They thought of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, did they?

The pope says it’s kosher – John Henry Newman did miraculously cure Deacon Jack Sullivan of a nasty spinal problem.

Deacon Sullivan, 71, said he prayed for the cardinal’s help in August 2001 after being diagnosed with severe spinal disc and vertebrae deformities, a condition, he said, which left him “bent double” and in “excruciating pain”. The deacon said he had watched a television programme in the US about Cardinal Newman and had then prayed to him first in June 2000. He said: “The following morning I got out of bed pain-free, whereas previously I was in agony. I thought, ‘wow, what’s happening?’. My prayer was answered to Cardinal Newman.” He said he then went through a pain-free period, which doctors had no explanation for, before the pain returned the following April.

Right, right, I get all that – and it’s very impressive and exciting. The part I don’t get though is exactly how the pope knows that’s what happened. Obviously there was a miracle – I’m not questioning that – but the details seem hard to verify. What I wonder is, is the Deacon sure it was John Henry Newman he prayed to? And is he sure it was the right John Henry Newman? Is he sure it wasn’t a different John Henry Newman, who lived in Kidderminster and was not known for his work with the poor?

Can he be sure, for instance, he didn’t pray to some other eminent Victorian – Gladstone, perhaps, or Harriet Martineau? If he prayed to all three of them, can he be sure Newman was the one who did the job? Or maybe he misremembers, and he didn’t pray to Newman, but sang to him, or read him a poem, or just thought about him. Or maybe it was George Eliot he thought about.

And is he sure he has his dates right? Is he sure all this didn’t happen in June 1999, or October 2000? Which would throw the whole thing off, one assumes. Is he sure he didn’t think about Jane Carlyle in April 2002? And is the pope sure? And if the pope is sure, how is he sure? How does he manage it? How does he check all these possibilities? They never say, do they – they just say he’s decided.

I suppose they must have a technique. And they wouldn’t want to tell us about it, would they, because then we might start doing the same thing, and then there would be more saints than anyone could handle. All right, that sounds good enough. I won’t say another word about it.

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