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Just In: The Miracle That Earned Sainthood for St. Theodora (Mother Theodore Guerin)

The Third Miracle Guerin Theodore

First Step to Sainthood

CORRECTED *:

Now she’s known as Saint Theodora, but for years we’ve known her as Mother Theodore Guerin, the guiding force behind the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of the Woods.

Random House now presents the seldom told story of the miracle that brought about the canonization of the saint, as told by Bill Briggs.

Saint Theodora entered the religious life in 1825 as Sister St. Theodore, in France. As she advanced in her service, she was called to move ultimately to Indiana, which she did so with some reluctance and trepidation. Today, she is honored for the educational initiatives she undertook while serving as head of the convent near Terre Haute, Ind.

But it is her beatification and subsequent canonization in 2006 that underlies the detective story in journalist Briggs’s The Third Miracle: An Ordinary Man, a Medical Mystery, and a Trial of Faith.

Here’s how the publisher describes it:

Part detective story and part courtroom drama—with a touch of the supernatural—The Third Miracle exposes, for the first time ever, the secret rituals and investigations the Catholic Church today undertakes in order to determine sainthood.

“On a raw January 2001 morning at a Catholic convent deep in the Indiana woods, a Baptist handyman named Phil McCord made an urgent plea to God. He was by no means a religious man but he was a desperate man. McCord’s right eye was a furious shade of red and had pulsed for months in the wake of cataract surgery. He had one shot at recovery: a risky procedure that would replace part of his diseased eye with healthy tissue from a corpse. Dreading the grisly operation, McCord stopped into the convent’s chapel and offered a prayer—a spontaneous and fumbling request of God: Can you help me get through this? He merely hoped for inner peace, but when McCord awoke the next day, his eye was better—suddenly and shockingly better. Without surgery. Without medicine. And no doctor could explain it. Many would argue that Mother Théodore Guérin, the long-deceased matriarchal founder of the convent, had “interceded” on McCord’s behalf. Was the healing of Phil McCord’s eye a miracle?

“That was a question that the Catholic Church and the pope himself would ultimately decide. As part of an ancient and little-known process, top Catholic officials would convene a confidential tribunal to examine the handyman’s healing, to verify whether his recovery defied the laws of nature. They would formally summon McCord, his doctors, coworkers, and family to a windowless basement room at the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. They would appoint two local priests to serve the roles of judge and prosecutor. And they would put this alleged miracle on trial, all in an effort to determine if Mother Théodore, whose cause for beatification and canonization dated back to 1909, should be named the eighth American saint.

“In The Third Miracle, journalist Bill Briggs meticulously chronicles the Church investigation into this mysterious healing and offers a unique window into the ritualistic world of the secretive Catholic saint-making process—one of the very foundations on which the Church is built. With exclusive access to the case and its players, Briggs gives readers a front-row seat inside the closed-door drama as doctors are grilled about the supernatural, priests doggedly hunt for soft spots in the claim, and McCord comes to terms with the metaphorical “third miracle”: his own reconciliation with the metaphysical. As the inquiry shifts from the American heartland to an awaiting jury at Vatican City in Rome, Briggs astutely probes our hunger for everyday miracles in an age of technology, the Catholic Church’s surprisingly active saint-making operation, and the eternal clash of faith and science.”

We have the book in stock now along with several earlier biographies of Mother Theodore Guerin. If you’ve ever wondered how a saint becomes a saint, this book will pull back the curtain for you.

* CORRECTION: The Sisters of Providence motherhouse is at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, about four miles northwest of Terre Haute. Thanks to reader Dave Cox, who works there, for straightening me out.

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How Did You Miss? The Mind’s Eye

When you see the tag “How Did You Miss?™ you’ll know I’m talking about a book that should have, but for intervening circumstances, eluded your attention. If you don’t know the name Oliver Sacks, would it help if I added his credentials – M.D.? No. What if I mentioned his last book, Musicophilia? Still nothing? OK. Robin Williams played him in the movie Awakenings. Got it now? So how did you miss The Mind’s Eye?

The Mind's EyeHere’s a key excerpt from his biography posted on his websiteSacks is perhaps best known for his collections of case histories from the far borderlands of neurological experience, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars, in which he describes patients struggling to live with conditions ranging from Tourette’s syndrome to autism, parkinsonism, musical hallucination, epilepsy, phantom limb syndrome, schizophrenia, retardation, and Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s rather puzzling to me, and perhaps a reflection on a local economy that’s just now waking from a long nap, but I had thought that his latest book would quickly become a title much in demand here. Coming out during the Christmas shopping season can boost sales, but it can also cause a book to get lost in the clutter of hundreds of great books aimed at the same group of readers. Sacks has always been a favorite here at Destinations Booksellers. His last book, Musicophilia, just missed making our annual bestseller list – and that was in hardcover.

Yet, it has barely been touched. I think you’ll want to read this, so it gets top billing in our first How Did You Miss?™

In this latest collection of actual cases, Sacks tells the stories of a diverse group of people who experience “bizarre and disconcerting” effects related to their vision. It grabbed me right from the preface, where the doctor presents a defense against a colleague who presumed that Sacks reads up on a syndrome and then seeks out actual cases. But as a practicing neurologist, Sacks says his cases invariably start with “an encounter, a letter, a knock on the door.” From that starting point, he then researches the literature that matches the symptoms.

Oliver Sacks

Dr. Sacks, with a friend

This time, in addition to telling the stories of others, Sacks is able to become a subject, himself. In the fall of 2005, while in a movie theater, he noticed a visual blockage in his right eye, occluding the left quadrant of his vision. In short order, doctors discovered a tumor in his eye. Through the coming months he experienced truly bizarre compensatory behaviors in the way his brain perceived what he saw. For example, with his right-eye vision impaired, his brain began to “paint in” what it thought ought to be there. By 2007, and effectively to this day, Dr. Sacks endures hallucinations – visual apparitions where colors, shapes, and patterns appear that simply aren’t there.

I’ve had these myself, though they weren’t persistent. Once, when visiting my parents’ home, I noticed that the neighbors had replaced their old satellite dish, which was white, with an all-black one. Now this wasn’t your modern dish. This one could have doubled as a wading pool and it was at least 7 feet in diameter, emplaced no more than 50 feet from my vantage point. I asked when that happened, getting blank stares from my folks. Explaining, I said “they used to have than monstrosity of a white fiberglass dish and now they’ve replaced it with that black mesh one.” No, they hadn’t, said my mother. Yes, I insisted, which is when they began to worry that I might be having a stroke. Suddenly, the image snapped back to reality and, of course, the “old” dish was still there. To me, though, it was indeed a black mesh satellite dish, at least for five minutes.

Here’s an excerpt from his own story in the book, “Persistence of Vision”: … often in the evening, when the sights and sounds of the day lessen, I may become suddenly aware of these faint hallucinations. And often it is a visual emptiness – a ceiling, a white washbasin, the sky – which makes me conscious of the visual patterns and images continually chasing across my visual field. Yet these little hallucinations are interesting, in a way; they show me the background activity, the idling, of my visual system, generating and transforming patterns, never at rest.” Sounds familiar to me.

Here’s an Easter Egg for reading this far. You think you know your zodiac sign, eh?

One thing revealed this past year in interviews and in the book is Sacks’ face-blindness – his inability to recognize faces – which has plagued him since childhood. Once, when he submitted an article to The New Yorker, the editor asked him to describe the celebrity subject: “… what does he look like?” Sacks demurred, saying it wasn’t about what he looked like. It was about his work. When the editor insisted, Sacks said “I will have to ask [his collaborator],” yielding a puzzled look from his editor.

Included are the stories of:

Lilian, a concert pianist who becomes unable to “read” music. She can recognize the symbols, but not the composition.

Sue, a neurobiologist who could never see in three dimensions until she reached her fifties.

Pat, who has aphasia and cannot utter a sentence, but who has made herself a vital part of her community.

Howard, a novelist who loses the ability to read – every letter looks vaguely like Cyrillic, Arabic, or Chinese.

Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Charles Scribner, Jr., who published Hemingway, among others, lost the ability to read (visual alexia) in his sixties. A man who eschewed audiobooks, he turned to books on tape in order to continue his enjoyment of reading.

Let me recommend this one strongly. At only 240 pages, some of you could devour it in an afternoon. I found it as endlessly fascinating as the best novel. Don’t miss this one.

As you can see from the cover art in this post, there is an intentional blurring to the book jacket. It could be perceived as “O Liver Sacks, something, something, something,” and maybe that’s why it has remained such a lonely book, despite being one of the first books you would see when you enter our store. And frankly, you have to remember who Oliver Sacks is to discover it or to seek it out. Maybe now you will remember it.

The Mind’s Eye
by Oliver Sacks
Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House Publishing (2010)
9780307272089 ($26.95)

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Don’t forget our next event, a Southern Indiana book launch for Lori Leroy, debuting her clever new book about families battling infertility. It’s “Inadequate Conception: From Barry White to Blastocytes – What Your Mom Never Told You About Getting Pregnant. Join us on Saturday, Jan. 22, from 2 to 4 p.m. It ought to be grand. Lori will discuss the book, how she came to write it, and will autograph copies after taking questions beginning at 2 p.m.

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RE: The Caldecott Medal winners

The wife and husband team of Erin and Philip Stead are “stead”y bloggers, too, and you might want to check them out. Both are illustrators, but Philip wrote the story on this one, while Erin technically earned the prize, which is granted to the year’s best illustrator of children’s literature. Philip just posted a wonderful collection of what he calls the Steadbery and Phildecott winners, lovingly praising his “competition” in the field. You can read Erin’s postings here, and Philip’s here.

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