An article taken from Sr. McKenna’s book Miracles Do Happen
“The Lord taught me that the inner healing, spiritual healing, was more important. If the spirit isn’t healed, if a person is not brought closer to Jesus, what’s the point? It’s like the man who was lowered through the roof so Jesus could heal him (Mk 2: 1-12). Jesus first said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then he healed him physically. It is more important to be healed of sin. That is the greatest sickness of all. ”
– Sister Briege
PENTECOST HAS ALWAYS BEEN a special day for me. Before I was born, my mother prayed for a girl; on Pentecost I was born.
On Christmas Day, 1959, when I was only thirteen years old my mother died suddenly. As I cried that night, I heard a voice say, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.” I didn’t really understand that it was the Lord, but I felt peace. The next morning I knew I wanted to be a nun.
About a year and a half after my mother died, I went to the motherhouse of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Clare in Newry, my hometown in Ireland.
The sister who came to the door asked, “What can I do for you?”
“I want to see the Mother Abbess General,” I said.
So she took me to see Mother Agnes O’Brien.
“Child, what is it?” the old nun asked.
“I want to be a nun,” I said.
At that moment, in came the Abbess. “How old are you, child?”
“I’m fourteen and a bit,” I said.
Mother Agnes, a very saintly nun, said to me, “We can’t take you now. Canon law won’t allow it. Come back later.”
After some time, Mother Agnes asked me to come and stay with the woman who worked in the motherhouse, although I could not yet enter the novitiate. My father had to give permission for me to move to the convent. I still had not mentioned a word about this to him.
I went to ask him on a day in early June, as he was plowing in the field. He came over to the side of the field to sit with me. We chatted for a while and then I told him, “Daddy, I want to be a nun.”
He said, “Well, if that’s what you want, go ahead, and if it’s not what you want, you’ll know it.”
Two days before my fifteenth birthday, the novice mistress came to me and said I was to enter the convent on my birthday. She told me to notify my father so that he could come.
My poor father, not really knowing anything about nuns, sent a telegram to my brother in England:
“Come quick. Briege entering convent. Might never see her again.”
I was six months a postulant and then became a novice. My father came to the ceremonies. I first saw my daddy cry when my hair was cut off and all those curls came off.
When I made my first vows, on December 4, 1962, I had my first real spiritual experience. As I knelt in the chapel, waiting to be called up, I saw Jesus dressed as the Good Shepherd coming to me to take my hand, saying, “Come with me.”
After several assignments in different convents, Mother Agnes, who was seriously ill, asked me to come and care for her. She had a great influence on my life. She had a great reverence for the priesthood and prayed for priests constantly. Although she never came to America, she founded our houses here. She told me much about the Sacred Heart and urged me to be a good, holy, and fervent religious.
Healing by the Power of the Holy Spirit
In 1964, I had developed severe pain in my feet. A doctor said it was caused by fallen arches and growing pains. But in 1965, an orthopedic surgeon diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis. I spent many months in a hospital in Belfast. Every night the sisters had to put plaster of paris boots on my feet, to try to prevent deformity. This was very painful.
One day, Mother Agnes called me to her bedside. She was leaving for the hospital. She told me she was going to die but that she would always pray for me -and she reminded me again, “Always stay close to Jesus.”
I made my final profession on August 22, 1967, at the motherhouse in Newry .It was at that time that I volunteered to come to the United States. Although I volunteered, I cried for the two weeks prior to departure.
I arrived in Tampa, Florida, where I began teaching kindergarten that September. The climate had a bad effect on my condition and my arthritis worsened.
There was a doctor who said he could do very little for me but wanted to try out different medicines to see if they could help me. He prescribed all kinds of medicine. By 1968 I was on cortisone and took so much of it that it became ineffective. The pain was constant. As a side effect from the cortisone, I suffered lapses in my memory. I cried because of the pain. The doctor said there was no hope for me: I would be confined to a wheelchair. At that time I could still walk, but slowly and painfully.
I started to experience a great dryness in my spiritual life. I even began to ask myself whether I really believed in Jesus.
I didn’t feel convinced of the power of the gospel. I didn’t believe that Jesus would heal me. I believed that if I had gone to Lourdes or some other place there might be a healing, but I did not believe that healing could happen in normal daily living.
My soul was thirsting for the living God, but I didn’t really know him. It was with this desire to know the Lord better that I went to ‘my first prayer meeting. While I was afraid of the charismatic dimension, I was attracted to it because I saw people praying to Jesus as though he were right there. The Lord used my spiritual hunger to draw me to himself. I kept saying to myself, “There must be more to religious life and there must be more to Catholicism.”
I had been good about “getting my prayers in,” as a duty. But there was no joy in talking to the Lord, nor was I enthusiastic about witnessing to the power of the Lord.
However, one day before the Blessed Sacrament, I said, “Jesus, I’m going to find you, whatever it takes.” That was really the beginning of my spiritual search.
In the process of seeking for a deeper meaning of my religious life and a deeper, more radical commitment to the Lord, I believe that Jesus gave me a spiritual healing. In December of 1970, I attended an ecumenical retreat in Orlando. I listened to talks on the power of prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit. I remember I had my shopping list of all the things I wanted from God -on my terms.
There was a priest at this prayer meeting. With my shopping list in mind, I thought, “Now if this priest would pray for me, I would get all these things.” But physical healing was not on my list.
The Lord, as though he had read my mind, said to me, “Don’t look at him, look at me.” I remember looking at the clock as I closed my eyes. It was 9:15 A.M., December 9, 1970. The only prayer I said was “Jesus, please help me.” At that moment, I felt a hand touch my head and thought it was the priest who had come over to me. I opened my eyes and no one was there, but there was a power going through my body. It’s difficult to describe the feeling, but I often describe it this way: I felt like a banana being peeled.
I looked down. My fingers had been stiff, but not deformed like my feet. There had been sores on my elbows. I looked at myself. My fingers were limber, the sores were gone, and I could see that my feet, in sandals, were no longer deformed.
I jumped up screaming, “Jesus! You’re right here!”
When Jesus showed himself to Thomas, all Thomas could say was, “My Lord and my God!” When Jesus revealed himself to me that day, all I could say was “God! You’re right here!” It was an act of faith in him.
Since that day I have never had arthritis and have been completely free of pain. That was the miraculous healing, but my inner life saw the greatest change.
Through the charismatic renewal, I experienced the release of the Holy Spirit. I had a new vision of the church, as though I was seeing the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation through new glasses. I was seeing more clearly God’s great love for us and what he has given us. Yet I still had one fear: healing. I was afraid of the sensational. When I was healed I said to myself, “I’m not going to tell anybody I’ve been healed because they will automatically attach healing power to it. They’ll think I’m a healer now. Besides it’s nobody’s business. Why tell anybody?”
That was really protecting myself. I said, “1 couldn’t get involved in anything like that. I am a respectable member of a strict congregation.”
I went from December of 1970 to June of 1971 having a marvelous experience of Pentecost. I would say, .”Jesus, you couldn’t expect me to do any more. Here I am teaching forty- seven first graders, going to prayer meetings, leading a youth group, and going to a prison to minister.”
In the back of my mind I was really saying that I was going to play it safe. I wanted the respect and approval of people.
Then in June, the eve of Pentecost Sunday, in our convent in Tampa, I went into the chapel to make a Holy Hour for Pentecost. So, I sat there in our little oratory, saying “Jesus, here I am.”
I had been in the chapel about five minutes when suddenly this extraordinary stillness descended on the chapel-it was like a cloud, like a fog. A voice said, “Briege.” I turned to look toward the door because the voice was so clear it sounded as though someone had come into the chapel. No one was there, but I was very conscious that someone was present. The voice said to me as I turned back to the tabernacle, “You have my gift of healing. Go and use it.”
As soon as I heard this, a burning sensation went through my body. I remember looking at my hands. It felt as though I had touched an electrical outlet. This burning sensation went through my hands and out of them. And then the stillness lifted.
I found myself kneeling, looking at the tabernacle, and saying, “Jesus, I don’t want any gift of healing. Keep it for yourself.” Then I made an act of contrition, not because I was sorry for what I had told Jesus, but for even thinking that Jesus would speak to me. Then I said to him, “Jesus, I’ll make you a promise: I’ll never tell anybody about this.”
That Pentecost was very special to me since I had experienced the Holy Spirit and had learned to pray to him for all those gifts promised in Scripture and received in confirmation. All this was more important to me now.
I woke up on Pentecost morning and the voice was booming in my head, “You have my gift of healing: go and use it.”
That day, at a prayer meeting at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, I was tempted to tell a sister about what had happened the night before. But as I began to speak to her, I went blank.
Although nobody knew about this, I was invited to pray with a child. Years later, I found out that the child had been healed through that prayer.
In July and August, 1971, I went to study in Los Angeles, California. I went to prayer meetings there, but I never told anyone about the gift of healing. The Lord himself confirmed my gift of healing through two prophetic experiences.
One evening at a prayer meeting in St. Angela Merici Parish, I found myself sitting beside an Episcopalian priest, an elderly man. At the end of the meeting we all joined hands in prayer. After the prayer, he turned to me and said, “Sister, I’ve never spoken to a Roman Catholic nun before, but I have a message for you. As we were praying, I got this very strong feeling that you have the gift of healing -and you know you have it because the Lord spoke to you in your chapel in Florida.”
I told the minister, “I really can’t accept that. I belong to a strict congregation in Florida” and I went on to tell him all the reasons.
He just looked at me and said, “Tell me what happened in the chapel.”
I said to myself, “How does he know? I never told one single person.” I told him what had happened in the chapel, but said that I just couldn’t accept it.
He looked at me and said, “Jesus will never force you. He reveals his will, but you are free to choose to follow him or not.” Then he turned and walked away.
A few days later, in church after mass, I was talking with some people. A woman came up to me and said, “Sister, I don’t know you, but when you went to communion, the Lord gave me a picture of you standing with a line of people coming to you. The Lord told me to tell you that you are being called into a great healing ministry.”
In spite of the many people confirming what the Lord had said in our Tampa chapel, I still rejected his invitation to the ministry of healing.