COLUMBUS, Ohio—On 3-year-old Jacob Durant's chest is a birth-mark in the shape of a fingertip. Little Jacob says he knows how it got there.
“That's where Jesus touched my heart and healed my eyes,” he told the Register. Indeed, the Durant family of Columbus, Ohio, is crediting divine intervention with the healing of their son's blindness through the intercession of Blessed Margaret of Castello, who is already credited with one healing miracle and needs one more for canonization.
Margaret, a lay person who lived in Italy until her death in 1320, was born blind, deformed and lame. She never grew above 3 feet tall. Ashamed of her hunchback and midget size, her wealthy parents hid her within their home. Later, they abandoned her to wander the streets of Castello until Dominican lay women found her and received her into their ranks as a third order Dominican.
The Durants' doctor, Gary Rogers, a pediatric ophthalmologist specializing in children's eye problems, is not calling it a miracle. But he did say such a cure is “rare,” especially when a child goes from seeing almost nothing to having his vision steadily improve over the years.
The Columbus Diocese has not investigated the case, stating that the parents need to request an investigation through Bishop James Griffin.
“In the event we were asked to investigate we would pursue it, but we take it on a case-by-case basis,” said Tom Berg, communications director for the diocese. “All we know is that we have heard about the case, but have not been contacted [by the family].”
The Durants said they are unsure about the procedure to follow and did not contact the diocese, thinking they had to contact the church where the Blessed Margaret shrine is located. Now they plan to contact the bishop's office.
As for the medical documentation, Dr. Rogers said there is marked difference in Jacob's eyesight today than when he first examined him in 1996.
“When I first saw him he wasn't looking around or seeing well,” Rogers said. “It's a big difference and he is now somewhere in the normal range. I have no idea why he can see better.
“At least 90% of the children who have this do have a visual impairment from the problem. He is an exception.”
The Durants are certain that God answered their prayers through the intercession of Blessed Margaret.
When Jacob was born, Aug. 17, 1996, the Durants noticed nothing different about their second child. They were busy living a routine family life with Deb as a full-time mother. At the time, John was a youth minister. Then Deb began noticing that Jacob would continually become upset if the house became quiet. It wasn't until Jacob was 2 months old that they realized something was very wrong.
“He would look right through you,” Deb said. “I knew something was wrong because my daughter never reacted that way when she was a baby.”
Doctors confirmed the Durants' fears when they took Jacob into a dark room and shined a light in his eyes. Jacob didn't respond. From there, he was diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia — a condition that doesn't let the optic nerve grow. Although not legally blind, Jacob was well below average and facing a bleak future.
Dr. Rogers said the eye, acting as a camera, is not getting the electrical impulses needed for it to see.
“We could look at the nerve and see that it was not normal,” Rogers said. Jacob could also have developmental problems and doctors don't know what causes optic nerve hypoplasia.
‘We Stormed Heaven’
The Durants didn't waste any time asking heaven for assistance and began praying to Blessed Margaret.
“We stormed heaven,” Deb said. “I think I needed his sight more than Jacob did. But sometimes the heart can be more blind and this has given sight to a lot of people in our lives.”
The Durants thought that since Blessed Margaret was blind they would pray to her and began using a shrine dedicated to her that sits behind St. Patrick's Church in Columbus.
The shrine, run by Dominican priests, was established in 1950 as a way to promote her canonization and raise money for various programs to benefit the poor and underprivileged. Margaret was beatified in 1680 and needs to have one more miracle credited to her before she is canonized. To become a saint, a person must have performed two miracles after their death.
Blessed Margaret was known for visiting prisoners, the sick and comforting the dying. Her one confirmed miracle is the healing of a sick child. That miracle occurred shortly after her death with Margaret lying in her coffin. Her hand moved and touched a sick child,who was instantly healed.
An interested observer in Jacob's case is Father Kenneth France-Kelly, the director of the shrine at St. Patrick's. He works out of Washington, D.C. where he also oversees other Dominican shrines throughout the nation.
As friends and family learned more about Blessed Margaret of Castello, the Durants brought Jacob to healing services. Jacob's grandfather, a principal at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, also had schoolchildren praying to God and asking for the intercession of Blessed Margaret for a cure.
‘Bring Us Peace’
Still, obstacles greeted the Durants as they tried to get answers to Jacob's condition.
“I just keep praying to have peace about this or to heal him totally,” Deb said. Coming up was a brain scan that would tell the Durants if there was brain damage. As they waited for the appointment the Durants didn't stop praying and took Jacob to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at a Youth 2000 event in Columbus.
There at the call to prayer, the Durants again begged God to “hear us and bring us peace,” Deb said. “Then people laid hands on him.” That next day, Jacob began to watch his mother's every step. He was 5 months old, a mere three months after he had been diagnosed.
“His eyes followed every move I made and they had never done that before,” she said. “I … called the pediatrician and told him my son doesn't need a brain scan, he's healed.”
The response was typical, she said.
“He said, ‘Oh lady, whatever,’” Deb said. “It was too much for him to believe he was healed.” The Durants were undaunted. They knew their prayers had been answered.
The Durants' doctor isn't convinced. Dr. Rogers does not attribute Jacob's better vision to prayers.
“I'm not a deeply religious person,” Rogers said. “This little boy, for his problems, is very fortunate, but I don't think it's prayer that made him better. I think it's the luck of the draw.”
That statement doesn't disturb Father France-Kelly. In fact, he prefers it.
“The best miracles have come through doctors who aren't Catholic or even Christian because they have a non-biased approach,” the priest observed. “He has a skeptic's mind and in these cases that can disprove doubts.”
Still, Father France-Kelly is realistic. He said that if the diocese does investigate the Durants' case, the Dominicans would be interested, but won't do anything until then.
“We are looking for a definite black-and-white case that is not in the natural course of things,” Father France-Kelly said. “If it gets to the point where this child is totally cured, then it could be a case for canonization.”
Jennifer Del Vechio writes from Franklin, Indiana.