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Woman and priest say Baker miracle occurred at Buffalo Airport

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By Sharon Osorio

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-958322.mp3

Buffalo, NY – The date is June 6, 2008. The place is Gate 4 at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Debbie Hennessy, a registered nurse from Virginia, was flying back home after singing with the North Metro Chorus in Toronto. She began singing with the Toronto chorus soon after she'd been diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma, a deadly skin cancer that had spread to other parts of her body. Hennessy's husband had encouraged her to do something for herself that she truly enjoyed before her anticipated death in six to nine months, and Hennessy's choice of wanting to compete internationally in a chorus eventually led her to the North Metro Chorus.

"I was sitting in the airport," recalls Hennessy. "I had just had scans the week before. I had not-good results. My oncologist told me that I had a tumor in my lung, not where I'd already had part of a lung removed for the melanoma. So I had gotten bad news. In truth it was three tumors, not one, but I didn't know that at the time."

That flight was late, so she found an empty seat near a man who turned out to be Father Stefan Starzynski of Virginia. His mother is from Buffalo, but he was in Western New York for a spiritual retreat to Father Nelson Baker's tomb. He chose Father Baker, a candidate for sainthood and the priest who built Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, because he says Father Baker had appeared to him five years before.

"My retreat was, Monday through Friday, to simply spend eight hours a day in front of the tomb," says Starzynski. "Because I thought if there's a reason he appeared to me, then I ought to go and do this retreat."

Hennessy and Father Stefan began talking about his retreat, and eventually, Hennessy's cancer.

"I tell her that Father Baker appeared to me, and I ask if I can pray over her," says Starzynski. "And she says yes."

"I thought he meant when he got home, like at night, he was going to put me on his prayer list," says Hennessy about Starzynski's offer of prayer. "He stands up in the middle of Gate 4. This is Gate 4 in the Buffalo Airport. Our plane was two hours late, there were 150 people on our plane, and the plane behind us was backed up because of our plane. I don't know how many people were standing there, but it was standing room only. He stands up, he takes me by the hand, he stands me up. I said, 'Oh, my gosh, he's going to lay hands on me.' He puts his hands on my head. The first thing that went through my head, God love me, was, I don't know anybody here, so if I'm embarrassed, what have I got to be embarrassed about?'"

"I pray for her and say, 'With the intercession of Father Baker may you be healed,'" Starzynski says.

"It was actually quite beautiful," says Hennessy. "He prayed to the Lord for a cure for me, he prayed to Father Nelson Baker, he petitioned him to have the Lord cure me from cancer."

Hennessy is a devout Catholic, and especially because of her deadly cancer, she'd been the recipient of special prayers before. But she says this time was different.

"I had never felt what I felt," she says. "When he put his hands on me and started praying, I felt a warm wash, it was as if warm water went from my head all the way down to my toes. It wasn't like a chill up your spine like you would get if you got a goose bump; it was like a warm wash of water."

Father Stefan also gave her a portrait of Father Baker that he'd purchased at the basilica, and a laminated relic. After that June flight, they parted ways. Her next CAT scans and MRI brain scans were in August.

"I go up to Charlottesville to my oncologist, and he gives me the results," she remembers. "He's sitting there, he's got the chart in his hand, he's kind of like shaking his head and smiling, and he said, 'Your scans are clear.' I said, 'My scans are clear?' He said, 'Yeah, your scans are clear,' and he's just smiling, I mean a big smile."

That was almost three years ago, and her most recent full-body scans this past month show she is still clear.

Hennessy's medical records, including her before-and-after scans and related testimonies, have been sent to Our Lady of Victory as a claim of a miracle, although it is not the claim currently being investigated by the Vatican.

But Dr. Joe Nickell from the secular and science-based Center for Inquiry in Amherst has investigated other claims of miracles by Father Baker, and says there are many other reasons for patients to go into remission, including good medicine.

"I think people who have had a course in logic can spot this," Nickell says. "It's what's called an argument from ignorance. Basically, you reduce it down and you see that they're saying, 'We don't know, therefore we do know.' You can't define something that way. You can't say that, therefore, it's a miracle. You can say doctors don't know why it went into remission, therefore it's mysterious, therefore it's remarkable. But you couldn't attribute it to a miracle any more than you can attribute it to the fairies or something."

But for Catholics, it all comes down to faith and the belief of sainthood. Now the Vatican is the skeptic, reviewing an 800-page document of another miracle claim to conclude if it is beyond scientific explanation.

"I will say this," Hennessy adds. "Should the melanoma come back, would that be that I wasn't the recipient of a miracle? In my heart, no. That isn't what that would mean because I did receive a miracle. Those tumors did disappear."