In Diebus Illis . . .
by Morgan P. Hanlon, C.P.
On January 10, 1991, a phone call was received at the Archives which initiated a brief manhunt. The caller, Joseph Rodgers, was an elderly gentleman who wished to know who the “healing priest” was who lived at St. Michael’s Monastery back in 1913. One year old at the time, Rodgers was seriously ill from glandular infections of the neck. His parents, who lived in New York City with the baby and his ten year old sister, were told by their family physician, a Dr. O’Brien, that unless the condition cleared up very shortly the baby would need surgery, a risky proposition for an infant in those days.
According to a deposition written later by the sister, the mother took her and the baby on the 42nd Street Ferry to New Jersey where they climbed up the steep hill to St. Michael’s Passionist Monastery. There, his mother asked to see “the priest who healed,” a holy priest, she had been told, who had the power to heal poor sufferers. Shortly, there came into the parlor a Passionist priest who wore a long white beard. The priest took the child into his arms, touched the beard to both sides of the child’s neck, [kissed him?] blessed him, then said to his mother,”Why do you want to return this child to a world so filled with trouble?” Two more blessings, then the priest instructed the mother to take the baby home and apply a poultice of hot milk and bread to the affected areas.
These instructions were followed, and the next morning the child’s condition had improved. When examined later by Dr. O’Brien, the physician declared that there was no longer an abnormality there, no operation was necessary, and he considered the whole thing a miracle.
This request for the identity of the “healing priest” created a puzzle for the Archives staff. The then-Archivist, Fr. Caspar Caulfield, a senior member of the Province, had no knowledge of such an individual. A cursory check of the Chronicles of St. Michael’s Monastery offered no clue. Some of the oldest members of the Province were queried, and they, too, were not able to identify the priest in question. To make things even more mysterious, there was the question of the beard! As far as we knew, the first American Passionists to wear beards were our early China missionaries. Much later, of course, beards were sported by a number of our men, but a beard in 1913 was unthinkable! Who could this “healing priest” be?
After a week’s searching and scurrying in the darkest recesses of the Archives, a regretful note had to be dispatched to the inquirer that we could find no clue to his benefactor. We did promise, however, that we would keep our eyes and ears open and let him know if we discovered anything relevant.
Weeks, then months went by. In the back of my mind there was always a question about this “healing priest.” Then one day in September of 1991, I came across an old photograph of a portly priest in black suit and Roman collar sitting across a table from a Passionist in full habit who was wearing a flowing white beard! The photo, which conveyed to me a sense of great personal dignity and self-discipline, was pasted onto a piece of heavy cardboard on which was embossed the name and address of the photographer who had plied his trade in Rostock, Bulgaria! What was it doing in our archives?
The puzzle was solved when I turned the photo over and discovered the name of the Passionist inscribed on the back—Fr. Aloysius Blakely, C.P.! Checking the necrologies in the Archives, I further discovered that Fr. Aloysius was born May 19, 1847, was professed with us November 3, 1865, and ordained on April 8, 1870. At various times he was elected Master of Novices (1884) and then as the first Rector of Sacred Heart Retreat, Louisville, KY. Later (1890) he was Rector of St. Michael’s Monastery in West Hoboken. He was invited, by Bishop Doucet, C.P., to work in the Passionist diocese of Nicopolis in Bulgaria where he served as Rector of the Cathedral. On his return from Bulgaria, Fr. Aloysius served for two years as Vicar of our Retreat of the Scala Sancta in Rome. During this period, however, the ravages of cancer became apparent; and in the words of his obituary, he “was reduced to a mere animated skeleton. Having been a robust, husky man it was pitiful to see him incapacited.” He died on October 31, 1912, and is buried in Dunkirk, NY.
There is a slight discrepancy here in that Fr. Aloysius died late in 1912, yet the sister of Joseph Rodgers stated that his cure took place in 1913. Since Passionists did not wear beards (at least in those days), Aloysius is the only candidate for the role of the “healing priest” of whom she spoke. I believe that her memory played her false on the date of the cure.
There is another noteworthy episode in the life of this fine priest. The anonymous composer of his obituary tells the following story:
“During his term of office as Rector of St. Michael’s, [Father Aloysius] benefacted the Apostolic Delegate by inviting him to stay here while visiting in the Diocese. There was a reconciliation effected between the Bishop of the Diocese and the Delegate who had been at odds. The monastery received tremendous publicity on this occasion. The older Fathers tell that when the Provincial had returned and the routine had been resumed, on a day when no Chapter in choir could be expected after Vespers, his Paternity forced the Rector to make culpa and excoriated him for the disturbance of our solitude that he had occasioned. Fr. Aloysius was sent to Baltimore to make a Penitential retreat. This he accepted. But his kindness and good common sense had won for the Passionists the esteem and gratitude of the Papal Representative and God’s Church in America was the better off for his deed.”