COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Vatican knows a lot about 18-year-old Luke Burgie of Colorado Springs, Colo.
His life will play an important role in the pending beatification of Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel, founder of the Sisters of Mount St. Francis — a religious order that has established Catholic hospitals, schools, orphanages and nursing homes around the world.
On March 27, the Vatican confirmed that Burgie is alive and well because of a miracle requested through intercessory prayer to the late Mother Bonzel for an immediate cure of his severe and possibly life-threatening stomach condition.
Mother Bonzel founded the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in 1863 in Olpe, Germany. She died Feb. 6, 1905, at age 74.
In early 1999, the then 4-year-old Burgie suddenly and inexplicably recovered from a mysterious ailment that baffled doctors and left him near death. Today, as a healthy young man, reporters constantly contact Burgie by phone and confront him at his work to hear about his cure.
His life inspires stronger faith in some people, but also stirs vicious cynicism from others who despise the Church and attack him on blogs and social-networking sites.
Burgie is a good friend of the nuns, starting with Sister Clarice Gentrup, vicar general of the Sisters of Mount St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration convent in Colorado Springs.
So, does Sister Clarice regard Burgie as a prophet, proclaiming the miraculous power of God in an effort to evangelize the masses?
“No,” Sister Clarice told the Register. “He’s just a kid who’s out there working on bicycles so he can pay for his car and try to save up some money for college.”
Burgie’s mother, Jan Burgie, concurred. Her son, who is suddenly the focal point of an inspirational international story, is an ordinary, average teenager. When he isn’t fixing or riding bicycles, he’s earning modest wages at a fast-food restaurant.
“He’s a shaggy-haired BMX rider,” Jan Burgie said. “I just keep telling him, ‘Luke, the Lord works in your life exactly how he wants to. So be open.’ It will be interesting to continue watching his life unfold.”
“From the very start, after Luke was healed, I thought it was a miracle,” she added. “But it never crossed my mind that this was one of those miracles the Vatican would investigate and approve.”
The Vatican’s approval of the miracle has been a grace-filled moment for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.
“I share the joy of our Franciscan sisters that their foundress, Mother Bonzel, will be beatified,” said Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan in a written statement. “It’s wonderful to know that she has been so close to us in her intercessory prayer.”
The religious order had initially asked the Vatican to begin considering Mother Bonzel for sainthood in 1961. She was venerated in 2010.
However, the investigation of the miraculous recovery in 1999 took years to complete.
Vatican officials visited the Burgie home and interviewed doctors who treated the little boy, as well as friends and relatives of the Burgie family.
Medical reports confirmed he had been sick every day for six months in late 1998 and early 1999. He was given a series of tests, none of which concluded exactly what was wrong. He was under the care of seven doctors, including specialists at the renowned Children’s Hospital in Denver.
As doctors searched for answers, the child was running out of time. He could barely eat, and his body rejected almost anything he consumed. He was withering away. Malnutrition from the condition stunted his growth.
Jan Burgie was juggling care for her son with her job teaching religious education at St. Patrick’s Catholic School in Colorado Springs. She met several sisters from Mount St. Francis convent when they came to the school to give a talk. She told them about her son and invited them to dinner at the family’s home, where they met the ailing boy.
The nuns reciprocated by inviting the family to the convent, where the sisters had started a novena for Luke. He had lost 10% of his body weight to the condition, and it was only getting worse.
“He was really, really sick,” said Sister Clarice, who met Luke at the time and has maintained a friendship with him over the years.
Convent records, reviewed by the Vatican, show that the nuns began a novena on Jan. 26, 1999, asking for Mother Bonzel’s intercessory prayers. The boy’s condition continued to deteriorate, and his prospects seemed hopeless to his parents and doctors on Feb. 21.
Yet, the very next day, sometime close to the end of the novena, Luke was healed.
“That day, he was suddenly no longer in pain, and everything was normal,” his mother recalled. “The doctors told us that any natural healing would be gradual and take a long time. This was a total and spontaneous cure, and, other than a minor concussion he sustained in wrestling, he has remained healthy ever since.”
Luke was able and willing to eat, and his body no longer rejected food. The pain was gone. He quickly regained the weight he had lost over the past six months.
“It proves to me that God is listening and willing to work through people who surprise us. If you ask God for help, God doesn’t turn away — he listens,” Sister Clarice said.
She hopes worldwide knowledge of the miracle will help people sustain a sense of hope.
“The world isn’t always such a bad place,” Sister Clarice explained. “Bombs went off in Boston and in Texas, and that is horrible. But good things happen every day, as well, even if we don’t hear about them in the news.”
Though the miracle has drawn abundant positive attention, including solid coverage in the mainstream media, Luke is also chided on blogs and social-networking sites by those who don’t believe in prayer, much less miracles. The popular New York-based Gawker.com, a professional blog about celebrities and the media, and the pop-culture website Forces of Geek ridiculed the miraculous healing in their online content.
Luke is trying to avoid the media and laying low on social media. He sometimes struggles with his faith. And while he said at the time of his healing that “Jesus saved me,” today he doesn’t remember the illness or the cure and only knows what others have told him.
His mother tells him to endure the attention and give thanks for his life.
“I tell him that it wasn’t something we chose,” Jan Burgie explained. “It happened, and we need to follow it all the way through. I tell him that if we are willing to accept the healing, at some point we need to profess it. We are trying to shield him for now, but I know there will come a time when he is more open to embracing it.”
Though Luke isn’t thrilled about the attention — positive or negative — he plans to attend the beatification in November.
Late this summer, in August, the religious order will bring six young Germans to meet Luke, and the family will host a barbecue for them at their house to help celebrate the religious order’s 150th anniversary.
“Luke took three years of German in high school, and he is really looking forward to their visit,” Jan Burgie said.
Sister Clarice said she and others in the order look forward to decades of friendship with the young man who, as a child, helped bring them closer to their community’s founder and to God.
“Luke is a very handsome and bright young man who aspires to do a lot with his life,” she said. “I’ll be praying every day for him and asking Mother Theresia to remember him. Life isn’t easy for young people in 2013.”
Wayne Laugesen writes from Colorado.