Read Our Testimonies
Ed & Julie
Edward and I spent the month of January with my very tall brother and beautiful sister-in-law in Boynton Beach. We attended the 5:30 mass every Saturday with them. We were very moved by St. Thomas More Church, and at our last Saturday we heard about the Healing Service for Cancer. Ed was especially moved with Pastor Harris, as his dad is from South Carolina and was raised Baptist - he just really related to him. He loved that he could join the family on the communion line and cross his arms to receive a blessing each week. Our trip to Florida was a bucket list item, as Ed had been diagnosed with incurable advanced stage 4 prostate cancer on the eve of Ash Wednesday 2018. What followed was his desert experience. Although always hopeful, I don’t think even the doctors truly believed he would live past May, and was sent home to put his affairs in order. The cancer had metastasized from prostate to consume the bladder, the entire stomach and pelvic area, the lungs, the pleura, the entire spine, the base of the skull, adrenal gland. His PSA had come in just shy of 13,000 - something never seen by his doctors.
Prayers went out around the world as Ed is a kind and gentle man - a loved retired New York City Transit Police Officer. By May, he was eating again after having gone from a stoutly 300+ to 165 pounds, out of bed and responding to treatment. At the end of January, we attended the healing service, and Pastor Harris blessed Ed with the Sacrament of Healing; a few days later we were on JetBlue back to New York for treatment and appointments at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Scans and tests complete - treatment delivered. The test results show no cancer present in the lungs, no cancer present in the pleura, no cancer present in the bladder, none in the prostate, barely detectable in glands. Cancer remains in bones, abdomen and pelvic area, but has not grown or spread in more than 6 months. As a matter of fact, other than in the bones (spine), the cancer has reduced in size - not quantity. The PSA had dropped as low as 0.67 and now hovers just shy of 6. Ed’s faith journey to Florida started in Tampa at St. Mark’s Church and continues at Saint Thomas More as we still join you in services thanks to your virtual Mass. He wants to be baptized into the Catholic Church, as he has never been baptized. Ed is not and never will be cured, but Ed is healed and continues to work on his healing. We appreciate you - especially Pastor Harris who truly shares the charisma, healing, hope, and joy of the Holy Spirit. We will be back in July and hope to be in the pews for a personal vs. virtual presence and share liturgy with you again. Look for the spirit-filled black man with arms crossed on the communion line. Thank you!
I believe in miracles - If God is the cause, there are no coincidences. I truly believe angels are an integral part of God's plan. Grateful to be alive by the Grace of God.
My name is Ed Kosiec. March 12th, 2019 forever changed my life, and it will never be the same.
It was a normal typical day of running in the morning and strength training afterwards, as I was training for my fourth marathon. Later in the afternoon, I was craving Chick Fil A on Boynton Beach Blvd in Boynton Beach that we occasionally would visit for lunch. My wife Holly did not really want to go to Chick Fil A, but I insisted, so she agreed. When we arrived at the restaurant, we ran into a friend we have known for many years and she joined us at our table. After I finished eating, I felt lightheaded and dizzy out of nowhere and attempted to stand up, but slouched over on the table and passed out. I was not breathing and had no pulse - I was having a sudden cardiac arrest, which only 5% of people survive because everything has to fall into place in perfect alignment in order to live. I had died and left this world.
I remember seeing the most beautiful, most peaceful, softest, brightest white light I had ever seen that felt so soothing & calm. I know I was in the presence of God’s pure love. As I was told, the manager Cassie Kimbrell screamed out, looking for someone in the restaurant that might know CPR. And then a young 18-year-old high school employee by the name of Sarah Van Roekel (my guardian angel) ran out of the kitchen and jumped into action performing CPR. Sarah was in the Boynton Beach High School medical program for the past four years and knew exactly what to do. She kept the oxygen and blood pumping by compressions. Sarah was the only person in Chick-Fil-A that day that knew CPR.
The Boynton Beach Fire Department and paramedics arrived to Chick Fil A in approximately 3:22 minutes after they were called. The paramedics worked on me for 22 minutes & shocked me three times with no luck. They decided to shock me one more time, a fourth time, and after they did, they were able to get me stable and transported to the hospital. I was at JFK Hospital and the doctors implanted an ICD defibrillator/pacemaker in my chest, so if I ever go into cardiac arrest again, it will shock me and hopefully help me keep stable and prevent me from any future heart failure.
Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019 at Saint Thomas More at the 10:30 Mass reassured God's love, and will always be one of my most special days of my life. Let me explain - I have been going to Saint Thomas More for more than 27 years. I have had both my kids’ baptisms, communions & confirmations at the church, and have known many people during the years. But on this Easter Sunday, after going to this church for more than 27 years, myself and wife were asked for the first time ever to bring the altar gifts to the priest for communion, which happened to be Father Vargas. I was in such total disbelief and just felt an incredible feeling of love come across me that I had ever felt before. The Grace of God and his love were flowing through my entire body and I felt numb and complete bliss. After receiving communion and the choir was singing "I am the Resurrection", I literally felt the Holy Spirit was speaking directly to me with the verses: He whoever believes in me, though has died shall live.
After mass, we shared the story with Father Vargas with thankful and joyful tears in our eyes. Saint Thomas More will always have a special place in my heart for as long as I am in this world. I have been truly blessed to have been given a second chance in life, and our Lord Jesus Christ deserves all the praise and glory. My heart is healing, and I am reflecting on the day I left this world. May 12th will be two months since the incident, and I have found that everything that had happened that day and the people who were involved in so many of the details were all a part of God's plan and how miracles and angels are around us at all times.
This past weekend, we organized a community CPR class with The Boynton Beach Fire Department and the American Heart Association. We wanted to bring awareness to family and friends and the public of the importance of knowing CPR and how it could make a difference in somebody's life that is in need. There are no coincidences when God is involved. God delivered on time for me the day I died.
1. In the beginning of my story my wife did not want to go to lunch at Chick Fil A, but it is where I was supposed to be that day on March 12, 2019.
2. Sarah Van Roekel (my guardian angel) was scheduled off work that day, but was called in to cover a shift that happened to be the time we were there for lunch. Sarah was there for a reason, and that was to perform CPR on me. She was the only person in the restaurant day that knew CPR.
3. After being released from the hospital, I wanted to visit the Boynton Beach Fire Department to meet the people that had saved my life and thank them. As I was at the department and the fabulous paramedics & fire man showed me around the fire house, they showed me the fire truck that was the first one on the site the day of the incident. To my surprise the truck number on the truck was 102, which might not mean anything to anyone else, but that number is the same birthday as my brother and my son, which is on October 2nd - 10/2. My brother passed away 19 years ago and we were very close.
4. My wife's sister has a daughter named Sarah, the same name as the Sarah who saved me andperformed CPR.
5. Cassie, the Restaurant manager. My daughter's best friend, who she grew up with and was her maid of honor, is named Cassie.
6. The marketing person who works at the restaurant, who we have known for a long time, has the same last name as my wife's maiden name.
7. When I first tried to find out who the young lady Sarah that saved me looked like, the first picture that I saw was a picture of her with the principal of Boynton Beach High School who had started the medical program at the school. I had met him 20+ years ago and he was actually my first neighbor.
8. The firefighter who played a huge role in saving me that day is married to a coworker that my wife had worked with many years before in the South Florida area.
We have an awesome God and He loves all of us so very much!
February 28, 2018
Life is certainly not easy at times. Pressure builds up and a lot of people have a hard time letting go of issues from the past.
I know a lot of negative people. The bubble they create around themselves is wrought with anxiety and fear. The biggest fear is that of the unknown - that can really play its part in drawing people into a state of panic. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life, and so has my son in such a short time of 11 years. For me, I have come to learn to use each experience as a way to manifest into giving back to those who have experienced misfortune and to teach Connor that meaning. You see, this way of life for me has been cultivating itself since my very first loss, which was that of my mother at infancy. I truly believe that God's plan was to put me in exactly every place I was to experience these trials, to bring me closer and closer to my Faith in Him and that in which is much higher than me.
My Father rescued me and chose at 26 years old to raise me on his own, with the help of my grandmother Rosalie. I was going to church and learning my faith immediately. From the age of 8-12, I would often ride my bike to church and go to mass on my own if my Gram wasn't feeling well. My second great loss was that of my grandmother at the age of 16. That loss cemented my independence of being self-reliant. I remained faithful to God and continued to go to church.
The third great loss in my life which was that of my first love: we had lost his dad to Alzheimer's prior to that. Anyone who has gone through a breakup of their first puppy love can understand that sadness.
Before the fourth great loss of my first engagement that ended three months before the wedding that was completely paid for, we lost his mother to cancer. Something that should have brought us closer did not. It took me 5.5 years to truly make peace with that life lesson. I was a lector at my church in Weston. Then I lost my (his) home and started a moving process that put me in 5 moves/apartments within 1.5 years. Included in that was losing a job that meant the world to me and a loss of a family I had felt was like my own. At that time in 2004 was the lowest point in my life. I was in severe depression, spiraling downward. I self-medicated and I was broken.
My Father once again rescued me, and I prayed to God on my knees for a change and to help me. I prayed for God to send me the love of my life. I got a new job with an amazing company and a new home. I started lectoring at St. Thomas More in 2005. And then the most amazing, life changing thing happened. God answered my prayers. My son Connor was born. Life was pure bliss until the next major loss, which was that of my son's father Josh, when my son was 3. But God gifted us his whole family.
Then the largest and most monumental loss occurred on March 4, 2014. I lost my dad in a horrific way. Connor lost his father figure and his grandpa. St. Thomas More was my peace. And though God gifted us with John and his family and a new home, the pain and grief were causing too many storms in my everyday life. My only mission was to mask the pain as best I could for the benefit of my son. I couldn't manage it all - I was constantly in a state of fight or flight. Somewhere I think I have been all my life because of my mother not wanting me and putting me into a foster home that was going to put me up for adoption. Because she had received custody of me, my dad was never told until they needed him to sign off. That's when he rescued me. I was now without my rock, my sounding board and my protector.
God's love kicked into overdrive, and Connor and I were helping at church and growing closer to our Faith. Our family at church wrapped us with love, and so did our family at Connor's school. I then decided to retire from property management.
And then another monumental loss occurred on February 26, 2016. My son Joseph died. This pain is one I cannot describe at all. I went to mass every day. After that, my relationship failed, and Connor and I were once again on our own.
But you see, our story of perseverance and strength continue on because of the love we have for each other, our extended family, for our home, our pets, our friends, his school and our church. But the biggest reason is because of God and the gifts he has given us to be able to share with those less fortunate, give to those who need a boost and get help for our waves of grief. Life can be overwhelming, but when you can't see past the tidal waves, put your faith in the vessel that God built and remember that he gives you the strength to forge on. He gives you a new start every day. You wake up to see a new day and you - only you - have the ability to make it count for yourself, those you love and those who need your help. When you feel you can't, remember you can. Whether you believe in God or not...At least believe in YOU!
February 28, 2019
I wrote this a year ago. It's ironic that I would be reflecting on much of the same today - maybe because a few days ago was the three year anniversary of my son Joseph's birth/death day. Maybe because in a few days, it marks five years that my dad was killed. Or maybe it is a reminder by God of how far I have come in my grieving process. Maybe God is reaffirming for me what my purpose is... My purpose is to continue to love, guide and raise a young man who has self-love and compassion for others. I want him to grow into the best version of himself, so that he is completely confident, comfortable and happy. My second purpose is to continue to pay it forward to those in need. Both of those monumental, intricate parts of me are guided by only one - HIM. I know that no matter what trash fills my head, these daily things that truly have no meaning in the bigger picture of life. I can and will continue to live a fulfilled life, as long as I continue to remind myself of who is in control, why I was truly put here, and through who all things are made possible: G-O-D! No one will EVER love me more! May you be blessed today and always to know your purpose... Love, CB
"The Power of Prayer"
Tim, Carol, Justin, Elizabeth, Jonathan, (back row left to right)
Evan, Jason, Landon, Andria and Leah (front row left to right)
Tim, Carol, Justin, Elizabeth, Jonathan, (back row left to right)
Evan, Jason, Landon, Andria and Leah (front row left to right)
On June 6, 2013, I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer. The imaging center that performed the mammogram said I had little to no chance of survival! Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and very aggressive disease with symptoms that include redness, swelling, tenderness and warmth in the breast. Inflammatory breast cancer accounts for 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States.
I received annual mammograms, exercised, ate healthy and always had a positive attitude about life. There is no breast cancer in my family history. How could someone who tried to do everything right to prevent breast cancer be diagnosed with this devastating disease? My tumor started as an eight-by-seven centimeter mass in my left breast. I was shocked. inflammatory breast cancer progresses rapidly, often in a matter of weeks or months. When you are diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, it’s typically at stage 3 or 4.
My family and I are from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and my parents spend most of the winter months in Boynton Beach and attended church at St. Thomas More Church. My parents told me about the St. Peregrine Shrine and Garden. They requested a plaque with my name to be made and placed in the garden of St. Peregrine. During this time, my parents, my entire family and the parishioners of St. Thomas More Parish prayed for me. I am a very religious person, and I prayed daily to St. Peregrine that God would take care of me. I have a statue of St. Peregrine in my house.
Meanwhile, I was informed about a clinical trial using an investigational drug for inflammatory breast cancer called Neratinib, that targets and blocks proteins that help cancer cells to grow.
Once accepted and enrolled in a clinical trial, the results of the treatment were almost immediate for me. On July 17, 2013, I was informed the tumor in my breast was nearly gone. A miracle was beginning to happen…I began to heal. After several weeks/months of receiving chemotherapy, radiation and having a mastectomy, I was declared cancer free!! I am now 5 years cancer free!! My faith in God and the prayers of my family, friends, and people at St. Thomas More gave me my health back.
In honor of St. Peregrine, and thanksgiving to Father Alex Vargas, I founded the Glock Foundation to raise funds and inform breast cancer patients how significant and possibly life saving participating in a clinical trial can be upon their diagnosis. The Glock Foundation (www.glockfoundation.org) assists men and women who are on breast cancer clinical trials by providing financial assistance for food, transportation, house cleaning and childcare during their treatment. I honestly believe that without my faith and the prayers of many and the blessings of St. Peregrine, this “pay it forward” action to help others would not have been possible. I really feel that my breast cancer has been a blessing from God in so many ways.
In September 2011, I was feeling tired and lethargic. I thought I had the flu. After some prompting by my wife, I went to see our doctor. Two days later, I was in the hospital with a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia. Things looked very bleak. The doctors were very concerned and wanted to begin chemotherapy immediately. Our lives were turned upside down. I had lost my job, my health, and seemingly my life in a matter of days. I was unprepared for that!
I began to pray more frequently and more earnestly than ever. I was worried about my wife and children; would they be all right emotionally, financially? How I wished I would have more time to prepare for this. On the same day I was diagnosed I learned that my daughter was pregnant with our first grandchild. Blessings in the midst of the storm! I prayed that I would be there for the birth.
There were ups and downs over the next weeks and months, but our Lord was forever faithful. I felt his love and mercy every step of the way, either through prayer, or through my family and the many wonderful people that he placed in my path. At the Holy Spirit’s prompting, I began to pray for the following four things: strength, courage, endurance, and patience. Jesus provided them all.
It was suggested that I might be a good candidate for a stem cell transplant. Without one, my chances for survival were not positive. My doctor felt the odds of finding a match from one of my siblings were good, as I am one of eleven children. She even suggested that God might have blessed my parents with so many children for a time such as this! The initial tests from my siblings kept coming back negative; we became very discouraged believing that no match would be found.
After some research, my wife Laurie and I decided that we would travel to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to investigate a possible transplant. We were ecstatic to learn upon arrival that a donor had been found: my sister Lucia. She feels it was one of her greatest accomplishments. The transplant was no picnic, but Jesus never left me alone and saw me through some challenging times. Thank you Jesus, thank you Mom and Dad, thank you Lucia and thank you Laurie! Once again, my large Irish family proved indispensable. My wife, two children, siblings and extended family all took time off from work to take turns caring for me as I recovered over the next five months in Texas.
St. Peregrine’s Garden became a special place for my family to pray. Often times late at night, they drew comfort and strength surrounded by images of St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer sufferers, and the statue of our heavenly Mother Mary embracing her Son at the foot of the cross. During this time, my wife arranged for my name to be placed on a tile in the garden. We often visit, and when I see my name, I am reminded of how many prayers were said there and of how merciful Jesus was to me and to my family. Later, I was blessed to be in attendance with my family as Fr. Alex baptized the first baby ever to be baptized in St. Peregrine’s Garden: my grandson Carter.
In September 2015, I will be cancer free for four years. I am back at work and able to provide for my family once again. Since my diagnosis, my wife and I have been blessed with two beautiful grandsons. God is so good!
I would encourage anyone going through tough times to place your trust in Jesus. He loves us so much and he can and will bring good of all of our trials when we trust in him. It might not be our plan but it most assuredly will be a plan for our good. Remember the power of intercessory prayer; he hears our prayers and knows our struggles. “Jesus I trust in you."
Dear Father Vargas,
I did not think to tell you about my cancer until I heard your sermon on Saturday. Here is my story:
I had a cancer tumor in my right lung and the doctor recommended surgery to remove the entire upper lobe and if it had not spread I would be cancer free. I had the surgery and it was a horrific 4 1/2 hour surgery that kept me in recovery in the hospital for approximately 10 days. I was in terrible pain and the first few days the amount of morphine I was given was even making me hallucinate.
Two years later, I was diagnosed with a cancer in my left lung and that same week I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my left breast. My husband insisted on going to Moffitt Cancer center in Tampa as they are rated as the third best in the united states. They reviewed the scan and scheduled me for robotic surgery but due to their procedures, I had to have a brain MRI to ensure the cancer did not travel.
I will never forget the day my husband answered the phone and told me the news which was not what I was hoping to hear. They found what they believed to be a very small lesion in my brain and cancelled the lung surgery because the head had to be dealt with first.
I went to church that Friday as always, and you were doing the mass. I told you about my cancer and you blessed my head, hands and feet with oil. I left for Moffitt the next day to discuss the options for treating brain cancer and to meet the doctors that would be involved. A nurse came in to see me and asked if I needed anything to help me relax and to relieve any stress I was feeling. I said I did not need anything, and for some reason, I did not feel stressed.
After the consultation and after the doctors reviewed my scan, they told the surgeon to go ahead and keep the operation scheduled for the original date which was a Monday, as the brain lesion was small that they felt they could do a radiation treatment on the Thursday before and I would be fine for the lung operation. You probably have never seen anyone cry happy tears with news that a surgery could proceed. The surgery went as planned with no issues and was a success. I was only in the hospital for four days and did not even need any pain medication. I was being called a superstar by the staff as no one could believe I did not need any pain medication. A minister came to visit me in my room and he told me that he was there to provide comfort and inspiration to me but that I wound up inspiring him. One week later, I had a lumpectomy and radiation, which also went well.
One of the nurses after the lung surgery told me that she felt the doctor was going to cure me of cancer because of my attitude, but once you are diagnosed with brain cancer it is considered stage 4 and there is no cure. My status now is that the lesion in my brain is so small now it is just about imperceptible and I am monitored every 4 months for my head, every 6 months for my lungs, and once per year for my breast. It has been two years and I am still cancer free. Praise God these positive reports continue.
Anthony M. Ruffino
It was just two days before Christmas in December 1952, and my fire team and I were sitting around in recently dug holes in the frozen ground somewhere within the vicinity of Taegu in Korea. The only problem was that the ground was not hard in spite of the freezing weather. All day long and into the night, a steady rain had been falling and we were actually sitting in ice cold mud. The cans of C-rations gave us little comfort as thoughts of “hot chow” seemed like some cruel dream. But, we made the most of it while doing our best to keep our ponchos over our heads and covering our weapons, mine was the most important. As the fire team leader, and a Corporal, I carried a BAR and in any skirmish, an automatic weapon did a lot better than the M-1’s that the rest of the guys carried. I might add that I was only 18 ½ years old…not too far removed from graduating from a little high school in New Jersey…St. Joseph’s of the Palisades.
Anyway, it was miserable and we were all feeling homesick. The miserable weather didn’t help at all either. As the night grew darker around us, we could see tracers flying over the treetops to our front clippings of the tops of the trees and I could hear the constant “thumping and wumping” of the mortar shells that were sent in our direction. Sleep was out of the question. I was in my hole with my best buddy, John. We had been together ever since we made it through Parris Island and Camp Geiger where we took our combat training.
I guess we were considered by some Gung-Ho Marines…(I guess I still am…sort of…as the saying goes, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”.) In our total group there were six fire teams each consisting of four men, which, as far as he corps was concerned, you could call us a “full platoon”. Usually, the officer in charge would be a lieutenant, but we had a Captain in charge of us. Somewhere around midnight, the Captain visited each team and told us to be on the alert as he had gotten word that a group of “Gooks” had been advancing towards us. Frankly, we hardly paid too much attention to him. However, no sooner did he completed his rounds, when all hell broke loose. We were under attack in spades. The worst part of the problem was that between the weather and the darkness, we couldn’t see a damn thing.
All we could do was lean against the front part of our “holes” and just keep firing in the direction from which we could see the momentary glow of weapons aimed at us. The North Koreans knew this and they, in turn, were doing the same thing. All of the while, I just kept praying right out load…”Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in thee…” over and over again. I had my weapon clicked to the “max” which was 400 rounds per minute. The “Gooks” had a habit of screaming loudly when they were in some kind of charge and their shouts were unnerving to say the least. In between the constant praying, trust me when I say that some of my language must have caused our Good Lord’s ears to turn red. The barrage and attack lasted for about 25 or 30 minutes. And as I prayed, I wanted to be able to see what we shooting at. The dismal weather did not look like it was going to let up and in spite of almost zero degrees. I could feel the sweat pouring down my spine.
Many years ago, I composed a prayer that I often would say to myself and I thought that if ever there was a time to say it, it was now. “Almighty and Merciful Jesus, though I cannot receive you physically at this time, please come to me spiritually and give me the courage to do what I must do. Not only save my soul, but in union with You, assist in saving the souls of all those around me as well. Give me the courage to face with total faith in You, all that You send my way. Amen.”
Suddenly as if someone had taken a big broom and swept away all the dark clouds, the rain stopped and a huge moon appeared overhead totally illuminating the surrounding perimeter and that allowed us to lay down fire that made whatever enemy survived, turn tail and run back the way they had come. A loud cease fire order followed and we clicked the safeties on our weapons and sat back into the mud. Unfortunately, my friend, John, as well as nine other Marines, would never see another Christmas or their loved ones again. When the Captain made his rounds, he looked into my hole and pointed out that there was blood coming through the arm of my jacket. I hadn’t even noticed that I had been wounded.
When the morning arrived accompanied with a brightly rising sun, I was sent to the rear to a field hospital. While there on Christmas morning, I was told I had earned a purple heart for my wound. An Adjutant Major actually saluted me. My gear and clothes were laying on the chair beside my cot that I was laying on. I pulled my jacket over to me and reached into one the vest pockets pulling out a pair of rosary beads. As I was about to start with the Apostles’ Creed, the “Jar Head” in the bed next to me saw me fingering the beads and asked if he could join in. And so to this day, I am constantly at how quickly Christ had parted those rain clouds so that we could see. I have never stopped saying “Thank you, Jesus.” I am now just about to turn 81 years old and recently became a great-grandfather. I guess Jesus is totally in charge with some divine plan for us all. All we have to do is pray and allow it to happen.
"Coming to know God through our suffering"
As an eight-year-old girl, I vividly remember going on a spiritual retreat. I can still bring myself back to the joy that I felt in my heart as I came to know the Light of Jesus alive inside myself. From that moment on, I had a hunger to be more like God and live a humanitarian and spiritual life. As I grew older, I began to face many of life's challenges and had a hard time dealing with human suffering. Confusion, anger and disbelief became new feelings to me.
I had cancer when I was 35 years old, and was a single mother needing to go on welfare to survive. I remember praying to God the day of my diagnosis and asking Him, "How could You possibly add this to my plate Lord,due to my current circumstances." I knew I must draw closer to Him instead of questioning His plan for me as hard as that seemed. That is when the Lord became a waterfall in my life. He would speak to me through others. I began to learn that if my heart was open and I would see Him in everyone and everything , He would reveal himself to me. Divine serendipitous moments came to me often. While I was undergoing extensive radiation treatment, I remember feeling moments of peace. I would lie in my bed in the afternoon resting and literally feel a beam of light directly coming to my body. I suffered, but nowhere to the extent of what the doctors were expecting. I knew it was all the people that were praying for me as well as the Lord carrying me that eased my way.
Three years ago I had a stroke. It was related to the cancer radiation treatment which damaged my heart. I was working as a Bereavement Counselor for Hospice at the time, doing the most meaningful and fulfilling work than I ever have done in my life. My heart was so full and complete. I was halted and brought to my knees at the time of my stroke. I couldn't speak, I couldn't write, I couldn't read . Today I am 85% improved and no one would even recognize that I suffered a stroke. I know that my God saved me. The only words that I could speak at the time of my stroke were "Oh my God". During my healing journey I became closer and closer to God. I feel his spirit alive within me. I feel that I am a vessel to help others heal. As I share my testimony, counsel and empathize with other survivors I feel very blessed to have had these experiences. My soul is well and satiated.
I'm now getting ready to have open heart surgery on Monday for a valve replacement and double bypass. Again caused from the radiation treatment. I visualize every day the Lord with his hands touching my surgeons hands and guiding the procedure. I am scared, and I know the Lord has a plan for me and is watching over me. With each obstacle I become richer and live a more meaningful life. There is joy in my heart and light shining from my spirit! I have a servant's heart, and I pray that the Lord will help heal me and continue to bless me so I may continue to touch others. My mantra is that in every crisis there is an opportunity. In My crises the opportunity has been personal growth, the ability to live in the present moment and help others grow and heal emotionally. I have been truly blessed!
In the winter of 2011, I thought I finally had my life together. I had a beautiful family. I was nearing the top of my game professionally. I was the most physically fit I’d ever been in my life. It seemed like there was nothing that could bring me down. On the night of March 30, all of that changed. Plagued by stomach issues after a half marathon, I went to our local hospital’s emergency room hoping for a prescription and a quick fix. Instead, a doctor with an incredible grave face came into my room just before midnight to tell me I had a large tumor that had destroyed my right kidney, and was growing through my veins toward my heart. I would love to tell you that my faith kicked in immediately, and the Lord gave me strength to take it on head-first.
It didn’t. Or at least, it didn’t seem like it at the time. As I look back four years now, I can see that God was there from the very beginning. He was there through my friends Pam and Kate; cancer survivors who were texting me and emailing me from the very beginning with words of encouragement from people who’d already been there. He was there through my parish priest, Fr. Mark Davis, who was at the hospital the very next morning, and left his pyx with me, so the physical Jesus could be with me the whole time. He was there especially through my wife, who was my Peter-like rock, handing every detail, advocating for me, and keeping our three kids positive and upbeat. Most importantly, He had been there my whole life, preparing me for this moment.
I had incredible examples of courage throughout my life; family members who’d fought diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and depression. And I had one example of courage whom I had never met. My great-uncle, Paul Boyle, was killed in action in July 1944 in Normandy. I’d researched him for my senior thesis in college, and found in his story the courage of a man who doesn’t want to do something, but does it anyway.During my four years of Jesuit high school, the motto “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” – all things for the greater glory of God – was the background hum to everything we did. Our schoolwork, our athletics, our participation in clubs and organizations was all, in the Ignatian tradition, holy if it was performed to give glory to God.
Out of Uncle Paul’s courage, and the complementary idea that whatever we do can be holy if we intend it to be, I found a sense of mission for whatever time God grants me. I’m a little bit of a comic book nerd, and almost every great superhero has the same origin story: There’s weakness. There’s a second chance, and greater power. And then there’s using that power responsibly to earn that second chance that was undeservedly granted. In so, so many ways, that’s exactly how I feel. By the numbers, I should have been dead by now. But I’m not. Every day, I get a chance to live as witness that in our weakness is strength, and in our faith is hope. Some days it’s harder than others to remember this. What’s far less difficult to remember is that He’s with me, no matter what.
Buddy, a 5 year old golden lab, was much loved by my deceased husband Bob. So much so that he often commented that when he died, he wanted Buddy buried with him. Bob died on June 11, 2011 (and no, Buddy was not buried with him).
Because Buddy was always jumping on people, I couldn’t keep him, so I gave him away to a good man named Keven Burke. One day, Keven visited a family friend who lived about a quarter mile from the Catholic Cemetery. He took Buddy with him and released him to “go run." When he was ready to leave, they couldn’t find him, so Kevin said he would drive down the road. He went past the cemetery and what he saw shocked him - Buddy was laying on Bob’s grave!
Kevin said to his son Jacob, “No one will believe us when we tell them what we are seeing!”
Jacob said, “Dad, get out your telephone camera and take a picture."
I’ll always wonder how he could possibly pick out his “master’s” grave from among the many other tombstones there... This happened 2 ½ years after the death, and he had never been there before. Maybe dogs do believe in life after death!
Father Harris and Father Vargas,
I want to take some time to tell you how much I appreciate your friendship and the opportunity to be involved with your church.
This year is the 17th year of my father’s passing. I was 19. I wasn’t too young, but young enough to miss that father figure. Ever since then, I had searched for one. I moved back to New York to be closer with my uncle (my father’s closest brother and business partner) to seek that relationship. He did well, but something was missing. Or maybe with the recent passing of my father, my heart was still grieving that I truly couldn’t see the benefit.
So for nearly half my life, I felt a void. I was a young man when my father passed, so I had already learned the basics of life from him. I had a great start and I was a good kid at heart. But I needed to know how to become a great man.
I was never one for learning in school. I was truly my dad’s son. He was basically educated and didn’t finish high school. He was an immigrant from Sicily. He started owning businesses around 18, and everything he touched was successful. I admired that. I wanted to be that. It didn’t matter if he knew nothing about the business he got into. He knew business itself and he learned. I loved the way he could do anything. That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. I just wanted to learn from him and be partners. And after graduating high school, I didn’t have plans for college. Then my dad got sick, and he wasn’t in the position to mentor me like how I had always dreamed. I needed to do something.
After many years of feeling lost and trying a wide range of jobs, I do feel like I have finally landed on my feet professionally, but that is only half of what I needed from my dad. The other half was becoming a man mentally.
My wonderful wife has done a great job at taking a partially broken boy and steering him into manhood. I’m sure it’s been challenging for her at times. She is such a good person. She definitely set me on the right path.
I feel so blessed that God led me to St. Thomas More and for whatever reason, Father Vargas felt I would be a good candidate for a Master of Ceremony. I got the chance to become closer to God and form a friendship with both of you. One that I value and respect. Through our friendship, I am able to develop the peace to become a good person, father and husband, and finally becoming a man. It’s not your age that makes you a man - that much I know.
I was distant from God for a bit and was never raised in the church. We only went through the bare minimum we needed to make our sacraments. So when we had to find a church to baptize my daughter, I wanted my wife to take care of it. I would show up on that day and go through the motions, but that’s pretty much it.
We recently moved back to Florida, so we didn’t know the churches near us. My wife had gotten every sacrament in her old church down in Ft. Lauderdale, so we thought that was a pretty good place to start. They gave us a hard time for one reason or another, so we had to look elsewhere.
Jen went to St. Thomas More one Sunday and came home to tell me about it. She loved it. I went with them the next weekend and heard Father Harris speak for the first time. It was your first day back from being in the hospital or something, but the support and love from the congregation was evident. It was moving to me. I felt something I had never felt before. I was instantly hooked.
We went the week after and Father Vargas was giving Mass. I was honestly a little bummed that it wasn’t Father Harris, but as I listened to Father Vargas speak, I was equally impressed. I was amazed that this one church had two incredible fathers with such insight, wisdom, charisma, character and presence. Wow, just wow. You guys are amazing. I’m not sure you know how great you both are. That’s part of why I am writing you his letter.
Nearly half of my life searching for a father figure and now I can say I’ve found two actual fathers to fill that role. I am forever grateful. Thank you. My heart and my eyes are open.