Pope Francis announced July 1 that he will declare Blessed John Henry Newman, the 19th-century British cardinal, a saint Oct. 13. The cure of a local woman was the second miracle needed for canonization.
Melissa Villalobos, 42, became interested in Cardinal Newman in 2000 after watching the EWTN show “Newman 2000” that featured scholars and priests talking about the great work and legacy of Cardinal Newman. Her devotion to him began a few years later.
“Fast forward to the year 2011, my husband brought home a couple of holy cards with Cardinal Newman’s picture on them. I put one in the family room and one in our master bedroom,” said the mother of seven who lives in the Chicago suburbs.
Even though he lived in the 1800s, Cardinal Newman looked like someone who could be alive today, she said, and she was drawn to his image.
“I would pass his picture in the house and I would say little prayers to him for whatever our family’s needs were at the time — the children, my husband, myself. I really started to develop a very constant dialogue with him,” Villalobos said.
Her prayers had a miraculous result in 2013. That was when the Northwestern University law school graduate started bleeding during a pregnancy. At the time she had four children — ages 6, 5, 3 and 1 — and a previous pregnancy that ended in miscarriage.
“I started bleeding in my pregnancy and I was losing a lot of blood,” she said. “When I went to the doctor, he did an ultrasound and he said the placenta had become partially detached from the uterine wall, so there was a hole in the placenta and that hole was allowing blood to escape.”
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will declare Blessed John Henry Newman, the 19th-century British cardinal, a saint Oct. 13.
The British theologian will be canonized during a Mass at the Vatican along with a Swiss laywoman, an Indian nun, an Italian nun and a nun known as the “Mother Teresa of Brazil.”
The date for the canonization Mass was announced July 1 during an “ordinary public consistory,” a meeting of the pope, cardinals and promoters of sainthood causes that formally ends the sainthood process.
Born in London in 1801, John Henry Newman was ordained an Anglican priest in 1825. He later founded the Oxford Movement, which emphasized the Catholic roots of Anglicanism.
After a series of clashes with Anglican bishops made him a virtual outcast from the Church of England, he joined the Catholic Church at the age of 44 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1846. Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal in 1879 while respecting his wishes not to be ordained a bishop.
A theologian and poet, he died in 1890 and his sainthood cause was opened in 1958. Pope Benedict XVI beatified him in Birmingham, England, in 2010.
Villalobos also developed a sub-chorionic hematoma, which is a blood clot in the fetal membrane. It was two and a half times the size of the baby.
Since the pregnancy was only in the first trimester and the baby — who would later be born a girl and named Gemma — was still growing, the doctors could only recommend bed rest.
“There was no medicine or procedure we could do to seal this up,” Villalobos said. “I was definitely nervous about even a sneeze coming out of the blue, which could end the pregnancy and the life of my unborn child.”
This happened in May and the baby wasn’t due until January.
On Friday, May 10, 2013, Villalobos went to the emergency room because the bleeding worsened.
Again, the doctor recommended strict bed rest.
“He said, ‘I want you to do as little as possible, just lay in bed, for the duration of the pregnancy, so that possibly you can begin to heal,’” Villalobos said. “This news, of course, was given to us with a heavy heart because the doctor knew I had four children, my husband had to work and the thought that I could lay in bed from May 10 to Jan. 1 and do virtually nothing was not possible.”
The doctor also told the couple that a miscarriage was likely. If the baby survived the pregnancy she would likely be born prematurely because she would be small.
So Melissa went home and spent the weekend in bed, but that didn’t help.
“The bleeding was still going. It wasn’t slowing down. I thought, ‘Gosh, how much more still can I be? What else can I do?’” Villalobos recalled.
Added to the stress was the fact that Villalobos’ husband, David, had to go back to work on Monday and to leave for an upcoming mandatory business trip out of town on Wednesday. The couple worried what they would do if Villalobos had to be in bed for months, especially given David’s demanding work schedule.
They got through the next few days and in the early hours of May 15, David left on his business trip.
“Wednesday morning I woke up in bed in a pool of blood. My husband was already in an airplane on his way to Atlanta,” Villalobos said.
She put off calling 911 because she didn’t know who would care for the kids if she was taken in an ambulance to the hospital.
“I knew in my heart I didn’t have a lot of options here but I was going to try my best,” she said.
She put together simple breakfasts for the children, wanting to them to start eating so she could then lie down in private. She asked them, firmly, not to get out of their chairs no matter what.
“My fear was that they would get out of their seats and get hurt and I was in no position to administer care. Or that they would sneak up on me and see me bleeding so profusely and I didn’t want to traumatize them,” Villalobos said.
She went upstairs to her bedroom, entered the bathroom and shut the doors to both rooms, hoping to hear the children coming so she could hide the bleeding from them before they saw her.
“Now the bleeding was really bad because I had just gone up the stairs, which I really shouldn’t have done. I kind of collapsed on the bathroom floor out of weakness and desperation.”
Villalobos lay there thinking she should now call 911 but she realized she didn’t have her cell phone. She also knew the force of yelling for her kids would cause more damage and bleeding.
She was hoping one of her children would wander into her room so she could ask them for her phone to call 911, but that didn’t happen. She heard nothing from her children and the silence made her even more worried.
With thoughts of losing her unborn baby, worry for her children downstairs and wondering if she could die, Villalobos uttered her fateful prayer.
“Then I said, ‘Please, Cardinal Newman, make the bleeding stop.’ Those were my exact words. Just then, as soon as I finished the sentence, the bleeding stopped.”
She got off the floor and verified there was no more bleeding and said, “Thank you, Cardinal Newman. Thank you.’ Just then the scent of roses filled the bathroom,” Villalobos said. “The strongest scent of roses I’ve ever smelled.”
She inhaled deeply for a few seconds.
“Then the smell stopped and I said rhetorically, ‘Cardinal Newman, did you just make those roses? Thank you.’ And then there was a second burst of roses,” Villalobos said. “I knew it was him.”
Villalobos said she instinctively knew she and her baby were OK. She hurried downstairs to check on her other children. It was too quiet, so she was expecting they were up to some mischief, but they were still sitting there at the table in their chairs.
“I thought to myself in that moment, ‘Oh my goodness! My baby is OK. I’m OK. My four children are OK. We’re all OK. And I said, ‘Thank you, Cardinal Newman,’” Villalobos said.
That’s when she smelled roses a third time. She asked the children if they could smell them, too, but they couldn’t.
That afternoon Villalobos’ cure was confirmed during a weekly ultrasound. The doctor told her everything was “perfect” and there was no more hole in the placenta.
“I was able to resume my full active life as a mom,” she said. “I had missed being a normal mom. I missed holding my children, especially my 1-year-old.”
Baby Gemma was born Dec. 27, 2013, after a full pregnancy, weighing 8 pounds 8 ounces. She had no medical problems.
Villalobos waited until after Gemma was born to report the case to the canonization cause for Cardinal Newman. In fall 2014, representatives from Newman’s cause visited Chicago and met with Villalobos and her husband.
The cause started the formal process of investigating Villalobos’ miracle through the intercession of Cardinal Newman. After the local process for the miracle, which was conducted by officials from the Archdiocese of Chicago, concluded, it was sent to Rome for another series of investigations. The outcome was revealed on Feb. 13, when Pope Francis announced her miracle was accepted and that Cardinal Newman would be canonized.
“It makes me feel filled with joy and gratitude, but I also want to make sure that I serve God as much as I can in my life knowing that he’s given me this cure, that I don’t want to waste my life. I want to be of service to others and to my children and husband and really express my love for them and for the people in my life as much as I can and as often as I can,” she said. “I was cured through Newman’s intercession so that I could continue an ordinary life, if you will, but at the same time be completely devoted to him and especially God himself and our church.”
The second reading for the Third Sunday of Advent is a place of personal resonance: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).
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