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Header-Conversion on Death Row

by A. F. Philips 

 

In 1943, twenty-year-old Claude Newman was awaiting execution in a Mississippi prison for shooting Sid Cook, his beloved grandmother’s abusive second husband. One day, Claude noticed a medal hanging around the neck of a fellow prisoner, and asked the young man what it was. The latter responded by casting the medal to the ground with a curse and said, “take it.”  Unbeknownst to him, the curious pendant was a Miraculous Medal. Even though he knew nothing about it or who it represented, Claude picked up the trinket and hung it around his neck. He had no idea how that simple action would change his life.

 

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Visions

Man prayingDuring the night, Claude was awakened by a glowing vision, which he later described as “the most beautiful woman that God ever created.” The vision calmed the frightened man and said, “If you would like me to be your mother, and you my child, send for a priest of the Catholic Church.

And she disappeared. “A ghost, a ghost!” screamed Claude, clamoring for a priest. The next morning, Fr. Robert O’Leary (who later recorded the story) was summoned.  After listening to the extraordinary account and speaking with him, the priest discovered Claude to be a very simple, illiterate soul who knew very little about religion.

The priest proceeded to teach the young man about Catholicism, and soon the catechism lessons grew to include four other inmates who were deeply impressed by Claude’s vision.  Several weeks later, Father introduced the Sacrament of Confession, and Claude volunteered, 

"Oh, I know about that! The Lady told me that when we go to confession we are kneeling down not before a priest, but before the Cross of Her Son. And that when we are truly sorry for our sins, and we confess our sins, the Blood He shed flows down over us and washes us free from all sins."  The others were stunned at this new revelation. Seeing their surprise, Claude apologized, “Oh, don’t be angry, don’t be angry, I didn’t mean to blurt it out!”

 

Revelation

Assuring him that he was far from angry, Fr. O’Leary asked Claude if he had seen the lady again. Taking the priest aside, the young man said, "she told me that if you doubted me or showed hesitancy, I was to remind you that lying in a ditch in Holland in 1940, you made a vow to her which She's still waiting for you to keep.”  This revelation fully convinced him of Claude’s claims. During the war, Fr. O’Leary had promised to erect a church in honor of the Immaculate Conception if he survived. He fulfilled the promise in 1947, and the church still stands in Clarksdale, Mississippi. As Father and Claude returned to the class on Confession, Claude told his friends, “You should not be afraid of Confession. You’re really telling God your sins, not the priest. You know, the Lady said that Confession is something like a telephone. We talk through the priest to Immaculate Conception Church, Clarksdale MSGod, and God talks back to us through the priest.”

Finally, the catechumens were received into the Church. In the baptismal records of St. Mary’s parish in Vicksburg, MS, Claude’s baptism is registered on January 16, 1944, four days before his scheduled execution. As the day neared, the Sheriff asked Claude if he had a last request.

“Well, all my friends are all shook up. The jailer is all shook up. But you don’t understand. I’m not going to die; only this body is. I’m going to be with her. So, then, I would like to have a party.”  

The Sheriff was shocked, but consented, and even allowed Claude’s fellow inmates to attend.  

 

 

Execution

On the morning of execution, Claude was full of joy. As he mentally prepared himself with Fr. O’Leary, the Sheriff rushed in shouting that the Governor had granted a two-week reprieve. To his amazement, the young man broke down in sobs, inconsolable. 

But you don’t understand! If you ever saw her face, and looked into her eyes, you wouldn't want to live another day! ...What have I done wrong these past weeks that God would refuse me my going home? …Why, Father?  Why must I still remain here for two weeks?”   

Suddenly, Fr. O’Leary had an inspiration. James Hughs, a fellow prisoner on death row, harbored a particular hate for Claude and all things religious despite having been raised a Catholic. Fr. O’Leary suggested that Claude offer his disappointment for Hughs’ conversion, and the final two weeks of the young man’s life were spent praying for the salvation of his fellow inmate.

Claude was finally executed on February 4, 1944. Fr. O’Leary testified: “ I've never seen anyone go to his death as joyfully and as happily. Even the official witnesses and the newspaper reporters were amazed. They said they couldn't understand how anyone could sit in the electric chair beaming with happiness."

 

To heaven, but not alone

Claude Newman and the Virgin Mary the Teacher IconWhen the time came for James Hughs to be executed, he violently refused all spiritual assistance, cursing and blaspheming even while seated on the electric chair. Suddenly, looking intently towards a corner of the room, a look of surprise came over his face, quickly followed by one of sheer horror, he shouted, “Get me a priest!”  Fr. O’Leary approached and heard the man’s full confession, and ask him to explain his change of mind. The condemned man had seen Claude Newman and the Blessed Virgin standing behind him, her hands on his shoulders. Per Claude’s request, Our Lady showed James a glimpse of Hell, and filled with horror, he immediately demanded a priest.

Once again, the simple wearing of the Miraculous Medal called down our mother’s gaze, and saved not only one, but many souls in that Mississippi Prison.

 


 

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for October 20, 2019

Beginners in the service of God sometimes lose confidence wh...

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October 20

Beginners in the service of God
sometimes lose confidence when they fall into any fault.
When you feel so unworthy a sentiment rising within you, you must lift your heart to God
and consider that all your faults, compared with divine goodness,
are less than a bit of tattered thread thrown into a sea of fire.
Suppose that the whole horizon, as far as you can see from this mountain, were a sea of fire;
if we cast into it a bit of tattered thread, it will disappear in an instant.
So, when you have committed a fault, humble yourself before God,
and cast your fault into the infinite ocean of charity
and at once it will be effaced from your soul; at the same time all distrust will disappear.

St. Paul of the Cross


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Paul of the Cross

He renounced the offer of an honorable marriage and also a g...

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St. Paul of the Cross

Paul Francis Danei was born on January 3, 1694, at Ovada, a small town in the then Republic of Genoa. He spent his youth at Castellazzo, in Lombardy, where his parents had taken up their residence when Paul was only ten years old. It was in Castellazzo, his father's native town, that Paul received his first inspirations concerning the work for which God had destined him. From his earliest years the crucifix was his book and the Crucified his model.

Paul received his early education from a priest who kept a school for boys, in Cremolino. He made great progress in both his studies and in the practice of virtue. His early attraction for Our Lord Crucified grew naturally into an ardent devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. At the age of fifteen he left school and returned to his home at Castellazzo, and from this time his life was full of trials. In early manhood he renounced the offer of an honorable marriage as well as a good inheritance left him by an uncle who was a priest. He kept for himself only the priest's Breviary.

Inflamed with a desire for God's glory he formed the idea of instituting a religious order in honor of the Passion. The Bishop of Alessandria, his director, clothed him in a black tunic bearing the emblem of Our Lord's Passion, and barefooted and bareheaded, he retired to a narrow cell where he drew up the Rules of a new congregation according to a plan made known to him in a vision. He was still a layman and had no companions to form a community but drew up the rules during a five day period in December, 1720. Writing in obedience to his confessor, Paul narrates how Our Lord inspired him with the design of founding the congregation, and how he wrote the Rules and Constitutions. "When I was writing," he says, "I went on as quickly as if somebody were dictating to me. I felt the words come from my heart".

In 1725, on a visit to Rome with his brother John Baptist, his constant companion and co-operator in the foundation of the institute, Paul received from Pope Benedict XIII permission to form a congregation according to these Rules. The two brothers were ordained by the same pope in the Vatican basilica on June 7, 1727. After serving for a time in the hospital of St. Gallicano they left Rome with permission of the Holy Father and went to Mount Argentaro, where they established the first house of the institute. They took up their abode in a small hermitage near the summit of the mount, to which was attached a chapel dedicated to St. Anthony. They were soon joined by three companions, one of whom was a priest.

At the first general chapter of the institute in April of 1747, Paul was elected, much against his wishes, as the first superior general; he was to hold the office until the day of his death. He became a model to his companions in all their endeavors. Sacred missions were instituted, new foundations and numerous conversions of sinners, seemingly hardened and hopeless, were made, “yet he never left off preaching the word of God, burning as he did with a wondrous desire for the salvation of souls" states the Brief of his Beatification of October 1, 1852. He was untiring in his apostolic labors and never, even to his last hour, remitted anything of his austere manner of life, finally succumbing to a severe illness, worn out as much by his austerities as by old age.

Constant personal union with the Cross and Passion of Our Lord was the prominent feature of St. Paul's sanctity. But devotion to the Passion did not stand alone, for he carried to a heroic degree all the other virtues of a Christian life. For fifty years he prayed for the conversion of England, and left the devotion as a legacy to his sons. The body of St. Paul lies in the Basilica of SS. John and Paul, Rome. He was canonized on June 29, 1867.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

St. Dominic insistently advised that she adopt the recitatio...

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The Lady Who Snubbed the Rosary

In his book, The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis de Montfort writes of a pious but self-willed lady who lived in Rome. She was so devout that she put many a religious to shame.

One day, hearing of the holiness of St. Dominic, great apostle of the Rosary, she decided to make her confession to him. For penance the saint told her to say a Rosary and advised her to make it’s recitation her daily practice.

“But, Father, “ she protested, “I already say so many prayers and practice so many exercises…I walk the Stations of Rome every day, I wear sack-cloth and a hair-shirt, I scourge myself several times a week, and often fast…”

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St. Dominic insistently advised that she adopt the recitation of the Rosary, but she would not hear it. Moreover, she left the confessional horrified at the methods of this new spiritual director who wanted to impose on her a devotion for which she had no taste.

One day, when she was saying her prayers, she was shown a vision. In this vision she saw her soul appear before the Supreme Judge. She also saw St. Michael holding the scale of her life. On one side he placed all her prayers and penances, and on the other all her sins and imperfections. Down went the scale on the side of sins and imperfections, outweighing all her good works.

Wide eyed, the good lady cried out for mercy, and turned to Our Lady imploring her help. Our Lady then gently set down on the tray of her good works the only Rosary she had ever said, which was the one St. Dominic had imposed on her as a penance.

This one Rosary was so heavy that it outweighed all her sins as well as good works.

Our Lady then reproved her for having refused to follow the counsel of her son Dominic and for refusing to adopt the practice of the daily recitation of the Rosary.

When the lady came to, she rushed to St. Dominic and casting herself down at his feet, told him what had happened. She begged forgiveness for her unbelief, and promised to say the Rosary faithfully every day. By this means she grew in holiness, and finally attained the glory of eternal life.

Thus says St. Louis de Montfort, “You who are people of prayer, learn from this the power, the value and the importance of this devotion of the holy Rosary when it is said with meditation on the mysteries.”

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St. Dominic insistently advised that she adopt the recitation of the Rosary, but she would not hear it. 

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