Dowling Mystery Solved

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

A terrible car accident, a driver on the mend, and a “mystery priest” captured spiritual imaginations on the Internet over the past week.

Did an angel appear on the scene to pray with Katie Lenz, who was on her way to church when her car was struck by a driver who has since been charged with a DWI? People were open to the possibility – from the sound of the buzz, many were hoping it was true.

“I think it’s a miracle,” the fire chief announced. “I would say whether it was an angel that was sent to us in the form of a priest or a priest that became our angel, I don’t know. Either way, I’m good with it.”

But, despite the fact that he wasn’t visible in any photos, which fueled the angel theories, there was a flesh-and-blood priest in the picture: a Father Patrick Dowling, who came forward in the comments section of a Catholic News Agency story on The National Catholic Register’s website.

On Friday night, Fr. Dowling wrote:

I was amazed at the calmness of the two Highway Patrol men. The sergeant was completely in control, amazingly calm. Everybody worked as harmoniously as a Swiss watch despite the critical nature of the scene. I gave my name to one of the authorities, perhaps to the sergeant of Highway Patrol, explaining that I was returning having celebrated Mass at Ewing. It was the sergeant who, at the Sheriff’s request, gave me Katie’s name as I was leaving, so I could visit her in hospital – I assumed she would be taken to Columbia. I think there may have been angels there too and, in this context, I congratulate the fire team from New London and Hannibal, the Sheriff/deputies of Ralls County, the Highway Patrol personnel, the helicopter team, the nurses and all who worked so professionally. God has blessed your work. I hope the credit goes where it is due.

In a press release today, the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City confirms:

The Diocese of Jefferson City has identified the priest who assisted at the site of the Sunday morning, August 4, 2013, auto accident near Center, Mo. He is Rev.  Patrick Dowling, a priest of the Jefferson City Diocese.  Fr. Dowling was travelling Hwy 19 between Mass assignments that morning in northern and central Missouri.

Fr. Dowling said that he is pleased that he was able to help by performing his ministry and noted that that he was just one of many who responded to assist the victim at the accident. He and the Diocese wish to acknowledge and thank the first responders, medical team and law enforcement personnel for their efforts that morning in aid of the young woman injured in the accident.

Fr. Dowling, a native of Kilkenny, Ireland, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., in 1982. He has served at parishes in Moberly, Monroe City, Indian Creek, Milan, Unionville and Eldon, Mo., and in the diocese’s mission parishes in Marcona and Nasca, Peru. He is currently serving in prison ministry and in parish ministry to Spanish-speaking Catholics.

People are hungry for miracles, hungry for proof of something more, and I hope they take the right message from this story.

Last week in San Antonio, Msgr. Robert Weiss, the pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, Conn., was recognized for his “mercy and love” in the wake of the horror – nine of those murdered were his parishioners, eight of them children. Upon receiving the recognition, he spoke of gratitude to God for his call. “It’s a grace to be a priest,” he said.

“As many are the shadows, so much greater is the light,” he said. “We saw goodness quickly overtake the evil. We were part of something greater.”

This is a pastor who prays for and walks with parents who have to walk past empty bedrooms because their children were murdered at school, days before Christmas. That he can say this is no small thing. He is witnessing to true hope.

What is the mission of a faithful priest? How is it a gift to the world?

Before leaving leaving Brazil last month, Pope Francis reflected on the vocation of a priest, reminding bishops, for formation purposes, that priests must be men “able to step into the night without being overcome by the darkness and losing their bearings; able to listen to people’s dreams without being seduced and to share their disappointments without losing hope and becoming bitter; able to sympathize with the brokenness of others without losing their own strength and identity.”

Some first responders’ accounts of what happened after the car crash included hearing the priest counsel them that their machines would work and Katie would survive.

Fr. Dowling says he didn’t say anything like that. But he prayed. 

Jenny Hubbard’s daughter, Catherine, died at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In her sorrow, she answered a call to minister, to witness to that hope that is the rock of her life, writing:

Catherine was called to a job much bigger than I can even fathom. I know that God has a specific purpose for us and while I may not understand right now how I will muster the strength to fulfill His purpose, I must remain centered on His face. He will provide what I need to move forward. He will provide the soft nudges to help me feel confident that I am doing what He intended.

We are all put where we are for a very specific reason. My daughter, along with the victims of Sandy Hook School, brought a world to their knees in prayer. Twenty babies and six adults were able to do what some thought never possible. . . .

I pray that we find a new normal that is restored in faith. I pray that we continue to draw on God’s love and peace. I pray that the world is comforted knowing that they are wrapped in God’s cloak.

This week our son asked how God would do this? We told him, God didn’t do this. We are human, we have free will, there are people that do not listen to God’s voice and decide to take their own path. When we stop listening to our hearts, we stop listening to God’s voice. We stop acknowledging that we are in this place for a very specific reason. As you celebrate the New Year and settle back into the lives you led prior to December 14th, I pray that you know that you are exactly where you need to be and that you hear God’s gentle voice helping you find the words that you need to say. I pray that we find comfort and solace knowing that God loves each one of us and will wrap each one of us in His arms when the days become too much. I pray that the world returns to their faith.

Hebrews tells us that “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (it happened to be one of the readings in Catholic churches this past weekend). On a highway in Missouri, in the lives of men and women in Newtown, in the persons of Christians truly being Christian, we see what that means. And it’s a miracle anytime we can set the world ablaze with confidence in its reality, mystery, and promise. We can listen with them.