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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 July 12, 2020

“Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the...

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July 12

 

“Know you not
that you are the temple of God, and
that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
(1 Corinthians 3:16)

St. Paul the Apostle


My Mother, I will stand with you on OCTOBER 10, 2020

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. John Gualbert

Meeting his brother’s murderer in a narrow alley, he was a...

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St. John Gualbert

John Gualbert or Giovanni Gualberto, was a Florentine nobleman who one day, meeting his brother’s murderer in a narrow alley was about to slay him when the culprit, falling to his knees, implored mercy with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross. It was a Good Friday, and Gualbert, suddenly reminded of Jesus Crucified, embraced the man and forgave him.

Going on his way, John entered the monastery of St. Miniato where he knelt before a crucifix. As he prayed, the crucifix miraculously bowed his head in thanks for John’s act of generosity. Struck to the heart, Gualbert sought the abbot, asked to be given the religious habit, and was ultimately accepted.

He later left St. Miniato with a companion, looking for a more perfect way of life and founded, in Vallombrosa near Fiesole, a new order based on the primitive, austere rule of St. Benedict adapted to the particular circumstances of his time.

He was known for his zeal but also for his mildness, and for making the burden of discipline sweet. In his humility he never received even minor orders. He zealously fought simony, which is the sale of ecclesiastical posts.

His order grew and monasteries multiplied, which were a blessing to their regions and especially to the poor, as no beggar was ever turned away empty handed.

Popes sought his wise counsel, and Pope Alexander II testified that the whole country where he lived owed the extinction of simony to his zeal.

John Gualbert died on July 12, 1073 being eighty or more years of age. Pope Celestine III canonized him in 1193.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protest...

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Walk to Conversion

In September, I brought the statue of Our Lady of Fatima to the home of Mr. John Black and his family in Kings City, California.  John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about thirteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California (though these are holy sites, they also serve as tourist attractions.)

“Who is this Junipero Serra anyways?”  he asked, as the tour guide shared the history of the mission. “Well,” the guide responded, “you are standing on his grave!”  Surprised, John looked down and read inscription on the stone. Sure enough, Blessed Father Junipero Serra was buried right there. “I became electrified,” John told me, “I had to learn more about this man and about the missions.”  The more he studied Blessed Serra, the founder of the first nine missions, the more impressed he became, and he decided to travel on-foot to all 21 missions. 

With the blessing of his wife, now left at home with their two infant sons, John left for his solo expedition, taking with him a single backpack, the bible and little money.  He told me that every mission he visited he felt the presence of someone receiving him, even if the mission was empty. He felt this ambiance in the missions so serene and uplifting, and began to realize it was the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament that made him feel so at home.

At one point, John collapsed from exhaustion near a mission run by Franciscans, who kindly hosted him for the night. Before he left the next day, one of the friars gave him a first-class relic of Blessed Serra. Since he was Protestant, John did not know what a relic was, but not wanting to appear rude, he accepted it. Not long after he left the Franciscans, John became lost in the wilderness in the middle of the night. Through his exhaustion and fear he heard a voice say, “Let’s help John.” He had the distinct feeling that Blessed Serra was guiding him, and gathered the strength and courage to continue. About six hours later, he stumbled upon the next mission. “It was kind of a miracle,” he said, “I was really lost!”

During his journey, John slowly came to a realization. “I know what you want from me, God,” he thought to himself one day, “you what me to became a Catholic. That is what this is all about!” However, he still had many questions about aspects of Catholicism that have been rejected by his Protestant faith – mainly about the Blessed Mother. Yet, from that point on he received answers to all of his questions, especially his reservations about devotion to Mary: he believed that it was once again Blessed Serra answering him.

With the help of Blessed Serra, one problem after another was resolved in the solitude of his travels. By the time John reached the final mission, he wholly decided to become a Catholic. “I realized that by having devotion to Mary, you love Our Lord even more,” he told me.

John returned home, filled with zeal and enthusiasm for his newfound faith. He shared his astonishing experiences with his wife, and she too converted. “I feel at home in the Catholic church,” John said, “and I have never loved Our Lord Jesus Christ more than I do now.”

by Joseph Ferrara

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John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about fourteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California 

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