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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 January 24, 2020

Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, not ev...

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January 24

 

Do not lose your inner peace
for anything whatsoever,
not even if your whole world seems upset.
If you find that you have wandered away from
the shelter of God,
lead your heart back to Him quietly and simply.

St. Francis de Sales


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

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Francis de Sales

Francis suffered a terrible temptation to despair of being s...

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St. Francis de Sales

Francis de Sales was born in the Duchy of Savoy, in present-day France, in the Château de Sales. His father was Francis, Lord of Boisy, Sales and Novel and his mother Frances de Sionnz, the daughter of a prominent magistrate.

Born prematurely, Francis was delicate but slowly strengthened, though his health was never robust.

Being the oldest son of six, his father destined him for a secular career, despite Francis’ early leanings to the religious life. He attended the Jesuit college of Clermont in Paris where he excelled in rhetoric, philosophy and theology. During this period, Francis suffered a terrible temptation to despair of being saved. He was miraculously delivered before an image of Our Lady and there and then made a vow of chastity.

At twenty-four he received his law degree in Padua. With a brilliant career ahead of him, and a noble prospect of marriage, Francis declared his intention of following an ecclesiastical career. A sharp struggle ensued between him and his father who only relented in his opposition when Bishop Granier of Geneva offered Francis the post of Provost of the Chapter of Geneva in the patronage of the Pope.

Francis was ordained in 1593. The next year he volunteered to evangelize the region of Le Chablais, recently returned to the Duchy of Savoy from Calvinist Geneva and on which the Genevans had imposed their creed. With enormous tact, charity and zeal the young provost confuted the preachers sent to debate him, converted several prominent Calvinists and at great personal risk and traveling extensively brought back to the Church tens of thousands of the people of Chablais.

He was consecrated Bishop of Geneva in 1602, ruling his diocese from Annecy in France where he immediately established regular catechetical lessons for young and old. He himself taught the children of  whom he was beloved. He visited the parishes throughout his rugged diocese, made provisions for the clergy, reformed religious orders, and preached incessantly, everywhere known for his kindness and patient zeal. Those who flocked to hear the holy bishop said, “Never have such holy, apostolic sermons been preached.”

With St. Jeanne Frances de Chantal he founded the Order of the Visitation for girls and widows who had not the health or inclination for the austerities of the great orders.

In the midst of all his activities he found time to write numerous letters and works, among the most famous being his Introduction to the Devout Life.

Francis de Sales died in 1622 at age fifty-six and crowds thronged to venerate him. He was canonized in 1665 and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1877.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him h...

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Mary and the Muslim

Don Octavio del Monaco was a wealthy citizen of 17th century Naples. Like many of his class, Don Octavius had several Muslim slaves in his household. These children of Islam were amazed at the kindness of their “master.” He fed and clothed them better than they received in their native land. In return, his slaves attended to their tasks with diligence, as Don Octavius did not over work them, but assigned them duties in keeping with their dignity as children of God.

If these Muslim slaves had any reason for complaint, it was the gentle persistence with which their master and his wife exhorted them to give up their false religion and become Catholics. Don Octavius even went so far as to invite the slaves to join his family in the chapel to worship the one true God with them!

Our story today is about one young slave in particular. His name was Abel, like the slain son of Adam and Eve. He felt drawn in a peculiar way to a lamp that burned in front of a shrine to Holy Mary. Abel would purchase the oil needed to keep the lamp lit from his own meager stipend. As he continued to practice this humble devotion, he would say, “I hope that this Lady will grant me some great favor.”

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian. At first the Turk resisted. But she placed her hand upon his shoulder, and said to him: “Now no longer resist, Abel, but be baptized and called Joseph,” conferring on him a name that was very dear to her Immaculate Heart indeed.

On August the 10th, 1648, there was much rejoicing in Heaven, for on that day “Joseph” and eleven other Muslims converted to the Christian faith and were baptized. Their conversion was brought about by the kindness shown by Don Octavius and the special intercession of the Mother of God.

Our story does not end here. Even once this son of hers was safely baptized, Mother Mary delighted in visiting him. Once, after having appeared to him, she was about to depart. But the Moor seized her mantle, saying, “Oh, Lady, when I find myself afflicted, I pray you to let me see you.” In fact, she one day promised him this and when Joseph found himself afflicted he invoked her, and Mary appeared to him again saying, “Have patience", and he was consoled.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian.

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