Five-year-old Michael Schachle was expected to die in his mother’s womb. Instead, on May 27, the Vatican announced that the healing of the now lively, happy child before birth has been accepted as the miracle necessary to advance the sainthood cause of Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus. The Connecticut priest, who died in 1890, will be beatified and will receive the title “Blessed” on a date to be announced.
Michael Schachle was diagnosed in utero with both Down syndrome (a chromosomal disorder) and fetal hydrops (a life-threatening build-up of fluid in the tissue around the lungs, heart and abdomen). A doctor said the combined conditions meant the then-unborn child had “zero chance for survival.”
Heartbroken over the prognosis for their 13th child, Michelle and Daniel Schachle of Dickson, Tennessee, begged the intercession of Father McGivney, their family’s patron. Soon thereafter, the child’s hydrops inexplicably disappeared, and Michael, who has Down syndrome, was born two months early on May 15, 2015.
Married 22 years, Michelle, a 48-year-old home-schooling mom, and Daniel, a 44-year-old general agent for the Knights’ insurance program in four states, recently spoke to the Register about their journey to a miracle. The interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
When did you learn your unborn child had both Down syndrome and fetal hydrops?
Michelle: Jan. 13, 2015, is when I received the results that he definitely had Down syndrome and that he was a boy. They call parents of Down syndrome children “the lucky few.” We called my grandpa “Lucky,” and my family name was Ives, so I wanted to name him Benedict Ives and call him “Lucky” after my grandpa. Feb. 25, 2015, is when we were told he had a 0% chance of survival because he also had fetal hydrops. Some children do live with hydrops, but when you have a chromosomal diagnosis and hydrops, that’s a fatal diagnosis. It’s not really treatable.
How far along in the pregnancy were you?
Michelle: Nineteen weeks. That was the day the doctor said, “There’s nothing you can do; he’s not going to live. We can take you over and induce labor now, or you can wait and let nature take its course — but he will die.”
Daniel: The doctor said, “I was raised Catholic, and I know what the Church says about abortion, but this isn’t an abortion because there’s no hope.” They sent in grief counselors to talk to us.
[Adamantly pro-life, the Schachles refused to induce labor.]
What was your reaction to the news he wouldn’t live?
Michelle: We saw our priest that day; he discussed how we should bury the baby on our property (once he was stillborn) and make it a small ceremony.
Daniel: We were very sad. I was angry, actually. As a dad, I didn’t see it as my job to kill my child. I was incensed that I was asked to. We were both distraught. I decided to ask Father McGivney to pray for him. I told Father McGivney if he prayed for him, we’d name him after him. I told Michelle what I had done. She was angry at first because she wanted to name him after her grandpa. But after a day or so she bought into the idea. We emailed hundreds of people asking them to pray to Father McGivney for him. We just kept praying. We still pray to him.
Tell me about your prayers for your baby.
Daniel: I would say it was an Agony in the Garden kind of prayer. My family was in disarray, and my wife was very upset. I said, “Father McGivney, I need you to pray for my son. If you pray for my son, we’ll name him after you. Not my will, but God’s will be done.” My sentiment was, “Father, let this cup [his death] pass from my hands; I don’t want to do this.”
Michelle: I remember just asking that he be a miracle because that would mean he would live. I remember over and over saying, “Father McGivney, pray that he is the miracle.” I wasn’t thinking of the beatification or any of that. In my heart it was, “Let him be the miracle because that means he will live and this will pass from us.” I told God, “If Baby Ben dies, I will still love you, Lord, but it will take me a long time not to be angry.” I was so upset. I just kept praying, “God, let him be the one.”
You didn’t ask for healing of his Down syndrome?
Daniel: We never, for one second, felt Down syndrome was a problem. We were going to love him how God made him. Our prayers were always directed at, “Lord, save our baby.” It had nothing to do with chromosomal abnormalities; we welcomed those as a gift. For years our children would go help with [Knights of Columbus] Tootsie Roll drives to help those with disabilities. It would be crazy to say, “This is unacceptable,” after you’ve spent so much of your life fighting for people like this. I told Michelle, “Father McGivney needs a miracle to be named ‘Blessed,’ and there’s no reason it can’t be our son. Let’s pray to him. He needs a miracle; we need a healing — let’s go get it.”
Michelle: I thought it fit perfectly to ask for Father McGivney’s prayers because most babies diagnosed with Down syndrome aren’t born due to abortion. We prayed for the hydrops to be gone so he would live. We just wanted him to live, so we were begging.
I understand you also went on pilgrimage.
Michelle: When you work for the Knights of Columbus, if you’re in the top certain percent in sales, you can go on an annual trip. That year, they had made it a pilgrimage, so we were already preparing to go to Rome, Lisbon, Spain and Fatima. That had been in our plans for a year. We were going in just a couple of weeks [after the diagnosis].
What are your thoughts about the Fatima connection with Michael’s healing?
Michelle: A lot of people ask, “Why is it not a Fatima miracle?” We prayed to Father McGivney, “Please let him be healed,” but to us, all our prayers go through Our Lady because we’re consecrated to her. We were so excited about going to Fatima. We were praying through Father McGivney, but we wanted most of our prayers to be on the day we were at Fatima.
Daniel: Some people could say it’s a Fatima miracle. If so, it’s a Fatima miracle honoring Father McGivney.
I understand that, providentially, the Gospel reading you heard at Mass in Fatima was about a royal official asking Jesus to heal his son, which strongly echoed your situation.
Michelle: At Fatima, in the Gospel reading for the day (John 4:43-54), Jesus says, “This generation doesn’t believe unless there are signs and wonders. You may go in peace; your son will live.”
[Before Fatima] a priest friend of ours said a Mass for him in Rome [at St. Peter’s Basilica]. He randomly picked an altar. The one he picked was to Our Lady of Prompt Succor, which we later learned the Knights had restored.
Daniel: That was another one of those “God coincidences”!
Share about the connections between Michael and Father McGivney.
Daniel: The culmination of what you could call “coincidences” are so overwhelming surrounding the tie of Michael to Father McGivney that it’s indisputable. Michael was born on May 15, 2015; Council 1 of the Knights of Columbus was chartered May 15, 1882.
The healing happened on a Knights of Columbus trip, and the Knights are so tied in to helping those with special needs — working with the Special Olympics and collecting donations for those with intellectual disabilities through an annual Tootsie Roll drive — and so tied in with the pro-life movement.
Michael is the youngest of 13; Father McGivney was the oldest of 13. We’re a Knights of Columbus family; we’ve had a devotion to him since about 15 years ago. I went to work for the Knights, and we named our home school Father McGivney Academy. He’s always been a patron of our family. Michelle and Father McGivney share the same birthday. We’ve turned to him a lot of times. I look at the culmination of evidence. Hundreds of people were praying through Father McGivney’s intercession.
When did you know he was healed?
Michelle: I went to the doctor in week 20 of pregnancy, right before we went to Europe. I had a great fear he would die while we were there. The doctor gave me a letter saying I was free to travel. She said, “He may die while you’re gone, but I think it will be a while.”
A few days after we got home (week 23 of pregnancy), I went to my ultrasound appointment. It was taking forever. The technician was looking and looking at the monitor, and I was weeping. She said, “Look at this baby: It’s the prettiest baby I’ve ever seen!” Then I was sent to another room. Over an hour later, a doctor (I’d never seen before) came in and started talking about “when he’s born” and going on and on. I said, “Doctor, I was told there was no hope.” That’s when she realized he was the hydrops baby she had heard about. … She asked me what his name was. We had called him “Baby Ben” up to that point. But that’s the moment when I said, “His name is Michael.”
Daniel: The trip had necessitated that Michelle have an ultrasound on a specific day, then another on another specific day that cemented when it happened. The healing took place sometime when we were in Europe, week 21 or 22 [of pregnancy]. Our trip was March 12-20, 2015.
What was your reaction to his healing?
Michelle: You’re kind of in shock, even though you know God can do it. Even now, sometimes I’ll look at Michael and feel, “God I’m not worthy of your gift. I’m eternally grateful.”
We knew it was a miracle: A bona fide God-showed-up miracle.
Daniel: The Knights’ pilgrimage was building hope, so by the time we got back, I honestly wasn’t surprised. I was floored by God’s mercy — by him stepping in and doing this. It was miraculous and unbelievable, but this whole journey was preparing us. It would have been easy when we got the news of the original diagnosis to fall into despair. I can only attribute what happened to God’s grace. He wanted this and gave Michelle and I what we needed as we wrestled with everything.
Tell me about the day Michael was born.
Michelle: The day he was born his godfather was going to be ordained a deacon. I was going to have a quick ultrasound, then the children and I would go to the ordination. [Daniel had reluctantly gone on a business trip, as Michelle wasn’t due until July.] The umbilical cord flow wasn’t going correctly, so I was told, “You’re having the baby today!” [Michael was delivered via C-section; Michelle was in week 31 of pregnancy.] I felt at peace. I had a holy peace; I knew they could save him. I knew he was going to live then.
How is Michael doing today, as a healthy 5-year-old?
Daniel: He is still working on his speech. Other than that, he’s a rambunctious, curious 5-year-old boy. He lights up the room when he comes in. He’s funny. He’s always happy, always joking. He’s a very thoughtful child. He loves passionately.
Michelle: He’s very passionate. People say, “He’ll never do this or that.” I say, “You don’t know who this child is!” Also, the 21st chromosome, the extra one, is the kindness chromosome. He loves; he just loves. Those of us who aren’t blessed to have that chromosome, we don’t understand how to love. When you are blessed to be around a child with Down syndrome, they teach you to love without counting the cost.
How do you feel about being the recipient of a miracle?
Daniel: Completely humbled. We didn’t realize the significance of all the stuff going on until [we were] looking back and lining it up. It’s like God was writing this story. We were kind of unaware of what was going on. One day it hit us in the face. For me, the fruit that came out of this is to have more abandonment to God and not worry about every little thing that happens in my life. Who would have thought a 0%-chance-for-life diagnosis for your child could turn into this? That has spilled into my life: “Lord, I don’t know where this is going; use it for your purposes.”
Michelle: God healed a child inside of my body. I don’t know exactly when that moment was. It’s made me think a lot about how he’s healed so many things in us, and we don’t know when — spiritually and physically, he’s always working inside of us, and we don’t realize it. The “miracle” laughs and is mischievous and says, “Mommy, I love you so much.” The miracle lives and breathes and is a constant reminder of the mercy of God.
Roxanne King writes