By Christie L. Chicoine

CS&T Staff Writer

GLEN MILLS – Look no further than the backyard of the Philadelphia Archdiocese to meet the recipient of the final miracle needed for the Oct. 23 canonization of Blessed Luigi Guanella, an Italian priest of the 19th and early 20th centuries who founded the Servants of Charity.

The congregation includes an order of priests and religious brothers serving in Springfield, Delaware County, and the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, a congregation of religious sisters which includes an order in Elverson, Chester County.

The “miracle man” is William H. Glisson Jr., 30, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Glen Mills, Delaware County, and a 1999 graduate of Msgr. Bonner High School for Boys in Drexel Hill.

Nine years ago, on March 15, Glisson was rollerblading backwards without a helmet when he struck a crack in a sidewalk on the bottom of a hill along Baltimore Pike in Springfield. He was thrown six to seven feet in the air before he cracked the back of his head on a curb.{{more}}

Glisson, the oldest of William and Donna Glisson’s two children, was in a coma for five weeks and survived five surgeries – four on his brain and one to replace his restructured skull. He was, for a time, on a ventilator and had to use both a breathing tube and feeding tube, and temporarily lost feeling in his right foot, left hand and the right side of his neck.

Doctors informed Glisson’s family that he was not expected to survive.

That same year, on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, a friend of the family lent the Glissons two relics of Blessed Guanella. One relic was placed on Glisson’s medical band; his mother, a registered nurse, kept the other relic in her pocket.

In late April 2002, Glisson was released from the hospital and reported to a physical rehabilitation center. After a 10-day stay there, he received outpatient physical rehabilitation.

Since his skull had been removed to alleviate the swelling of his brain, he wore a protective helmet. Six months later, in September 2002, the restructured skull was surgically replaced.

Glisson had made what would eventually, and officially, be declared a miraculous recovery.

In November 2009, a medical commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared there were no scientific, natural or medical reasons for Glisson’s cure. In January 2010, the Pontifical International Theological Commission approved that Glisson’s healing was obtained through the intercession of Blessed Luigi Guanella.

The cause was subsequently presented to Pope Benedict XVI, who announced the coming canonization Feb. 21.

“To be pretty much gone and then to come back changes the way I look at absolutely everything,” Glisson said last year, as the case was being presented to Pope Benedict XVI.

Then as now, Glisson works at his family’s roofing, siding and window-manufacturing business, M & J Supplies in Folcroft, Delaware County.

In 2008, Glisson married Kaye Conner, a 1999 alumna of Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield.

Today, whenever he sees young people biking or skating without a helmet, Glisson shares his story to try to persuade them to play safely.

“Before, I thought I was basically invincible. The accident really made me realize that I’m not. I can get hurt just like everybody else and I have to be careful.”

Servant of Charity Father Dennis Weber, local superior of the Servants of Charity in Springfield, said the canonization would be “a blessing for us, the Servants of Charity, and for the Church of Philadelphia.”

“It’s very gratifying to know that it’s a local miracle attributed to Father Guanella that occurred in our own backyard,” he added. “It’s a recognition of the belief in Father Guanella, but also the faith that people have in the intercession of saints and the role that they can play in the lives of people. It just reaffirms that we can turn to the saints.”

At the heart of Blessed Guanella’s spirituality was the statement, “‘God is our Father and we are His children,'” said Father Weber.

The canonization comes just one year after the order celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of its ministry at the Don Guanella School, Springfield, an institution that provides residential rehabilitative services for developmentally disabled boys and young men between the ages of 6 and 21.

The Servants of Charity administered the school through 2004. Since then, the school has been administered by Catholic Social Services of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

“Mamma mia! Finally, Luigi is ‘santo, santo,'” said Sister Noreen Franzina, D.S.M.P., local superior of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Elverson.

“We jumped with happiness,” she said. “Then, we thanked the Lord.”

Her congregation manages St. Mary of Providence Center as both a group retreat center and as an independent living center for senior citizens.

Pope Benedict XVI will canonize Blessed Louis Guanella and two additional blesseds on World Mission Sunday in Rome.

Blessed Guanella was born Dec. 19, 1842, in the small village of Fraciscio, Italy, in the Southern Alps. He was ordained a priest May 26, 1866 in the Diocese of Como, then joined the Order of Salesian priests, led by St. John Bosco, from 1875-78 before returning to the Diocese of Como in 1878.

He also founded the Confraternity of St. Joseph, whose members pledge to pray for the sick and dying.

Blessed Guanella died Oct. 24, 1915. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI Oct. 25, 1964.

Pope Benedict announced the date for the October canonizations Monday, Feb. 21, at the end of what is known as an ordinary public consistory, a formal ceremony opened and closed with prayer, during which cardinals present in Rome express their support for the Pontiff’s decision to create new saints.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, read brief biographies of the three in Latin Feb. 21. In addition to Blessed Guanella, the blesseds to be canonized are:

Blessed Conforti, founder of the Xaverian Foreign Missionary Society, born in 1865 in Italy. Vice rector of a seminary even before his priestly ordination, he was said to have filled seminarians with an awareness of their obligation to be missionaries.

In 1895, seven years after becoming a priest, he founded a congregation of consecrated men dedicated to the evangelization of non-Christians.

Named bishop of Ravenna in 1902, he was plagued by ill health and decided to resign. But five years later, he was once again appointed to lead a local church as head of the Diocese of Parma. He visited the Xaverian missionaries in China a few years before his death in 1931.

The Xaverian missionaries today include 793 priests and brothers, and 183 Xaverian sisters; they have a strong presence in Europe and the Americas.

Blessed Bonifacia Rodriguez Castro, 1837-1905, founded the Servants of St. Joseph in Spain, a congregation originally dedicated to providing a religious and technical education to poor women.

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CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or

Catholic News Service contributed to this report.