‘Alleged miracle’ story a highlight of PDCCW convention Oct. 27

Bonnie Engstrom stands in front of a photo of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen as she concludes her presentation on the alleged miraculous healing of her son, James Fulton Engstrom, that is attributed to Sheen's intercession. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

CHAMPAIGN — Even after eight years, Bonnie Engstrom gets choked up when she tells the story of her son’s birth and the role she believes Venerable Fulton J. Sheen played in his miraculous healing.

“Officially this is an alleged miracle,” Engstrom was quick to point out at the beginning of her talk at the 2018 biennial convention of the Peoria Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. “According to the church this would not be an official miracle until the pope declares it an official miracle.

“However, as the mom I have the right to call it a miracle,” she said with a laugh.

Her son’s journey with Archbishop Fulton Sheen started while he was still in Engstrom’s womb. She and her husband, Travis, were watching videos of Sheen’s homilies and his television show, “Life is Worth Living” on YouTube during her pregnancy and were impressed by the El Paso native.

“Here was a man with really humble beginnings. His parents were farmers,” said the blogger, baker, speaker and homemaker from Washington. “But he was who God made him to be. He found his vocation, he found what he loved, he found his talents and gifts and strengths, and he united all of those things to set the world on fire.”

Engstrom remembers turning to Travis and saying, “If this baby is a boy, we need to name him after Fulton Sheen.”

“Beginning with that day and every day for the rest of my pregnancy . . . I would pray to Fulton Sheen and ask him to pray for my baby and to walk with my child through the rest of my child’s life,” she said.

NO WORDS

“I remember in my head saying over and over again, ‘Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen,’ because I had been praying to him for months to pray for my son. In that moment the natural jump for me was to call on him and hope that he had the words to pray for my son. And he did.”

James was her third planned home birth and they didn’t anticipate any problems since she was healthy and so was the baby. No one could have known that there was a knot in the umbilical cord that would continue to tighten as labor progressed, eventually cutting off the baby’s oxygen supply.

The minutes that followed were filled with fear and shock as first the midwife, then the paramedics, and finally the emergency room staff at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria tried to revive the infant. Engstrom, still at home, said she had no words.

“I remember in my head saying over and over again, ‘Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen,’ because I had been praying to him for months to pray for my son,” Engstrom told the women. “In that moment the natural jump for me was to call on him and hope that he had the words to pray for my son. And he did.”

“IT’S ABOUT JESUS”

After 61 minutes without a heartbeat, just when the medical professionals were about to declare him dead, James’ heart started to beat. He would continue to overcome one obstacle after another.

He is now a healthy little boy who likes to eat chicken nuggets and ride his two-wheel bicycle, said Engstrom, who is pregnant with her eighth child.

James was baptized by Travis when his father thought death was imminent and confirmed in the hospital by Father Joseph Donton, their pastor, and Msgr. Michael Bliss, then the chaplain at OSF Saint Francis.

“I am so grateful, still, that our church was able to step in and say, ‘We are going to give your son everything he needs for a holy death, to be a member of the Catholic Church, and to have salvation,’” Engstrom said. “Once again, when we were not able to do anything for our child, we were able to give him the sacraments, to do the most important parenting we could do.”

When James was 9 months old, the Diocese of Peoria opened a tribunal to investigate his alleged miraculous healing. It closed when he was 1 year old and all the documentation was sent to the Vatican.

Sheen was declared “venerable” on June 28, 2012. A medical team and theologians who advise the Congregation for the Causes of Saints have approved it and now it awaits action by Pope Francis.

There has been a “pause in the cause” since 2014, as church authorities work to settle a dispute about where Venerable Sheen’s final resting place will be.

As she ended her presentation, Engstrom reminded the women that “everything I just said is about Jesus.”

“Fulton Sheen’s prayers were an integral part, but it was Jesus Christ and his victory over death and that’s the reason my son is alive,” Engstrom said. “It’s not about Fulton Sheen being declared a saint for Fulton Sheen’s sake. It’s about the glory of God.”

For more details about the alleged miracle, visit Engstrom’s blog, aknottedlife.com.

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