61 MINUTES TO A MIRACLE
Fulton Sheen and a True Story of the Impossible
By Bonnie L. Engstrom
Our Sunday Visitor, 2019
144 pages; $13.95
EWTN Item: T1421
To order: ewtnrc.com or (800) 854-6316
What could be a more heartwarming, inspiring, triumphant story than one about a baby brought back to life from the dead? What is more incredible than a baby healed of abnormalities in a way medical science could not explain, except for doctors and nurses to say, many times over, “He shouldn’t be like this. It’s amazing. … It’s astounding and really, really wonderful … I’d say a miracle”?
The story of James Fulton Engstrom, the child, became the miracle for the beatification of Archishop Fulton Sheen. His mother, Bonnie Engstrom, describes the events with such moving, sometimes heart-wrenching, surprising, unexpected and ultimately uplifting and triumphant detail in her book 61 Minutes to a Miracle that her son’s story should make even an unbeliever in the miracle weep with compassion and finally with gratitude and joy for this blessed family.
Another reason why Engstrom’s book is so exceptional is that this miracle story is shared in so much detail, covering all pertinent events, from the months before the miracle to years afterward.
Fast-forwarding to the outcome, Engstrom writes, “If you saw my kids and me at the park today, you would never be able to guess which one should, by all accounts, be severely disabled. If you stood behind us in the checkout line, you would never know that one of them had been dead for more than an hour. Unless you knew us and our story, you’d never suspect that my blue-eyed boy was another Lazarus. In fact, unless you saw the two scars on his should-have-been-amputated leg, or the g[astrostomy]-tube scar on his belly, you would never assume he had any kind of medical history at all.”
Indeed, Bonnie and Travis Engstrom faced any parents’ worst nightmare. Even if James had come to life 61 minutes after being born, readers learn that without the miracle through the intercession of Archbishop Sheen that continued to unfold, he would have either died very soon after or, if he managed to survive, would have been severely disabled.
But more than recounting facts, Engstrom brings readers into the family as friends with whom she shares all the touching details, the ups and downs of the journey from before James’ birth to his miracle, ultimately chosen for Archbishop Sheen’s beatification cause. She tells the story in such a personal way — it makes for can’t-put-it-down reading.
Page after page, with her natural, conversational style, she draws readers in with genuine emotion, honesty and significant observations. This page-turner relives the events with the family moment by moment.
When during the home birth it was clear the baby was not breathing or responding to emergency treatment, Travis performed an emergency baptism. As Bonnie writes, “Travis looked around the room for water. Taking the cup I had been sipping from throughout labor, he dipped in his fingers and thumb. The water sprinkled down on James’s forehead, and with his thumb Travis traced the Sign of the Cross above our son’s brow. His voice was soft and clear, even though it was suppressing a great deal of emotion. ‘James Fulton, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’
“It was the first time that either of us had spoken James’s full name. There was power in it, because we had made an intentional decision that every time our children’s names are spoken, it will be an invocation of the saints for whom they are named.”
There’s great truth and beauty in the way faith weaves throughout the unfolding events and circumstances, from the times God’s plan could not be understood, but eventually was in hindsight, to times of questioning and uncertainty — bolstered by details, punctuated by amazement and awe, of the Church’s centuries-old procedures of investigating miracles.
As Engstrom writes, “At times I still ask myself, ‘Why did all this happen, and why did it happen to us?’ The simple answer is, I don’t know — but to the best of my understanding, everything has been as God wanted it to be. As I once explained it to a friend, ‘God set the table.’ God put down the linens, laid out the dishes, arranged the flatware, and set out the food. He invited me and my family to join him. All we did was show up and sit down in the chairs he pulled out for us.”
This moving story of family life on the edge of heartbreak, buoyed by boundless hope and then ultimately triumphing in life and faith is one to rejoice over. Don’t pass it up.
a Register staff writer.