He laughs and plays with his toys and does things just like he should be doing and has for awhile,” Bonnie said.

She is grateful to everyone who prayed for her son and provided for her family, and it gives her joy to think that Archbishop Sheen is still evangelizing through James.

“I believe it was Sheen’s intercession that played a key role in it, but it was Jesus who healed my son,” she said. “It was for his greater honor and glory.”

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