A Miracle of Conversion: Cancer Helped Heal His Soul
Scott ‘Catfish’ Collier was told he had Stage IV cancer and only months to live. That’s when he really began to live: ‘My idea of living was to ride my motorcycle to Alaska. God’s idea of living was to get rid of the cancer inside of me.’
DENVER — In a small duplex on the northwest corner of a quiet street in otherwise-busy central Denver, Scott Collier’s pictures decorate a mirror in the family’s living room. The house belongs to mother-daughter residents, Shirley and Rosalie, and Rosalie’s daughter Neveah. Scott “Catfish” Collier entered their lives shortly after Shirley’s husband — and Neveah’s father figure — died from cancer.
In a previous home, Shirley, Rosalie and then-5-year-old Neveah lived a couple houses down from Scott, who was often outside working on his house, getting ready to sell it. Neveah would ride a little pink bicycle up and down the sidewalk, trying to get Scott’s attention.
“One day, she asked me to fix her training wheels,” he said. “I did what any human being would do. I stopped what I was doing, bought her a new set of training wheels and put them on for her. Then, the next day, she asked me to adjust them for her, and then the next day, something else. Before I knew it, every night I was at her house playing tag or spending time with her family.”
Scott developed a beautiful friendship with Neveah, Rosalie and Shirley. He took the family to get Slurpees from 7-Eleven and to Mass many times, including every year on Mother’s Day. Scott introduced them to the great outdoors, a personal passion of his, and drove them up a mountain near Idaho Springs.
When it came time for Neveah to enter school, he wrote to Annunciation Catholic School to inquire about scholarships. He convinced Shirley and Rosalie to let her attend, and Scott would visit her once a week at school to have lunch together. Scott eventually became Neveah’s godfather and was present at her confirmation.
Scott’s friendship with Neveah, he says, is what started the process of healing his heart.
“I’ve never cared about somebody in the world like I’ve cared about her,” Scott told the Register. “I understand what it means to unconditionally love someone.”
Before meeting Neveah, Scott described his heart as “black” and his outlook as typically dark. He said he was always angry at people.
“She broke in, broke down my walls and allowed me to care about others,” he said. “She was the beginning of God working on my heart.”
While his spiritual fatherhood of Neveah began to heal his heart, another event sped up the processes. In February 2018, Scott was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at the age of 43. The first surgery revealed a large tumor and cancerous cells throughout his abdomen. Doctors gave him weeks to months to live. The revelation launched a twofold battle — one to fight cancer and the other to clear a path in his heart for forgiveness.
A sensitive child, according to his parents, and a sensitive man as an adult, according to his own words, Scott tended to hold onto grudges and was easily overcome with resentment. He grew distant from his parents for many years, and he often isolated himself from friends when he experienced hurt or anger. He also battled serious depression and even questioned his value in the eyes of God.
“Love was not easy for him,” said Father Michael O’Loughlin, who was a newly ordained priest when he first met Scott. Although he had many friends from all walks of life, Scott often felt he didn’t fit in and easily was disappointed by relationships.
“He demanded something deeper. He expected something deeper,” said Father O’Loughlin.
“Most of my life, I wanted to change everything,” Scott told the Register. “I was very miserable. I battled depression all my life. I hated my [corporate] job. Before cancer, I spent a lot of time worrying and being anxious and being mad about the smallest thing.”
Laying in a hospital bed after his initial diagnosis, Scott was met with a wave of conviction to reconcile with friends and family members. Through the help of a priest, who was a spiritual father to him, Scott began to recognize that his own emotional and spiritual side was tangled up in what he described as a cancer of its own kind. And he knew he needed interior healing.
He wanted to reconcile right away, believing he had very little time left. He called and texted a number of people, many of whom showed up at the hospital without reservation. Soon, friends were taking shifts at the hospital. Some would bring their children to visit. Others would work from Scott’s bedside. Sometimes, the line of visitors was so long it extended all the way down the hospital wing.
One by one, Scott sought to reconcile relationships in his life. He called old girlfriends whom he hurt or who hurt him. He met with former bosses with whom his employment ended poorly.
“I don’t think any of us understand the depth of the work he went through, the daily grind of the work he put into forgiving” Father O’Loughlin said.
He soon reached out to his parents as a first step in mending his relationship with them.
“When the phone call came, my biggest fear was that he was going to die alone,” said Lynn Collier, Scott’s mother. “It was a relief he called us, that he would like to reconcile. There was forgiveness there.”
His parents moved to Colorado to live with him for a few months as he received treatment, and they remained available throughout his sickness whenever he needed extra care.
Dying Taught Him To Live
Cancer was, in some ways, a relief for Scott, he said to the Register. A year before his diagnosis, Scott quit his job in search of something more meaningful. He felt he was surviving, but wasn’t truly living.
“It was cancer that caused me to root out a lot of the things that were causing me not to live,” Scott said. “My idea of living was to ride my motorcycle to Alaska [which he did]. God’s idea of living was to get rid of the cancer inside of me.”
Scott received his illness with complete acceptance. He woke up from the first surgery to remove the tumor, as he said, a completely different person.
“All the pain I lived with most of my life — the struggle, the anxiety, the difficulty, the depression — that was all gone. It all left through cancer,” said Scott.
“It was almost like cancer was an answer to my initiative spiritually. I couldn’t live because these things were bogging me down — were cancerous in my healing.”
Scott grew to trust God in a new way. He learned to believe that God is good and that he was loved in a way he didn’t understand before. He understood that his value came from God and not from other people. It also helped him greet each day with an attitude that God was in control.
When Scott was declared cancer-free in January 2019, many people called it a miracle.
“There was a serious journey that took place,” said Father Francis Therese, of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Priests and Brothers, who first met Scott nearly 20 years earlier in the novitiate when Scott was discerning religious life. “I do believe it was a miracle. I think it was a miracle of conversion, and that was the more important one.”
With a new lease on life, Scott sold all of his possessions, including his house, his motorcycles and most of his material goods. He planned to hike the Appalachian Trail and to listen to what God would place on his heart for his next chapter.
“He always liked being alone with God,” Father O’Loughlin said. “He saw this time as a gift from God and wanted to use it for the Kingdom.”
Yet a few days into hiking, Scott fell ill again. In late July 2019, he was diagnosed with cancer for the second and final time. Less than a year later, he died in the presence of his family and amid a host of friends worldwide praying for him.
“He handled it like an absolute champ,” Father O’Loughlin said. “In a Job-like way, he would submit to God. He saw it with a holy, zealous ambivalence that if he lived, he would glorify God, and if he died, he would glorify God.”
He knew the pain of dying and the hope of healing. His second bout with cancer involved much more physical suffering and pain.
“When he got sick again, I brought up something about dying and told him, ‘I’m going to be really, really sad if that happens,’” said Jonathan Carlson, a friend of Scott. “He looked at me, and we both started tearing up. He said, ‘I don’t really want to die, but I’m okay with it if that’s what God wants.’”
Generosity and Forgiveness
Scott had motorcycle friends, a Range Rover club, a friend from Australia, his Catholic friends and his non-Catholic friends. He brought countless people to the Church in a ‘tag-team’ kind of way with Archbishop Charles Chaput, who was the archbishop of Denver at the time, noted Carlson. Scott would make friends, enter into faith dialogue with them, and, later, bring them to the archbishop, who would welcome them into the Church.
“He was absolutely generous with the way he shared his life with people,” said Carlson. “He would say things like, ‘Hey man, it’s Wednesday. I’m going to hang out with my Protestant friends. Don’t worry, you don’t know them.’”
Scott kept a sense of humor about his illness the entire time. Friends filled his house to sing and laugh and be with Scott as he battled cancer during the first and second occurrences. During one stretch of time, he camped — IV drip in hand — with friends every Monday night. He still went off-roading and even made new friends.
“He seemed so at peace with what was happening,” said Jonathan Ghaly, a friend of Scott. “The more you were around him, the more his freedom was like an osmosis. He was not scared of death. He knew heaven was not here.”
Scott arranged to be buried in Colorado, but changed his mind about six weeks before he died. On Divine Mercy Sunday, he moved to Maryland to be with his parents in their home. Scott had ordered a simple walnut coffin from the Trappist monks in Ohio and was able to change the delivery from Colorado to St. Mary’s County in the Chesapeake Bay State.
“It was a beautiful solid walnut coffin, simple but exquisite,” noted his mother. “He laughed when he first discovered it. He and his friend were supposed to pick it up themselves. Of course they never did.”
Scott died on June 8, 2020, at his parents’ home, leaving a legacy of friendship, humor and a significant pursuit of forgiveness.
“For many of us, we are not able to reconcile in time and space,” Father O’Loughlin said. “That certainly happened in Scott’s life.”
Scott’s final two text messages to Father O’Loughlin were both about forgiveness. He sent them three weeks apart, and they pertained to forgiving two people he struggled all his life to forgive. They were simple messages of “I forgive this person for this” and “I forgive this other person for that,” the priest shared.
“His whole mission was to forgive everyone,” Ghaly said. “It was very important for him to say, ‘I forgive you,’ and ‘I’m sorry.’”
‘One Soul at a Time’
Neveah started eighth grade this school year. Scott’s assets will pay for her Catholic school tuition through the end of high school. What began as a simple bicycle fix for a neighbor became a genesis for Scott’s transformational healing — through two intense battles with cancer and a secondary battle on the path of forgiveness.
Scott had an affinity for those who didn’t quite fit in, the stranger, the outcast. He was like them, he told the Register, expressing that he often felt like a stranger in this world. Yet he turned this experience into his mission in service of others.
“He was never going to be known throughout the world for starting — like Mother Teresa — a religious order for assisting those who were hurting,” Father O’Loughlin shared in the homily at Scott’s funeral Mass. “But Scott knew very, very well something I’m still trying to drill into my heart — and that is: one soul at a time. He sought that one ‘outcast,’ and he invested in that person completely.”
Scott knew his restless heart was made for God — and he wanted others who were like him to know that too. As Father O’Loughlin put it, “He’d lead them to Christ in a beautiful way.”
Scott’s battle with cancer was not unique, but his battle for souls — including his own — was striking. He preached Philippians 1:20 with his life, noted Father O’Laughlin, seeking always to get his heart in alignment with God, and knowing that each day could end in life or death.
“He was an ordinary man who struggled with faith, with his humanity, and who was willing to let you in on it,” Carlson said. “He knew where he was going and was absolutely confident of Jesus Christ. He wanted to be with God.”
Autumn Jones writes from Colorado.
Learn more about Scott “Catfish” Collier
One Billion Stories: “Longing for Heaven with ‘Catfish’”
Imprint (a publication of the Sisters of Life): “Catfish: Healed from the inside out”
“Catholic Stuff You Should Know” podcast: “Stage 4-Giveness”