It’s October: the month dedicated to Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary. While the number of official Church-approved apparitions of the Blessed Mother can be counted with just two digits, stories of our heavenly Mother’s love and intercession in the lives of everyday people abound.
Just ask Cheri Lomonte. Since 2007, she has co-hosted “Mary’s Touch,” a half-hour national radio program that highlights the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in people’s lives.
“Our hope is that the show reminds people about the grace and unconditional love that Mary brings to her children,” says Lomonte.
Now in its fourth year of production, “Mary’s Touch” has broadcast hundreds of Marian stories from around the world each week. Recently, Dr. John Bruchalski and Betsy Welch gave their testimonies of how Mary has touched their lives.
Dr. Bruchalski has fond memories of growing up in a traditional Polish-Catholic household in northern New Jersey with his two younger brothers.
Mother Knows Best
“My parents dedicated all of us kids to the Blessed Mother at a very young age,” he recalls. “We prayed the Rosary daily and read the lives of the saints.”
By the age of 10, Bruchalski knew he wanted to be a doctor. After graduating from a Salesian high school, he attended a Jesuit college, Spring Hill in Mobile, Ala., where he majored in biology and history.
During his college years, Bruchalski said he never truly fell away from the faith, but he didn’t put much effort into it either: “I was a cultural Catholic. If I missed Mass on Sunday, it was no big deal. God understood.”
While studying at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, Bruchalski had heard from colleagues that the Catholic Church was changing in some of her moral stances regarding life issues, and he wanted to be a part of the change.
“During my studies, I believed contraception and IUDs (intrauterine devices) were perfectly fine,” recalls Bruchalski. “Abortion and sterilization were just part of being a modern medical doctor.”
The summer after medical school, before heading to his residency program at Eastern Virginia College of Medicine in Norfolk, he accompanied a friend on a trip to Mexico City. It was there, during a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that Bruchalski said he heard a female voice distinctly ask, “Why are you hurting me?”
“Looking around, and seeing no English speakers, I thought that the heat of the day was getting to me.”
That voice would tug at him for more than two years. Back at Eastern Virginia he worked at a crisis-pregnancy center that was run by the Assembly of God. He was touched by the center’s pro-life approach to the women — so much so that he began attending the local Assembly of God church.
“It was a schizophrenic existence for me at that time. On the one hand I was trying to bring Christ to these women in crisis at the pregnancy center; but at my residency I was treating these women as objects. Where I thought would bring happiness and health I was bringing sadness, illness and depression.”
According to him, this dual existence began to end when he and his mother took a pilgrimage to Medjugorje during one of his winter breaks. One day at the apparition site, a young Belgium woman approached Bruchalski and told him, among other things, that he was the Blessed Mother’s doctor.
“In short, I had a change of heart while there,” Bruchalski says. “All of sudden the things that became important for me were fasting, prayer, Mass, Eucharist and conversion.”
Upon returning to Virginia, Bruchalski knew what he had to do. Over a period of about a year, he abandoned the contraception-abortion-sterilization mentality.
Today, his work is dedicated to Our Lady. In 1994, he and his wife started the Tepeyac Family Center in the basement of their home in Fairfax, Va. Named after the hill outside of Mexico City where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531, the center has more than 6,000 patients on file.
Bruchalski notes humbly that at the core of his medical practice are the two hearts of Jesus and Mary: “To sum up Tepeyac ... it is to practice medicine for Jesus through Mary.”
At the Foot of the Cross
In 2005 the Welch family of suburban Tampa Bay, Fla., almost lost their youngest member, Ben, to a life-threatening infection. His mother, Betsy, credits the healing touch of Jesus and the intercession of Mary as the only reason her son is alive and well today.
“I truly believe the Blessed Virgin Mary interceded for us,” says the mother of three.
The traumatic ordeal for the Welch family began in February of that year: 9-year-old Ben came home one night after a long afternoon of playing sports with a fever nearing 105 degrees which wouldn’t go away. He also complained of terrible pain in his right leg.
After a day or two of trying to reduce Ben’s fever unsuccessfully, his parents took him to the doctor. It was soon discovered that Ben had a staph infection known as Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which was eating away at his femur bone.
Plans were immediately made for an operation. However, before the operation began, the family’s pastor, Father Mick O’Neill from St. Francis of Assisi in Seffner, Fla., showed up at the hospital to bless Ben’s legs. This, according to Welch, was the first of a number of miracles that would occur in the months ahead.
“Before Father Mick arrived, Ben was screaming in agony due to his legs. The slightest movement or touch caused him excruciating pain,” Welch recalled. “So when Father Mick came in, I thought Ben was going to go through the roof with him touching and blessing his leg.”
However, as their priest blessed Ben’s leg with the sign of the cross four times, he did not make a sound.
The operation was successful. But it was the start of a 15-month period in which Ben would undergo several more operations and be confined to a wheelchair for more than a year.
“I basically lived in the hospital for around six weeks,” says Welch. “I clung to the Rosary all during that time.”
She says her lowest moment came during that first visit in February. After two weeks in the hospital, Ben’s fever spiked at 104. He was coughing incessantly and began talking about dying.
“I thought I was going to lose my son. But as I reflect on that low moment, I could feel Mary’s arms around me. Mary was there just like she was for her son at the foot of the cross.”
In May 2006, Ben was out of his wheelchair. While his soccer-playing days are over, the now 15-year-old has developed an 80-mph fastball on the baseball diamond. And just last year Ben set a new record for running the mile at the Villa Madonna School outside of Tampa.
More importantly, Ben’s miraculous recovery has strengthened their faith. Mom, Dad and older sisters Katie and Courtney are firm believers that with Jesus and Mary on your side miracles do happen.
At “Mary’s Touch,” Lomonte never tires of hearing stories like these: “A witness of faith is the best teacher. These stories make Mary real. This is our faith in action.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.