First responders in northeast Missouri struggled to extricate a young woman from a serious car wreck until a mysterious priest arrived and helped calm rescuers and the victim. The woman’s friends and family now want to know: Who was that mysterious clergyman?
It was reported that the accident happened Sunday morning when a suspected drunk driver crossed the center line of Route 19 near Center, Mo., and struck a car driven by 19-year-old Katie Lentz of Quincy, Ill., head on.
Rescue crews struggled to get Lentz out of the badly damaged car, said Raymond Reed, fire chief from nearby New London. She was trapped between the steering wheel and her seat, and the strong metal of her older model Mercedes was proving difficult to cut through.
After about an hour, Lentz asked rescuers to pray out loud with her. Medical personnel at the site said Lentz was failing fast.
That’s when a Catholic priest suddenly appeared.
“He came up and approached the patient, and offered a prayer,” Reed said. “It was a Catholic priest who had anointing oil with him. A sense of calmness came over her, and it did us as well. I can’t be for certain how it was said, but myself and another firefighter, we very plainly heard that we should remain calm, that our tools would now work and that we would get her out of that vehicle.”
About then, firefighters from Hannibal, showed up with equipment to extricate Lentz from the wreck. Rescuers took Lentz to Blessing Hospital in Quincy in a helicopter.
About a dozen rescuers turned to thank the priest, but he was gone, a fact made even more mysterious because the highway was blocked for a quarter of a mile, and there were no bystanders or parked cars anywhere nearby.
“Where did this guy come from?” Lentz’s friend Travis Wiseman asked. “We’re looking for the priest and so far, no one has seen him. Whether it was a priest as an angel or an actual angel, he was an angel to all those and to Katie.”
Reed said the first responders were amazed.
“It is my feeling that it was nothing more than sheer faith and nothing short of a miracle,” he said.
Lentz is in serious condition after surgeries to repair several broken bones. She’ll face more surgeries in the coming weeks, but friends and family say her spirit is strong.
“Her foremost request is for people to pray and to pray out loud,” she said. “We would like nothing more than to carry that message forward for her.”
The driver of the car that struck Lentz’s Mercedes is expected to face charges that include driving while intoxicated.
Katie Lentz finally knows the identity of the Catholic priest who came to her side during a life-threatening accident on a two-lane Missouri highway this month.
Turns out, it was a Father Dowling mystery. The Rev. Patrick Dowling, that is.
Dowling, a priest since 1982, revealed in a comment on a story posted on the National Catholic Register that he was the man who prayed over Lentz, 19, while emergency workers treated her for injuries after an August 4 accident.
Dowling wrote in the comment, which has since been deleted: “I absolved and anointed Katie, and, at her request, prayed that her leg would not hurt. Then I stepped aside to where some rescue personnel and the pilot were waiting, and prayed the rosary silently.”
The Rev. Patrick Dowling revealed his identity in a posting on a National Catholic Register website.
Dowling’s presence had been a mystery because officials at the scene said it seemed as if he appeared from nowhere, couldn’t be found in any pictures taken at the scene and left without anyone seeing where he went.
Rescuers said the mysterious priest told them to be calm and their tools would now work.
The priest said there really wasn’t any mystery to it, and he told a deputy before he left who he was. He took no credit for saving Lentz’s life. He credited that to the calm of two highway patrol officers and a rescue team that worked “harmoniously.”
The diocese of Jefferson City confirmed Dowling’s account in a news release.
“Fr. Dowling said that he is pleased that he was able to help by performing his ministry and noted that that he was just one of many who responded to assist the victim at the accident,” the statement said.
Dowling was on the highway because another priest had called in sick, he wrote.
His full comment was:
I had Mass in Ewing MO as the regular priest was sick. As I was returning, I arrived at the scene. The authorities were redirecting traffic. I waited till it was possible to drive up closer. I parked behind a large vehicle about 150 yards from the scene. I asked the Sheriff’s permission and approached the scene of the accident.
I absolved and anointed Katie, and, at her request, prayed that her leg would not hurt. Then I stepped aside to where some rescue personnel and the pilot were waiting, and prayed the rosary silently. I left when the helicopter was about to take off, and before I got to my car it was on its way to Quincy.
I was amazed at the calmness of the two Highway patrol men. The sergeant was completely in control, amazingly calm. Everybody worked as harmoniously as a Swiss watch despite the critical nature of the scene. I gave my name to one of the authorities, perhaps to the sergeant of Highway Patrol, explaining that I was returning having celebrated Mass at Ewing. It was the sergeant who, at the Sheriff’s request, gave me Katie’s name as I was leaving, so I could visit her in hospital — I assumed she would be taken to Columbia.
I think there may have been angels there too and, in this context, I congratulate the fire team from New London and Hannibal, the Sheriff/deputies of Ralls County, the Highway Patrol personnel, the helicopter team, the nurses and all who worked so professionally. God has blessed your work. I hope the credit goes where it is due.
Dowling works in prison ministry and with Spanish-speaking parishioners, the diocese said.
Lentz is still hospitalized, and charges are pending against the driver whose car hit hers,