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Miracle: Fla. woman’s cure may lead to sainthood for Blessed Karl of Austria

ORLANDO, Fla. (The Florida Catholic) - It appeared to be an ordinary gathering of faithful for morning Mass in the chapel of St. James Cathedral, but Jan. 31 was anything but ordinary for those gathered. The Mass signaled the closing of a 16-month investigation of a miraculous cure that may propel Blessed Karl of Austria to the threshold of sainthood.

“This is a very privileged moment for the Diocese of Orlando,” Bishop Thomas Wenski said at a closing ceremony following the Mass at the diocesan chancery in downtown Orlando.

Blessed Karl of Austria, also known as Charles I, Emperor of Austria, was the last of the Habsburg monarchs. He died in 1922. Known for a life of holiness and advocacy for peace, he was beatified in Rome in 2004.

Thousands of miles away in the Kissimmee area of central Florida, a woman, in her mid-50s, who received a diagnosis of breast cancer began what seemed an endless cycle of hospitalization and treatment. The cancer had metastasized to her liver and bones. Medical opinion deemed the disease terminal. She was bedridden. Nothing more could be done. Nothing more on earth, that is.

Soon, a network of prayer began, asking for heavenly intercession through Blessed Karl. One miracle has been attributed to him by the Vatican since his death, clearing the way for his beatification. A second miracle must be confirmed before he can be canonized.

Novena to Karl

The series of occurrences that led friends of a Baptist woman in Florida to seek divine assistance for her through a European royal under consideration for sainthood by the Catholic Church began with a Louisiana couple’s trip in Austria.

“This is such an extraordinary story, how this whole thing happened. It really is,” said Paula Melançon of Baton Rouge, who along with her husband, Joseph, met and befriended Blessed Karl’s grandson, Archduke Karl Peter, while traveling through Austria.

The Melançons, who told their story to the Florida Catholic after attending the Jan. 31 Mass, said the archduke later invited them to his grandfather’s October 2004 beatification ceremony. The following Christmas, Paula Melançon gave her sister-in-law, Vanessa Lynn O’Neill of Atlanta, a medal of Blessed Karl and a book of novena prayers to him she had received at the ceremony.

“I knew that when I got that novena — I knew that my mother’s best friend was sick — I just knew at that moment that it was something I was going to do. And that is how I got started, I just prayed the novena,” O’Neill said.

Friends near and far joined O’Neill, her mother and her mother’s sick friend in a prolonged period of prayer. The woman recovered and medical experts could not offer an earthly explanation as to why.

How is this friend now? “She’s great — truly a miracle,” O’Neill said.

The woman, not publicly identified, attended the closing Mass.

“The sequence of events has all been totally guided by the spirit of God,” Joseph Melançon said. “There is no other way to describe it; no way,” Paula Melançon added.

Understanding intercessory prayer

O’Neill, who is married to Paula’s brother Tom, and O’Neill’s mother are converts to Catholicism.

“A fairly recent conversion, too,” Paula Melançon said. “She (O’Neill) called and said, ‘Explain this to me, this novena, and intercessory prayer.’

“I did. She told me, ‘I want to start praying for my mother’s best friend.’” Emotional, Paula Melançon paused for a moment before concluding, “It’s just been really unbelievable.”

“She was not immediately accepting,” Paula Melançon said of the sick woman. “She did not understand intercessory prayer.” The sick woman thought her friend wanted her to pray to Blessed Karl for healing.

“She realized the prayers were to ask Blessed Karl to intercede before the Lord. She (the sick woman) then said, ‘All prayer is helpful.’”

The woman who received the healing still attends a Baptist church and continues to pray the novena to Blessed Karl.

Do you believe in miracles?

According to a 2000 Newsweek Poll, 87 percent of Americans believe miracles can happen to people of religious faiths different than their own.

Bishop Wenski, at the request of the Vatican, commissioned an Ecclesiastical Tribunal to investigate the alleged miracle.

The Tribunal was composed of Father Fernando Gil, judicial vicar for the diocese, who served as the promoter of justice or the “devil’s advocate”; Father Larry Lossing; Father Gregory Parkes, chancellor of canonical affairs; a medical doctor who served as the court expert; and Delma Santiago, the notary. Bishop Wenski also attended some of the proceedings.

Father Gil said, “Other alleged miracles attributed to the intercession of Blessed Karl I are currently being investigated in different places in the world.”

At the chancery, documents were signed, sealed and placed in special boxes.

The boxes were then tied, sealed with wax and stamped with an official seal by Roman postulator Andrea Ambrosi. The boxes were to travel by diplomatic pouch to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints where the case will receive further study. Pope Benedict XVI will make the final decision as to whether a miracle took place.

“I am very happy that the first miracle that is being attributed to Blessed Karl (after his beatification) has been documented from the United States,” said Benedictine Brother Nathan Cochran of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., where he is the curator of the art collection. He is also a delegate to promote the cause of canonization of Blessed Karl in the United States and Canada, at the behest of Archduke Rudolf, one of three remaining sons of Emperor (Blessed) Karl.

Gratitude from the archduke

For this special occasion, Brother Cochran brought a relic of Blessed Karl and placed it on the table for the signing of the documents. He added, “Archduke Rudolph is very aware of what’s happening today and says ‘thank you very much.’”

In a follow-up telephone call, Paula Melançon spoke of the woman at the center of the miracle. “Knowing her, I think she would say to everyone, trust in God and have faith in the Lord.”

Paula Melançon, herself deeply affected by the whole experience, said, “I have certainly grown in my faith watching the faith of that woman.”

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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Florida Catholic (www.thefloridacatholic.org), official newspaper of the dioceses of Orlando, Venice, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach and Pensacola-Tallahassee, and the Archdiocese of Miami.

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