By Larry Peterson
Loretta and I were living in northern New Jersey and had two sons; Larry Jr was six, and Billy was two. We were hoping to have a girl, but Loretta had been told that she would never have any more children. We were disappointed but okay with the report. We had, after all, been blessed with two healthy sons.
My mother-in-law had been visiting St. Benedict’s Abbey in Massachusetts. On the way home, she had planned to stop at our house and stay a few days. When she arrived, and while still walking into the house, she said, “Wait until you see what I have.”
She reaches into her oversized purse and pulls out a beautiful gold container. “What is it?” I ask.
“Look inside the glass. It is a first-class relic of St. Dymphna. She is the patron saint of mental and emotional disorders. I asked the priest at St. Benedict if I could borrow this for Marion and Kelly (Marion was her granddaughter). I’m going to bring it to the hospital, touch it to both of them, and ask St. Dymphna to help them get better. They actually let me borrow it.”
Kelly was 16, and Marion was 14. Both suffered from Anorexia Nervosa. Kelly was down to about 45 pounds, and Marion, two years younger, was hovering around 65 pounds. My mother-in-law wanted desperately to help these girls who were slowly killing themselves.
My brother-in-law, Howard, came by later that afternoon, and he took his mom to visit the two girls. She held the relic next to each girl’s chest and prayed to St. Dymphna to intercede with God to help them get well. Time would tell how God would respond.
Doctors thought that Kelly would not survive, but both girls did miraculously recover. But the real surprise for me came about six weeks later. Loretta and I had the babysitter come over, and we headed to Luigi’s Italian restaurant. As we ate our lasagna, she said to me, “Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant.”
Holding a fork with lasagna stuck to it in front of my mouth, I stared at her. A moment or two passed, and as tears ran down her face, she said, “I used the relic.”
Unknown to me, she had taken the St. Dymphna relic and, holding it to her womb, prayed to the teenage saint. She asked her if she could help her with pregnancy issues. Seven and a half months later, our daughter was born. We named her Mary Dymphna.
The next day I was visiting Loretta, and, as she lay in her bed holding Mary Dymphna, an elderly lady poked her head into the room. She was delivering newspapers and nervously said, “I never speak to patients, but for some unknown reason, I felt I had to talk to you. Could you please tell me your baby’s name?”
We both looked at each other, and Loretta said, “Sure, its Mary Dymphna.”
So help me, this old lady started crying and said, “I knew it, I knew it. St. Dymphna saved my life a long time ago. I knew this baby had something to do with her.”
The lady came over, touched Mary’s face, and looked at her. She was seeing something we could not. It was an inexplicable spiritual moment that was born of faith. So, who was St. Dymphna, the teenage saint from 7th century Ireland who personally stepped into our lives so many years ago?
Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan king by the name of Damon. Her mom was Christian. When Dymphna was fourteen, she took a vow of chastity and dedicated her life to Jesus. Shortly after that, her mom passed away, and her father became very distraught. Under pressure to remarry, Damon insisted that any new wife would have to resemble his first wife. His aides searched far and wide but could find no one who resembled the dead queen, no one except the king’s daughter, Dymphna.
Damon, losing all sensibilities, demanded that Dymphna marry him. Horrified at such a demand, Dymphna and her confessor, Father Gerebernus, fled Ireland and landed in Belgium. After a while, King Damon tracked them down. He had Father Gerebernus killed and demanded that Dymphna return with him to Ireland. She refused. Her own father drew his sword and cut off her head. She was 15 years old.
When they discovered the remains of St. Dymphna, miracles began happening immediately. People with varied cases of mental illness were cured. In honor of the teenage saint, a church was built in Gheel, Belgium. To this very day, people in Gheel will always accept the mentally ill into their homes without question. Sociologists still study the success of this phenomenon.
The connection between me, my family, and St. Dymphna is a beautiful thing. So I will end with the following. The teenage saint is known as the “Lily of Eire” because of her virtue. My mom’s name was Lily. My daughter, Mary Dymphna, was baptized at St. Mary’s Church in Dumont, N.J. The US National Shrine of St. Dymphna is located at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Massilon, Ohio.
St. Dymphna is the patron saint of those suffering from; mental disorders, incest victims, victims of sexual assault, depression, sleep disorders, and of runaways.
St. Dymphna, please pray for us all (Feast Day is May 15)