Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 20, 2000
Nun Speaks On Gift Of Healing
By Priscilla Greear
STONE MOUNTAIN-When "These Boots Are Made for Walking" was a popular hit, the only boots that Sister Briege McKenna wore as a teenager in 1965, after being stricken with severe rheumatoid arthritis, were thick white casts to prevent foot deformities as she lay for months confined to her bed.
Having cut off her long curls and entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Clare at 15 in 1962, Sister McKenna moved from Ireland to Florida five years later where she began going to the doctor three days weekly as her arthritis worsened despite several medications. So, too, did her ties of faith begin to unravel.
"At some point in life we come to, God often allows a crisis, not because all crises are bad (but) because some crises make us stop and say, 'why are we doing what we are doing?'" she recalled at the Magnificat prayer breakfast for women held Dec. 4 at Mt. Carmel Christian Church, Stone Mountain.
Archbishop John F. Donoghue and other priests also gathered at the largest ever Atlanta Magnificat breakfast, which drew 400 people to hear the beloved Irish nun talk about healing and her ministry.
In Florida, for the first time she began questioning the Mass, the Eucharist and whether she knew the Lord. Not praying for physical healing, she went to a life-changing retreat in 1970.
"I said, 'I don't want anything else. I want to know Jesus. I want to know him as a person. I want to be a Catholic nun that ought to be madly in love with Jesus,'" said Sister McKenna, 53. "I really wanted to know Jesus and I wanted to experience my Catholic faith and I wanted for my perpetual vows to be not external but in my heart."
She asked for baptism in the Spirit, as the sacrament alone is like a gift with ribbons and bows left unopened, she said.
"That's what baptism in the Spirit does. It takes you past talking about the doctrine to actually experiencing and encountering the living, risen Jesus."
She heard the Lord quietly ask her to seek him before she was healed. Her arthritis never returned.
"It was at that moment that this power went through my body. The first thing I realized I had been physically healed. My feet straightened ... the sores on my elbows left and I jumped up and I started shouting, 'Oh Jesus. I believe in you,'" she recalled. "It's at that moment I felt this power go through me. My eyes were opened up and what happened is that I realized that up until that moment I knew about Jesus, I was led by Jesus ... but at that moment I met Jesus," said the nun, who had both a peacefully powerful and playful, girlish presence.
Tears fading to joy, she then said on another occasion she was sitting in a chapel before the Blessed Sacrament where she heard God tell her she had the gift of healing and was empowered. A skeptical Sister McKenna wanted to keep her sensational new gift under wraps, yet eventually felt obliged to open it after a prayer meeting where she met an Anglican bishop who confirmed her healing powers. In college, classmates then told her she had a gift in her hands, and there was no denying it. It's like the Lord entering your house, she explained, and trying to enter a locked room.
"I heard the Lord say, 'if you don't let me into that room you ... will never know joy. You will never know my generosity' ... I heard the Lord say, 'you're more worried about people and what they think,'" she said with an Irish accent. "I heard the Lord say, 'Briege, who did you make your vows to? I didn't give you vows to bind you. I gave you vows to liberate you to the Gospel ... When you fall in love with Jesus you fall in love with everybody'" and God will bring closer friends.
The following year involved a multitude of miracles as the wounded healer amazed herself healing people of leukemia, cancer, blindness and paralysis, she said while throwing in bits of Irish humor as she spoke. One woman with cancer whose four children died at birth was contemplating suicide before she heard Sister McKenna speak on prayer. The next day she visited the nun and was healed.
"I took her hand and said a prayer. She said, 'Do you think possibly Jesus could heal me?' The greatest healing is hope, to be healed of despair," Sister McKenna said, and that the physical healing is less important.
"Don't forget that the same Spirit that lived inside Jesus is inside you. All Jesus needs is willing instruments."
Later, Sister McKenna went to Lourdes where she learned that 400 people from her hometown were there on a pilgrimage for the sick.
"When you do God's will, God is full of surprises," she said, and nothing happens by accident.
In 1974 during prayer she was given insight into the mystery of the call to the priesthood. Since then, bishops and priests worldwide have invited her to speak and minister at retreats and conferences. For this ministry, she has a deep love for the Eucharist and the priesthood.
She eventually joined Father Kevin Scallon, CM, and has been ministering with him since 1985. Together, they've experienced many more miraculous moments such as a busload of Buddhist travelers in Taiwan converting to Catholicism. Her book, "Miracles Do Happen," has sold thousands of copies in many languages around the world.
Sister McKenna's most treasured gift is friendship with Jesus.
"To know Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection is the greatest gift, and once you know Jesus ... you never take it for granted. I'm always surprised but it's a grace to be always surprised at the miracle of healing. Not everybody is healed, but there are people who die."
Yet all the faithful are headed to the arms of Christ, she said. She asked attendees how they'd describe Jesus, adding that Christ gives all people a mission regardless of their education or talents.
"How would you introduce Jesus? ... Is he alive in your life? Is he a real person? Do you ask him for guidance? Do you cry and share with him the secret sorrows and angers and anguish of your heart? ... Is he the first person in my life above everybody? Do you have him in a room reserved?"
The St. Clare sister closed by calling the divine physician to bring physical and spiritual healing, freedom from fears and doubt, and renewal in faith to all women through baptism in the Holy Spirit. She called women to embrace their mothering spirit of love and reach out to the hurting.
Offering a breakfast reflection, Archbishop Donoghue reminded women to follow the example of Mary, who carried the weight of divine understanding, as they rest their eyes on the Lord.
"... She was first, to hear, to know, to ponder, to speculate, to formulate, and to come under the heavy understanding of the great mysteries revealed in her Son, in the Christ ... the first to stand before the great Advent mysteries that we seek to know ourselves during this season - the mystery of the God-made-man, the Incarnate Christ and the mystery of the end of time..."
He thanked long-time friend of the archdiocese, Sister McKenna, for her presence and expressed hope that her presence would encourage good works as well as an increase in Religious vocations that are desperately needed.
Magnificat service team coordinator, Olga Myers, thanked those attending the breakfast, including many newcomers.
"Today we have chosen the better part by being here. God will bless you for it. God has chosen us to be here today away from the hustle and bustle of the world, to sit at his feet today," she said. "He has got a message for you. He wants us to say 'yes, let it be done to me according to your Word.'"
Sister McKenna's healing message did penetrate many souls. Corine Stinchcombe, a parishioner at St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, said she came to hear Sister Briege again after having attended a eucharistic healing service in March 1999 in New Orleans. While extending her hand towards the monstrance, there she received both spiritual and physical healing from "excruciating" back pain she had for eight years from a car accident. She liked the nun's affirmation that it's good to ask for healing. "What happened to me in New Orleans was so transforming. I feel that the more I open myself to community and talking about the Holy Spirit the more I will release the power and pray more regularly."
"She (Sister McKenna) has a special ability and I think God works through her just as he works through many people ... God gives us gifts and he wants for us to accept them and when we do, he uses us to spread his Word. One of the greatest gifts that God has given me is love of the Eucharist. I've been teaching seventh-graders about the Eucharist as coordinator of eucharistic ministry at my parish. I'm trying to be more open to these gifts now."
Stinchcombe brought her daughter, Beth, who has struggled with health problems having had knee and appendix surgeries. Beth was inspired by the testimony. "Her whole faith story is just an inspiration. God does work and he does heal. Her whole life story that she was crippled (and) that suddenly she's healed and she's got this gift--you can't ignore God."
Beth Daly, a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, suffers from migraine headaches and gained insight into how offering pain to God can help others, as many suffer much worse than she.
"He's got a purpose and my headaches are a part - just realizing that if God chooses not to heal me then that's where I'm at right now."
Daly also seeks spiritual healing through "being able to identify what's preventing you from growing spiritually. Forgiveness-there's a lot of need for me to let go of hurt and there are a lot of other things that make barriers."
KEYNOTE SPEAKER -- Sister Briege
McKenna, OSC, the author of Miracles Do Happen, describes her miraculous cure
from rheumatoid arthritis which left her debilitated for years. Her own calling
to a ministry of healing is a testimony to the love of God, the importance of
prayer, and the healing power of the Eucharist.