Two Americans receive miracles thanks to John Henry Newman

Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 leads a beatification Mass in England for John Henry Newman. Deacon Jack Sullivan is on the far right. Photo: CIRIC

It’s not an easy feat for a mom with young children to pack up and take a trip, let alone a trip across the ocean on a nine-hour flight. But Melissa Villalobos, a mom of seven, is ecstatic.

“I am so honored to be a link in this chain to his canonization,” said Melissa, referring to the canonization of Bl. John Henry Newman, an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism in 1845. 

Pope Francis will canonize Bl. Newman on Oct. 13 at the Vatican. Melissa, her husband, David, and their seven children, ages 7 months to 13, will be there, too.

“They voted unanimously that they found I was cured by Cardinal Newman,” she explained.

Melissa’s healing was the second miracle needed for Bl. Newman’s canonization. Vatican officials determined Melissa, who is from the Archdiocese of Chicago, was healed by Cardinal Newman in 2013 when she was expecting her fifth child, Gemma. 

Melissa’s healing was the second miracle needed for Bl. Newman’s canonization.

Melissa and her husband had a strong devotion to Cardinal Newman long before the miracle. The 42-year-old said she began learning about him when her husband brought home a Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman prayer card. 

“I became fascinated with him. I looked him up on the internet. I was amazed at how much he had written. He explained Jesus in a way that was so beautiful, loving, and accurate,” Melissa said of the British theologian and prolific writer. 

Cardinal Newman led the Oxford Movement in the Church of England, which reintroduced the validity of Catholic teaching. He was greatly criticized, but his search for the truth and writings eventually led him to the Catholic Church.

“He means the world to me. He is brilliant. He also has this awesome, colossal heart,” she said of her intercessor. 

And on the day of May 15, 2013, he was an answer to prayer.

John Henry Cardinal Newman. Photo: Public Domain

‘Please, Cardinal Newman’

“When I first became pregnant, I was losing blood. I had just come off of a miscarriage,” she explained. 

Her doctor did an ultrasound and found her condition was serious and life-threatening for the baby.

“He said my placenta had become partially detached from my uterine wall. There was a blood clot as well as that open wound. I was actively bleeding, continuously,” she said.

Melissa was given strict orders for bed rest. But she recalled that was nearly impossible with four young children at home. She was only in her first trimester and was worried how she would make it through all nine months.

“I couldn’t lift anything. I couldn’t walk. I had four little kids at home. I couldn’t do housework. I couldn’t read them stories on my lap. I couldn’t give them hugs,” she said.

“I couldn’t lift anything. I couldn’t walk. I had four little kids at home. I couldn’t do housework.”

Melissa said as the days progressed, her bleeding worsened, and she ended up in the emergency room.

“They told me there was a really good chance [I’d] have a miscarriage,” she said. 

Melissa was released from the hospital, and she did her best to return to strict bed rest. A few days later, her husband had to go out of town on business. Melissa said she assured him she would be fine because she didn’t want to put his job in jeopardy, with four children to provide for and a baby on the way. But soon after he left, her bleeding returned, and it was worse than before. 

“I woke up, and there was a pool of blood all over the bed. I was losing so much blood,” she said. But her first thought was of her young children, ages 6, 5, 3, and 1. She said she tried to shield them by somehow managing to set them up in the kitchen for their morning routine before returning to her room upstairs.

“I said, ‘Don’t get out of your seats, no matter what.’ I didn’t want them to see the bleeding. I went into the master bathroom and closed the door. I collapsed on the floor. Now I was losing a ton of blood,” Melissa recalled. “I thought to call 911 because I was going to bleed to death. I realized I didn’t have my cell phone. I was in no position to look for it. I couldn’t scream because I couldn’t exert any pressure on my abdomen,” she said. 

Desperate and terrified, Melissa began to pray.

“I said, ‘Please, Cardinal Newman, make the bleeding stop.’” 

And it did.

“It stopped instantly. I stood up and said, ‘Cardinal Newman did you make the bleeding stop?’ I said, ‘Thank you.’ When I said that, the bathroom filled with the smell of roses. It was intense,” she said.

Cardinal Newman did you make the bleeding stop?

“I knew Gemma was OK. I knew I was OK,” she said. Later that day, she went to her doctor’s office for an ultrasound. For the first time in her pregnancy, he told her, “The baby looks perfect.”

Gemma was born Dec. 27, 2013, at 8 pounds, 8 ounces.

“She was supposed to be born small and early. She has no medical problems. She’s reading; she’s riding her bike. She’s into dancing, gymnastics, and swimming,” Melissa said of her now 5-year-old.

Melissa, so grateful for Cardinal Newman, began the process to report what had happened. After an extensive investigation, interviews, and a review of medical records, Vatican officials agreed that a miracle took place.

“It went through three independent doctors, and they determined there was no scientific explanation for my cure,” she explained.

Melissa and Gemma Villalobos. Photo courtesy of Melissa Villalobos

A diaconate candidate prays for healing

Melissa is the second American to be cured by Bl. Newman. The first miracle is associated with Deacon Jack Sullivan, who serves at St. Thecla Parish in Pembroke, Massachusetts. Deacon Sullivan was cured from a crippling spinal disorder after he prayed to Cardinal Newman in 2001. That miracle led to Cardinal Newman’s beatification in Birmingham, England, in 2010. Deacon Sullivan served as a deacon during the Mass, proclaiming the Gospel, with Pope Benedict XVI as the celebrant.

Deacon Sullivan was in the diaconate formation program in the Archdiocese of Boston at the time of his illness. 

“In late July of 2000, I was told by the chief neurosurgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that the condition of my lower spinal cord, which is usually the size of a quarter, was compressed by my vertebrae and discs to that of a piece of string and so badly damaged that it would never decompress. I likely would by paralyzed in a short period of time,” Deacon Sullivan recalled.

After that meeting with his doctor, he returned home and decided to watch television to get his mind off of the devastating news. As he was flipping through channels, he stopped on a program about Cardinal Newman on EWTN. 

“There were two people talking about Newman and the difficulties he had to persevere through; the main one was him converting to Catholicism. I knew very little about Newman prior to the program. At the end of the program, they put a sign on the screen [saying that] if you receive any divine favors after praying to Newman, contact the postulator. So at that point I really needed a divine favor. I was told just that morning I’d never walk again, and forget about being a deacon. So I prayed to Cardinal Newman, ‘Please let me walk again.’ Suddenly the pain left me,” he said.

Doctors were mystified and canceled the planned surgery because his pain had disappeared. He was able to finish his second year of formation, which is all he had asked for. But a year later, the pain returned, and surgery was no longer optional. 

Doctors were mystified.

After his surgery, Deacon Sullivan said he was still in incredible pain with little hope of making a full recovery. That’s when he prayed again to Cardinal Newman that he would be healed. And he was.

“I was totally caught up in God’s love. I was able to walk normally again this time. Not only did my symptoms go away, I was given a whole new spinal cord,” he explained. 

Deacon Sullivan and his wife, Carol, have been married for 50 years and have three grown children and two grandchildren. 

“I needed the help of a divine physician, and I got it. I wanted so much to return to my classes and be ordained,” he said. “To this day, I have a spine of a 30-year-old, no limitations whatsoever. I wanted so much to serve the Church and serve the people.”

While they are 1,500 miles apart, Deacon Sullivan and Melissa got to know each other, as Melissa had reached out to him on how to proceed with her case.

I needed the help of a divine physician, and I got it.

Melissa said she hopes the miracles will give people hope and give witness to intercessory prayer.

“I’m a regular mom. I’m really blessed. He did the work, but here I am,” Melissa said. “I wanted to give the glory to Cardinal Newman and return the favor. I felt extremely humbled. How do you repay such a thing?”  

To learn more: (includes a PDF of a novena that can be downloaded)

Deacon Jack Sullivan appeared on “EWTN Live” on Oct. 7, 2015. Watch the program at 

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