The miracle in Bonnie Engstrom’s awe-inspiring “61 minutes” book is (very) local

Reviewed by Nancy Piccione

Bonnie Engstrom’s new book is literally awe-inspiring.

“61 Minutes to a Miracle: Fulton Sheen and a True Story of the Impossible” is part page-turning medical mystery story; part spiritual memoir, about faith, acceptance, and openness to the Holy Spirit; and part primer on the fascinating process of “saint-making” in the church.

“61 Minutes to a Miracle” is — true to its title — about Engstrom’s son James, who was born without a heartbeat and remained so for 61 minutes. Miraculously, he did not suffer any brain damage or lasting effects from the trauma of his birth. The Engstrom family, friends, and people worldwide prayed for the intercession of Venerable Fulton Sheen, a Peoria diocese native, to heal James. Vatican approval of that miracle this summer paved the way for Bishop Sheen’s beatification.

Full disclosure: at the time the miracle happened, I knew and had worked with Engstrom on several projects. We lived in nearby towns, so I got updates in real time as it was happening. So to read the amazing events in book form, told in Engstrom’s engaging voice, was both a bit of “deja vu” and a wonderful way to relive that incredible time.

Reading “61 Minutes to a Miracle” helps the reader explore the mystery of why miracles happen; how God can move in the hearts and lives of everyone; and how intercession to the saints is good for us and for our world.

Everything is written exactly as it happened, as I heard about the story through Engstrom herself and many other local sources at the time. And because the events described are so amazing, it is reassuring to have minor (and of course major) details be accurate.

The honesty of the book is perhaps because, as described in “61 Minutes to a Miracle,” the Engstrom family went through the process of the cause for beatification and canonization of Fulton Sheen. In those proceedings, literal truth is needed, and those interviewed in the case have to testify and swear that they are telling the truth.

SPIRITUAL PILGRIMAGE

But the book is not just a dry accounting of the medical facts or specific chronology. Because Engstrom writes in such a natural, candid voice, this book becomes a way for readers to join in the spiritual pilgrimage of the Engstrom family, and all those around them, as they experienced life, pregnancy, learning about saints, losing a child and then gaining him back, and just living life well.

How they managed to walk through this harrowing experience, through the grace of God, the help of their friends, family, and medical team, is the center of this book.

Probably my favorite part of “61 Minutes to a Miracle” is how Engstrom likens her son James’ story with that of Lazarus from the Gospel of John. That is partially because the raising of Lazarus is replete with so many details to meditate on related to the mystery of life and death. And it may also be because I love St. Martha dearly, and her profession of faith (“You are the Christ, the Son of God”) to Jesus when he came to raise Lazarus is a particularly poignant moment in the life of Jesus.

SHEEN’S INTERCESSION

It is also lovely that the miracle leading to Sheen’s beatification should not only occur in his home diocese, but also that Sheen, one of the most media-savvy people of his time, should intercede in a case whose prayer requests spread widely due to media. That is, specifically, social media, as Engstrom is a popular blogger and active online in Catholic spheres.

It is a kind of “virtuous circle” for Sheen to reach out to Engstrom in the healing of James, and Engstrom honors Sheen and makes him even more well known because of the miracle.

As Engstrom writes about why the miracle would have happened in their family, “It was Jesus Christ who brought James Fulton back to life. It was Christ’s death and resurrection that conquered death once and for all. I do not know why it happened this way. The only answer I can give is probably the only answer I should be concerned with: the glory of God.”

Reading “61 Minutes to a Miracle” helps the reader explore the mystery of why miracles happen; how God can move in the hearts and lives of everyone; and how intercession to the saints is good for us and for our world.

NANCY PICCIONE is a member of St. Jude Parish in Peoria and former editor of The Catholic Post’s Book Page. She blogs at readingcatholic.com.

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