Cardinal Burke, Gianna Molla, and Us

A story of a saintly prelate and a saint's intercession.

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Our daughter Lucy is about to graduate high school and, in the fall, begin classes at the University of Dallas. Let me tell you her story, the beginning part anyway.

My wife and I are late vocations to marriage. I was 47. Cathy was 39. Our first date was on the Feast of Joachim and Anne, and it was the best first date since Joachim met Anne. I think I am on firm theological ground here. Working back from the Immaculate Conception, you can assume that every step along the way was perfect, including their first meeting.  

I proposed to Cathy two weeks later. It happened in the Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery on the National Mall. This was the room created by the great painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The place was crawling with noisy kids on a field trip. I lost my head and said, “Will you marry me.” Quite levelheaded, she said, “Is this the plan?” It was clear from the first date that this question was coming at some point, sooner rather than later. I said, “No, this is not the plan.” She said, “Stick to the plan.” 

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The plan was to propose to her in a place that would never be torn down. The French restaurant on McPherson Square in Washington, D.C., site of our first date, closed long ago. So, I figured to propose to her on a bridge in Central Park near where I lived in those 2002 days. 

It was a cold and drizzly December day when I lured her into a deserted Central Park. She came along bravely. We got to Bow Bridge on the west side, within sight of the Dakota, where John Lennon was shot. 

I got down on one knee. She drew me up to her height. Will you marry me? She cried and said, yes. I showed her the ring. She cried some more. 

Now, keep in mind this was an utterly deserted Central Park. To get there from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we had to walk through the sometimes unsavory area called The Ramble. So, it was with some concern that we spied a gang of teenagers come out of the woods and onto the bridge toward us. Without a doubt, they had seen what had transpired, including the flourishing of a not inexpensive engagement ring. 

They walked past us. Cathy would not let me turn to watch them. About 30 feet away, they stopped, they formed a semi-circle, and then they began to sing. It was a love song from the Middle Ages. They were a schola that just happened to be in Central Park at that precise moment. They finished, no words were spoken, and they went on their way. 

To this day, we figure they were angels. 

We were married the following September. 

In the first year of our marriage, Cathy had three miscarriages. These were very hard, as you can imagine. They were not only the death of a child but the death of hope that we would ever be given a child to raise. 

I am from St. Louis. Cardinal Burke was then the bishop in St. Louis. He knew my work in the international pro-life sphere, and he heard on the pro-life jungle drums that two pro-lifers were having trouble. He reached out and said, “Come and see me when you come home for Christmas.” We happily complied. 

We arrived that day at the bishop’s residence across the street from the magnificent Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard in St. Louis. We were invited to wait in a small well-appointed room near the front door. 

Cardinal Burke walked in. We rose. He said, “Kneel down.” And then he blessed us with a piece of Gianna Molla’s wedding dress. For those who do not know, Gianna Molla was the last saint raised to the altars by Pope St. John Paul the Great. Gianna Molla chose possible death rather than receive medical treatment that might have harmed her unborn child. Her child was born, and Gianna Molla died. She is a great pro-life saint. 

Cardinal Burke said, “I have done this eight times, and it has worked eight times.” He said this with a practically cherubic smile on his kind face. He scurried around to find another piece of her wedding dress that we could enshrine in our home for as long as we needed it. He could not find one since he had given them all out. 

What people don’t know is that Cardinal Burke has a deep devotion to Gianna Molla. He quietly enshrines her image in medical facilities around the world. 

So, here’s the thing. We didn’t know, but at the moment he blessed us with Gianna Molla’s wedding dress, Cathy was two weeks along with our daughter Lucy, who did not miscarry. She stayed with us.  We returned a year later with newborn Lucy, and we have this wonderful picture of big burly Burke uncomfortably holding this little peanut of a baby! 

And then what happened? Three years later, at the age of 44, Cathy gave birth to our second daughter. We owed Gianna a name, so we named her Gianna-Marie. We call her Gigi. She is a freshman in high school this year.

Lucy will attend the University of Dallas this fall with a full ride. She is a writer, having written a 100,000 word novel at 15. She plays the harp and piano. She is a gifted artist, sketchbook after sketchbook. She did not miscarry. She stayed with us. Deo Gratias.

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