Priests on Call XI: Saving the Unborn

Based on true stories about priests.
by Thomas A. Flynn, LC | Source:

All was quiet on the third floor of St. Joseph’s E wing. Most patients had already fell prey to sleep’s temptation, as others commenced their painful vigil that would last until the sun’s return. It was 10:00pm, and Fr. William Benck quietly made his last round before returning home to catch a few hours of rest. He had been an on-call chaplain for the last 2 years and, like a modern guardian angel, he devotedly watched over every soul under his care. To him it was more than a duty, it was a calling. He wore a handsome goatee that added three years to his character and made up for the receding hair line that plagued his youth. He looked like he was 35 but in reality had only lived 29 years. His main gift was joviality, and he shared it freely to all who crossed his path. It made him a natural optimistic which was useful in his line of work. One of his favorite phrases that he often prescribed to patients and kin was, “I no longer believe in God’s providence. No. I don’t believe; because I’ve seen it.” Sure there were sorrows and moments of fatigue, yet that never soured his spirits. For him, each day was another proof, another confirmation that God continues to hold the reigns of this wild horse we call reality.

Rounding the corner and heading towards the elevator, he received a call from one of the nurses in the maternity ward. A young woman had requested a priest’s blessing before her surgery the following day. Perhaps it was nervousness or maybe she had some unfinished business to carry out in case the operation went amiss and she was suddenly face to face with God Omnipotent. Regardless, Fr. William proceeded to room 221.

Though the door lay open, Fr. William politely knocked before entering Sarah McCaully’s room. “Come in, please” she said while fidgeting with the small bear and flowers her husband left on the nightstand moments before. “Mrs. McCaully? I’m Fr. William, the on-call chaplain. A nurse said you wanted to see me.” “Yes Father.” Sarah said in a stuttering voice that revealed her anxiety. She had the face of a child, and was blessed with blue eyes and a fair complexion. Make-up could add little to her beauty though she did not flaunt it as other women do. Instead she hid behind amber bangs that curtained her dimples and tainted her eyes a shade darker.

“I have an operation tomorrow and I wanted your blessing in case anything goes wrong.” He could see that she was worried. “Of course, but what are you having done?” Sara’s gaze fell to her protruding stomach and the child within before saying, “A radical hysterectomy.”

Silence momentarily hung in the room like a dense fog on a humid night before Sarah went on. “The doctor said it’s a necessary procedure because I have cervical cancer.” Her sea-blue eyes began to well up as she covered her stomach with both hands much like a mother bird protecting her young. As Fr. William pulled up a chair he asked her, “Sarah, have you spoken with your parish priest about the ethics of this operation?”
“Yes,” she answered, “he told me that God would forgive me.”
“But, what if there was nothing to forgive in the decision you make?”

Her jaw shook uncontrollably as if affected by a tremor set off within her heart. She was scared to die, scared to let go of so much, and yet, frightened to lose her only child. In the core of her conscience, where God whispers what is good, she knew it was wrong to sacrifice her child so that she could live. It was a selfish act and to what did it amount? Another year? Two or three? Would the cancer be removed or would she also be struck down by the blow of death? But, the doctor was so logical in his advice. It all made sense when he explained it, as crisp and precise as mathematics. Why did she now foster a doubt? Fr. William looked on with quiet compassion while she struggled with her own fears.
“Sarah, have you ever heard about St. Gianna Molla?” he asked.
“She was an Italian doctor who faced a similar situation some 50 years ago.” He continued to tell her the story of how St. Gianna opted to give life to her daughter in exchange for her own. She too was carried to the gates of death by cancer. She too had to decide between living her life, or passing it on to another generation. There was no doubt in her mind as she placed her trust in God. St. Gianna died at the age of 39; just one day after her daughter was born.

Staring through window at the few stars that hovered above, Sarah listened to Fr. William recount the saint’s life. They prayed together for God’s help and at last Fr. William gave her his blessing that she had requested. Before leaving he looked over his shoulder at Sarah like a father looks in on his daughter to make sure she is safe before turning off the light. He cared for her and hoped that she would make the right decision.

That night Fr. William got home at 12:00. He went straight to the chapel where he prayed for Sarah and the child in her womb. He found himself wiping away tears as he thought about what was at stake. He knew that God put him there for a reason. He knew that, in some odd way, he was predestined to have come across Sarah and shed light through her dark situation. Yet he also knew it was not his choice. He realized that she was the one who had to decide. That was why he prayed.

The next morning Fr. Benck was sitting down to a quick breakfast when the doorbell rang. He slowly got up from the table and headed towards the front door. Behind the door there appeared a young man who looked like he also had gotten little sleep. Wearing jeans, sandals and a wrinkled polo that he probably put on the day before and never changed, he was a stark contrast to Fr. William in his black suit and roman collar. “Are you the priest who spoke to my wife last night?” Mark said while running his hand through his ruffled hair. His voice was anxious yet demanding at the same time. “Yes. That’s right. How can I help you?” Fr. William said while expecting the worst. Gloomy thoughts raced through his mind. All he could think about were Sarah and her child; both too young to die. His stomach felt queasy as if some demonic hand had reached in and pulled out all the air.

“Father, I came here to thank you. We have decided not to go through with the operation. We asked around and another doctor said we can wait up to 7 months and have her induced.” Fr. William was shocked at the news. A spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving flowed from his lips, “Thank you my God for hearing my prayer!” They both rushed to the hospital to be with Sarah and her child.

Sarah went on to have a beautiful baby girl named Laura who shared her mother’s eyes and smile. Days later she went through surgery and was found free of cancer. Fr. William baptized Laura two weeks later. It was definitely the most moving baptism he had ever administered. Every year on the little girl’s birthday, Sarah and Mark would take Laura to mass at Fr. William’s parish. After mass Sarah would always bring Laura to the sacristy and say, “Come and kiss your savior”. 

Thomas A. Flynn, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome.  He can be reached at

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Published by: Dalila Alfonso
Date: 2010-05-16 09:11:30
It is the most moving story I have read in months, I cried with joy at the end!! So beautiful, thanks for sharing it. God Bless you all.

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