American priest Father Michael J. McGivney (1852-90) founded the Knights of Columbus. (Photo: Wikipedia)
When Dan Schachle told folks at the Knights' Supreme Council in New Haven, Connecticut, about his son Mikey's cure in utero and his birth, they asked if they could inform those working on Father Michael J. McGivney's sainthood cause. Dan quickly agreed.
Word of Mikey's birth soon made it to Brian Caulfield, vice postulator of Father McGivney's cause. Part of his job is to do an initial investigation into possible miracles attributed to the Knights of Columbus founder's intercession.
"Basically, a miracle is defined as an extraordinary event that has no current medical or scientific explanation," Caulfield said.
Michelle Schachle became pregnant in late 2014, and on Feb. 25, 2020, she and her husband, Dan, were told their unborn son, their 13th child, had fetal hydrops and had zero chance of living more than a few days or weeks. So they decided to pray for a miracle.
They had already knew their child had Down syndrome, but it was the fetal hydrops for which they sought a miracle cure.
They turned to Father McGivney for help. The Knights of Columbus have been promoting his sainthood cause since 1997 and the Schachles were members of the Father McGivney Guild, an organization established to support the cause. They asked others to pray to the priest for his intercession, too.
While on a Knights-sponsored pilgrimage in March 2015 to the Vatican, Spain and the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, the Schachles prayed for his intercession. Priests offered Masses for them in Rome and back home at their parish in Dickson, St. Christopher.
Four days after their return from the pilgrimage, Michelle went back to the doctor's office for another ultrasound to check the baby's fluid levels and the status of the hydrops. Doctors confirmed there was no sign of the life-threatening condition. Today Mikey is a healthy 5-year-old.
Two previous healings had been presented to officials in Rome as possible miracles in the McGivney cause, but both had been rejected, Caulfield told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville. "It shows you the high standard they have" when evaluating whether an event is indeed a miracle, he added.
"It looked pretty promising," Caulfield said of Mikey's cure. "You never know until you start getting medical records and testimony of medical experts."
"This was such a severe case that it was distinguished from the others," Caulfield said of Mikey's medical prognosis. "This was considered by the doctors to be such a severe case, that they did not expect the child to survive."
The second hurdle in having Mikey's cure declared a miracle was determining that the prayers to save his life were specifically directed to Father McGivney, Caulfield said.
"It was pretty intentional" on the part of the Schachles, Caulfield said. "Once (Dan) saw the dire prognosis and that a miracle was going to be needed to save this child, he was clear he wanted to pray to Father McGivney."
On a trip to Tennessee to interview the Schachles, Caulfield asked them why the child was healed of hydrops but not of Down syndrome.
"We never prayed to have Down syndrome healed. That wasn't life-threatening," they answered. "We thought a child with Down syndrome would be a blessing for our family."
The next step was a tribunal held in the Diocese of Nashville to investigate the case. It was the first time since the diocese was founded in 1837 that a tribunal had been convened to investigate a possible miracle.
The tribunal serves as a fact-gathering body and interviewed the Schachles and all the doctors involved in the case. "It was like being deposed," Dan said of the process.
Just as Caulfield had asked, members of the tribunal wanted to know why the Schachles didn't pray their son would be cured of Down syndrome as well.
“Why would we have asked for that?" Dan asked the tribunal. "God made him that way. I'm good with that."
"To ask for him to not have Down syndrome is to ask that he not be the way God wanted him," Michelle added.
The tribunal also asked how they knew the cure was the result of Father McGivney's intercession and not that of Our Lady of Fatima.
The Schachles recounted how they specifically prayed for the intercession of Father McGivney and asked so many others to do the same. At the same time, Knights of Columbus around the world have been offering up prayers for Father McGivney's canonization, which in general would require two miracles attributed to his intercession, Dan noted. One is needed for beatification, and second one for canonization.
"There are so many coincidences. How can you look at this and not know it was Father McGivney?" said Dan as he ticked off a list: Mikey was born May 15, the same date in 1882 that the first Knights of Columbus council was chartered; Michelle and Father McGivney share a birthday; Father McGivney was the oldest of 13 children and Mikey is the youngest of 13.
"I looked at Father McGivney and I looked at what the Knights of Columbus does for special needs children, for the pro-life cause," Dan said. "If there was ever a baby Father McGivney would want to help, this is who it would be."
"You couldn't write with a human brain a more perfect story," Dan said. "All these things we thought were coincidences, were not coincidences. It was God writing the story."
After the diocesan tribunal completed its report, it was sent to the postulator of the sainthood cause in Rome, who had it translated into Italian and submitted it to the Congregation for Saints' Causes for its review.
A panel of physicians in Rome examined the medical record and a panel of theologians examined the spiritual record of the case before making a recommendation for the pope's approval, Caulfield said.
"We never had any doubts" Mikey's cure would be declared a miracle, Dan said.
And on May 27, it was.
"About 6am our phones started blowing up with text messages," Dan said.
"Everything that the Knights stand for ... all of those things are in our story," Michelle said.
Reflected in Mikey's miracle are the Knights' dedication to respecting life in all its stages, the order's support for people with intellectual and developmental delays, its support for families, and the example of Father McGivney for all parish priests, she said.