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A Colorado child’s recovery is officially deemed miraculous

The nuns prayed to Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel, who died more than a century ago. She now moves closer to sainthood.
(DP)

On Feb. 22, 1999, 4-year-old Luke Burgie hopped up from the couch and announced: “My tummy doesn’t hurt anymore, Mommy.”

The terrible sickness that had ravaged his body for six months had vanished. His doctors were as baffled by the sudden and complete recovery as they had been about what had caused his illness in the first place.

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His mother, Jan Burgie, called it a miracle.

Sister Margaret Mary Preister, one of two nuns at a local convent who had been praying for Luke’s recovery, was less sure.

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Even though people like to toss the word around, she knew her church finds true miracles extraordinarily rare. At age 70, she had never seen one — never even been close. Still, she mentioned what happened to her convent’s provisional president in Colorado, who told the leadership of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Germany, who in turn told Rome.

Fourteen years later, Pope Francis sided with Luke’s mom.

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Just before Easter this year — after more than a decade of investigation by the Catholic Church — the Vatican proclaimed that the cure of Luke Burgie was indeed a miracle.

“We were just stunned. We’re not some ultra-holy zealots,” said Jan Burgie, a mom of three and yoga instructor. “We’re just average folk. You could run into me at the checkout at Wal-Mart.”

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But there is more to this tale than just a little boy who suddenly got well. There could be a potential sainthood at stake.

In fall 1998, Luke fell mysteriously ill. He would suffer as many as 10 bouts of diarrhea a day and scream in pain after eating. His pediatrician and specialists at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver were stumped. And worried.

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By January 1999, Luke was wasting away. Burgie and her husband, Mike, both lifelong Catholics, were frantic. They turned to nuns they had previously met for help. “I was at the end of my rope,” she said.

For nine days, Sister Margaret Mary and Sister Evangeline Spenner prayed for Luke.

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“I believed it would help,” said Sister Margaret Mary. “I didn’t know how that help would come.”

The nuns asked for Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel — who has been dead for more than century — to intercede. Bonzel founded the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Olpe, Germany, in 1863 and devoted her life to educating and giving healthcare to needy children.

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The doctors had scheduled a colonoscopy for Luke in February, suspecting a tumor. But by the time the appointment arrived, Luke showed no traces of ever having been sick. To this day, Burgie said, doctors cannot explain it.

That’s when, 5,000 miles away in Rome, the wheels of miracle investigation began to slowly turn.

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“We certainly knew it was a miracle, but proving it was a whole different story,” said Mike Burgie. There was skepticism from the church at first because Luke never had a clear diagnosis. Sometimes parents will make their children sick for the attention, the Burgies were told.

Over the next two years, church investigators were dispatched to their suburban neighborhood. Luke’s parents were grilled separately. Medical records were pored over both by church officials and independent medical experts. The nuns were questioned. Even neighbors were interviewed to make sure the Burgies weren’t crazy.

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Then came silence. Occasionally there would be an email or phone call asking a follow-up question, but the process mostly receded into secrecy.

Years passed and the family went on with their lives. Luke grew into a healthy, 6-foot teenager with a passion for BMX racing. He has no memory of being sick and no toleration for the attention his cure brought. He refuses to talk about it.

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Then this year, right before Easter, Jan Burgie got an email from the nuns: Francis had proclaimed the miracle, crediting Luke’s mysterious recovery to Bonzel.

“It gave me shivers,” Burgie said.

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It is not known how often miracles are declared each year or even each decade, said Jeannine Marino, associate director of evangelization and catechesis for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. She said typically more miracles are denied than granted.

The investigation can be grueling. “Fourteen years is pretty typical,” she said.

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With the declaration that Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel had interceded in Luke’s cure, she crossed another hurdle toward sainthood. She will be beatified in November. But before she can be named a saint she will need two proven miracles attributed to her, said Marino.

These days the Burgies try to keep a low profile. Not everyone was overjoyed with their news, and they were the target of anti-Catholic remarks on the Internet as word spread.

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Burgie said the experience, while at times trying, had not really changed them. “We’re still the same normal, everyday people. I had strong faith before, and I have strong faith now.” She said she remained in awe of the power of prayer.

“I always thought it was a miracle. It didn’t really matter to me what the Vatican said,” she said.

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nation@latimes.com


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