MIRACLES Do Happen* is the title of a book that, not surprisingly, is already a bestseller in the USA and Ireland.
Never have I read any autobiography quite as lively, amazing, and full of spiritual uplift and inspiration as Sr Briege McKenna (a Sister of St Clare from Co Armagh) here offers us. What comes across most appealingly is the unique way she blends charisma and charm, wisdom and humanity, holiness and humour.
As for priest readers, I would strongly recommend them to attend at least for a few days the retreat she is due to give with Fr Kevin ScalIon, CM (he works with her) during the first fortnight of July 1988 at Damascus House, Mill Hill (London NW7).
Sr Briege's ministry to priests has become her major lifework. In her book she traces her spiritual development since the days when, as a young nun in Newry, she became afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis; despite her transfer to the warmer climate of Florida it got so bad that she ended up a helpless cripple in a wheelchair.
Then she found herself one day suddenly and totally cured at a prayer meeting. What she also subsequently found, much to her initial embarrassment and even repugnance, was that God had given her the gift of healing.
On top of that there came the further realisation that God not only wanted her to pray for priests but was calling her as His vessel of election, His instrument for bringing home to them (as well as to the laity) what the sacrament of order really means and entails.
These twin gifts healing and evangelisation (with special emphasis on work for and among priests) have taken Sr Briege literally all over the world.
Crowded and kaleidoscopic though her apostolate is (and, being still in her early-40s, she surely has lots of mileage ahead), Sr Briege sticks unwaveringly to her strict discipline of at least three hours daily prayer (as often as not, I imagine, it's in the wee hours of the morning) before the Blessed Sacrament. This provides the driving force of her life. Grace, as we know, far from impairing or stunting natural gifts, mobilises and enhances them in the Lord's service. Anyhow, she simply radiates sincerity and charity.
Sr Briege's healings are already legendary. Several of these are mentioned in this book. While giving a retreat to priests in Japan, for example, she specially prayed over an elderly French Jesuit who had a very severe gangrene in his leg. So bad was it, in fact, that he had to ask the doctors if he could first make this retreat before the intended amputation took place. Sr Briege also got the other priest-retreatants to pray over him with her. "The next morning," she relates, "the old French priest came running into the room during breakfast in a high state of excitement and elation and with the legs of his trousers rolled up; he was showing everybody that he had been healed."
Another example among hundreds was the cure in a Latin American country of a little boy suffering from severe burns and sores; he was laid under the table doing service as an altar during an open-air Mass. On going to see the lad afterwards, Sr Briege was overjoyed to find him happily playing with a group of children: there was now nothing at all wrong with him.
Sr Briege's many-sided charism includes that of receiving, in many cases when she prays over people, a specific image relating directly to something significant in their lives. A dramatic and far-reaching instance of this was the occasion she prayed over a certain Fr Tomislav Vlasicin Rome; he was a young Franciscan delegate representing Yugoslavia at an international conference.
She saw first of all a white, twin-steepled church (it has since become one of the best-known in the world). Then she saw Fr Vlasic seated on the celebrant's chair in the sanctuary. From the altar were flowing streams of living water, and many people came up with cupped hands to drink of it.
That was in May 1981. Just some weeks later the Medjugorje apparitions started. And, shortly afterwards, on the parish priest being imprisoned by the Marxist regime, Fr Vlasic was quite unexpectedly transferred there. As we know, he was destined to become spiritual director to the visionaries and a key figure in the Medjugorje story.