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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 August 17, 2019

When you feel the assaults of passion and anger, then is the...

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August 17

 

When you feel the assaults of passion and anger,
then is the time to be silent
as Jesus was silent
in the midst of His ignominies and sufferings.

St. Paul of the Cross


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Beatriz da Silva

Her great beauty began to arouse the irrational jealousy of...

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St. Beatriz da Silva

Beatriz de Menezes da Silva was one of eleven children of Rui Gomez da Silva, the first Magistrate of Campo Maior, on the border of Spain and Portugal, and of Isabel de Menezes, an illegitimate daughter of Dom Pedro de Menezes, the 1st Count of Vila Real and the 2nd Count of Viana do Alentejo, under whom Silva served in Ceuta. João de Menezes da Silva, better known as Blessed Amadeus of Portugal and a noted reformer of the Order of Friars Minor, was her brother.

In 1447 Beatriz accompanied the Princess Isabel of Portugal, to Castile as her lady-in-waiting when Isabel left to marry King John II of Castile and became Queen of Castile and León. Although they had been close friends, Beatriz's great beauty began to arouse the irrational jealousy of the Queen, who had Beatriz imprisoned in a tiny cell without food.

During her incarceration, Our Lady, attired in the blue and white habit of the Conceptionist Order, appeared to Beatriz and instructed her to found an order in her honor. With much difficulty, she finally escaped her imprisonment after three days and took refuge in the Dominican monastery of Toledo. Beatriz lived with the Dominicans for nearly forty years without becoming a member of the Order.

Queen Isabel was a frequent visitor during those years and was of great material assistance to her former lady-in-waiting in the foundation of the religious order in honor of the Immaculate Conception of Mary Most Holy. In 1484 Beatriz, with some companions, took possession of a monastery in Toledo deeded to their new community by Queen Isabel. The new religious order adopted the Cistercian Rule in 1489, bound themselves to the daily recitation of the Office of the Immaculate Conception and were placed under obedience to the Archdiocese of Toledo.
Beatriz da Silva died on August 9, 1492, ten days before the solemn inauguration of her new Order. She is buried in the first monastery given to the Conceptionists by Queen Isabel, the motherhouse of the Order in Toledo. In 1501, Pope Alexander VI placed the Conceptionists under the Rule of St. Clare and, in 1511, Pope Julius II granted them a Rule of their own.

Among Beatriz da Silva’s illustrious spiritual daughters are to be found two remarkable mystics: Madre Mariana de Jesús Torres y Berriochoa (c.1563-1635) to whom appeared Our Lady of Good Success and were given many revelations concerning the crisis in the Church in the twentieth century and the Venerable María de Jesús de Ágreda (1602-1665) author of the Mystical City of God.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

“Send for the priest!” exclaimed the dying soldier; “...

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Charity converts a dying soldier

“The religion that teaches such a charity must be from God.”

A certain soldier from the American civil war, once handsome and strong, lay dying in a military ward in Missouri. The sister of charity who cared for him, realizing that his end was near, asked him if he belonged to any church. On receiving a negative answer, she asked if he would consider accepting the Catholic Faith.

“No, not a Catholic. I always hated the Catholics,” answered the young man with whatever disdain he could still muster in his sinking voice. “At any rate,” urged the kind sister, “you should ask pardon of God for your sins and be sorry for whatever evil you have done in your life.”

Click here for free "Book of Confidence"

He answered her that he was sorry for all the sins of his life and hoped to be forgiven but that there was one sin that especially haunted and weighed on him. He had once insulted a sister in Boston as he passed her in the street. She had said nothing but had looked at him with a look of reproof that he had never forgotten. “I knew nothing then of what sisters were,” continued the young man, “for I had not known you. But now that I know how good and disinterested you are and how mean I was, I am disgusted with myself. Oh, if that sister were here, I would go down on my knees to her and ask her pardon!”

“You have asked it and you have received it,” said the sister, compassionately looking him full in the face.

“What! You are the sister I passed in Boston? Oh, yes! You are — I know you now! And how could you have attended me with greater care than any of the other patients? I who insulted you so!”

“I did it for Our Lord’s sake, because He loved His enemies and blessed those who persecuted Him. I knew you from the first moment you were brought into the hospital, and I have prayed unceasingly for your conversion,” said the sister.

“Send for the priest!” exclaimed the dying soldier; “the religion that teaches such a charity must be from God.”

And so he died in the sister’s Faith, holding in his grasp the symbol of our salvation and murmuring prayers taught him by her whose mild rebuke had followed him through every battle to this, his last.

Daughters of Charity in the United States 1809-1987 (New York: New City Press, 1989)

 

Click here for free "Book of Confidence"

“Send for the priest!” exclaimed the dying soldier; “The religion that teaches such a charity must be from God.”

 

 

 

 

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