NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) — Michael Mencer, 58, well remembers the September day in 1964 when he was walking home from St. Anastasia School in Teaneck.
His third-grade teacher, Sister Mary Augustine, a Sister of Charity, had just given him a prayer pamphlet and a small religious memento. Mencer could not clearly see either item because since he was in first grade, advancing bilateral macular degeneration had taken all but some of his peripheral vision.
Just days before, a doctor told Mencer’s mother, Barbara, that Michael would be totally blind within months. She had passed along this diagnosis to the school principal.
When Mencer went to school the following week, he received the prayer pamphlet and a relic containing a snippet of the hair of Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich.
While walking home, he remembers seeing a very bright light. He said he looked up and thought he was looking at the sun, but it didn’t hurt his eyes.
“All I can say is, when I looked back down, I could see the hair in the memento. That’s how I realized it was a hair.”
When he arrived home, he handed the pamphlet and relic to his mom, who was immediately struck by the fact that her son was not tilting his head to the side so he could see her.
“I was sitting at the kitchen counter and he was looking directly at me,” Barbara Mencer recalled. “His eyes were shining. He was changed from a child with a problem to a child who looked so well,” she told The Catholic Advocate, Newark’s archdiocesan newspaper.
Because the family was in the middle of a move, it was not until six weeks later that Mencer’s eyesight was declared normal during a visit to the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. His mother’s letters to the Sisters of Charity explaining what happened remained unnoticed until 1998, so the process of authenticating the miracle did not begin until 2000.
Other than using a pair of drugstore glasses for reading, he said his vision remains perfect, though he is battling testicular cancer.
With nine medical specialists endorsing Mencer’s vision cure as medically unexplainable, a committee of Vatican theologians validated it as a miracle attributed to Sister Miriam Teresa’s intercession and, last December Pope Francis agreed.
Sister Miriam Teresa will be beatified Oct. 4 Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.
“It’s a first-class miracle,” said Barbara Mencer, 85, who suffered a stroke in May that likely will prevent her from traveling to Newark for the ceremony from the Lincoln, Nebraska, home she shares with her son.
The beatification will be the first to take place in the United States. Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will celebrate the Mass, joined by Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, Paterson Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli and Bishop Kurt Burnette of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic.
During the procession, Mencer has been selected to carry a reliquary containing locks of Sister Miriam Teresa’s hair — similar to the tiny clipping given to him 50 years ago and which he still venerates. He said he has been thinking the honor should go to his brother and sister, who guided him as he was going blind.
In the years since his eyesight was restored, Mencer said he has continued to feel Sister Miriam Teresa’s intercession. In 1986, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It spread to his lymph nodes and liver before going into remission four years later after several rounds of chemotherapy. The cancer returned in 2006, but treatments have been effective.
A longtime altar server in his youth, Mencer continues to pray regularly and regrets that his cancer makes it difficult to attend Mass and receive Communion frequently.
“Every time I see a new doctor, he says, ‘I can’t believe you’re still alive,'” he said, adding that him being a testament to Sister Miriam Teresa’s holiness must be the only explanation.
“I was meant to stay alive,” he said.
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Frank is associate publisher of The Catholic Advocate and editor of the New Jersey Catholic, the news outlets of the Archdiocese of Newark.