The Personalist Project

In my second year of graduate school at the University of Dallas, in the Fall of 1974, my father died.  We’d been expecting it, but it still came as a shock. That’s the way death is.  Even if you know it’s coming, it’s always an unexpected surprise.  It just seems so wrong and out of place.  (And, of course, it is not what God originally intended; it is unnatural, a result of sin.) 

We’d been told the previous Christmas that it would be his last, that he had less than a year.  I was home for the summer and he grew increasingly weak.  My sister, who was engaged, arranged for her wedding in early September so that he could be a part of it.  He was able to come to the church—the last time he was out in public—but was too weak to walk her down the aisle.  I did that as her only sibling, but at least Dad was there in the front row.  He was unable to go to the reception, but was able to carry on his last animated conversation with relatives at home that day.  Then I had to go back to Dallas for my semester. 

I knew he only had a few weeks, so I began to say special prayers for him.  Toward the end of the month, I began a series of 9-day novena prayers, what I called my “Novena of Litanies.”  I did the Litany of the Sacred Heart, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Litany of the Precious Blood for my dad.  I was about halfway through the nine days when the last weekend of the month came.  All day that Saturday I was unsettled.  I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t study, walked around restlessly, couldn’t find peace.  I think I had a premonition.

That evening I tried to write out an assigned philosophy paper, but gave up and lay down on the bed.  Eventually, fully clothed, I fell asleep for a few hours.  I woke up with a start at three in the morning.  I was startled because the experience I had was that someone had spoken to me--with authority no less--waking me up, yet no one was in the room.  The voice had clearly and forcefully said, “Why don’t you say your novenas for your father!”  and then “Why don’t you go down to the chapel to do it!”  So I did. 

Early the next morning my Aunt Agnes, my dad’s sister who was with him (my mom died when I was 5), called to tell me my father had passed away during the night.  Naturally, my aunt expected a normal reaction of grief, which of course I did feel, but something else overroad it—a growing excitement which my aunt could hear in my voice and which she thought very strange.  She also thought my next series of questions was very odd and began to get annoyed with me.  I asked “When?”  She repeated, “Last night?”  “No, when?”  “Overnight!!!”  “No, exactly when?”  “Well, if you must know, 3:20 in the morning, but why do you care!  I just told you your father died, and you’re concerned about the exact minute?  What’s wrong with you?” 

Then I told her.  About the Novena of Litanies and about being woken up at 3:00am central time in Dallas (1:00am pacific time in LA where my dad was) and being told to go say my prayers for my dad in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  But the clincher was, it was September 29, the Feast of St. Michael, the feastday and namesday of both my father and I.  We were both Michael Joseph Healy, from a long line of Michael Joseph Healy’s stretching back to the old country in Ireland. 

So my father Michael was allowed to live just an hour into his feastday in LA and I, his son Michael, was called out at that same moment in the middle of the night in Dallas on the Feast of St. Michael to say my Novena of Litanies for him before our Eucharistic Lord for the last 20 minutes of his life on earth (and his first 10 minutes into eternity)!  It was the most extraordinary grace of my life.  (I don’t say the “greatest,” when I think of my wife and children, but certainly the most direct manifestation in my life of a miraculous divine intervention.)   

I fully believe that on his Feastday and my father’s day of death, St. Michael (no doubt with our guardian angels—these people tend to work together very closely!) spoke to me on father’s behalf in his God-given office as the "great prince who stands up for the children of your people" (Book of Daniel) and as “patron of the dying.”  In this latter role, of course, tradition has it that at the hour of death, Michael is said to descend and give each soul the chance to redeem itself before passing, to the consternation of the devil and his minions.  

Because of this direct angelic intervention and gift, paradoxically, my father’s day of death is now always a day of thanksgiving and joy for me.  Ultimately, truly hoping that Michael will also help me across the great divide, I know that I will see my dad again in heaven

This is Michael the Archangel

The leader of the angelic hosts,

Whose privilege it is to grant favors to the people,

And whose prayer leads them to the kingdom of heaven.

The Archangel Michael is prince of heaven,

To whom the angelic hosts pay honor.

Whose privilege it is to grant favors to the people,

And whose prayer leads them to the kingdom of heaven.


The Archangel Michael, to whose care God has entrusted the souls of the blessed,

Came with a multitude of angels,

To lead them to the joys of paradise.

From heaven, O Lord, send forth your Holy Spirit,

The Spirit of wisdom and understanding.

To lead them to the joys of paradise.


[From the responsories in the second nocturn of matins for the Feast of St. Michael.] 

During this week after the Feast of St. Michael--during the octave of the Feast--every year I try again to say the Novena of Litanies in thanksgiving for these marvelous events.  Alleluia!  O Death, where is thy sting! 

To me this is one of the touchstone experiences of my life.  To ever forget it, to ever doubt God’s loving providential hand in my life (or in the events of the world), even in the midst of sorrow, sickness, and tragedy, would be like the Israelites forgetting the Exodus.  As Cardinal Newman says beautifully and succinctly, “The world seems to go on as usual, but the Ever-present Spirit of God is here.”

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