March 12, 2020
He’s well aware of the power of prayer
PHOTO BY JOHN STEIN, OFMJuniper Crouch is ready to explore New Orleans; above, the ER was a familiar sight.BY TONI CASHNELLI
It was like a scene from Grey’s Anatomy.
The 85-year-old patient lay gravely ill in the emergency room. On one side was the friar who found the man unresponsive and suffering seizures. On the other was a kind but candid doctor who did not mince words.
“We’re going to watch him,” he said. “If he makes it through the night – and he might not – we’ll see where to go from there.” There was no false hope, just confirmation of the gravity of the situation.
For friar Juniper Crouch, the patient in that bed, the outlook was grim. But just like on a medical TV series, there was a dramatic twist, an unexpected outcome. Some might call it a miracle.
In this holy season, Juniper is living proof of the goodness of God – and the healing power of prayer.
It all began last summer, when Robert Seay and Juniper closed their two-man friary in Houston and moved to their new home, St. Mary of the Angels Friary in New Orleans. There they would join the community of Dan Barrett, Andrew Stettler, Pastor Joe Hund and Guardian John Stein.
Juniper would have a new base for his work as Provincial Spiritual Assistant to the Secular Franciscan Order, a role requiring energy, organization, and a lot of driving. In New Orleans he planned to clean up the friary workshop, making room for carpentry and repair jobs. He brought his favorite frying pan for cooking, one of his many interests, and the bicycle he needed to explore the neighborhood.
At the end of June, after unloading the last of his belongings at the Miro Street friary in the Upper Ninth Ward, Juniper took out his planner and started making notes. Days later, he says, “I didn’t remember doing it.”
The next week, the normally efficient Juniper had not yet unpacked. “It’s like he was off-balance and couldn’t remember things,” says Paulette Duplessis, the Office Manager at St. Mary of the Angels Parish.
Juniper was worried. “I was having a hard time. I knew something was wrong. I tried to tie the cord around my habit, and I couldn’t remember how to do it. I thought I may have had a stroke.”
On July 9, “He appeared in my office complaining about some symptoms he was experiencing,” says Guardian John. “There was confusion and weakness. He said, ‘Maybe we should go to the doctor tomorrow.’ I had heard enough to know that he needed to see the doctor right now.” They rushed to the ER at Touro Infirmary, the first of four visits Juniper would make. Later, when he showed signs of improvement, they sent him home.
The next day the weakness returned, this time with seizures. The friars called 911. “I remember the ambulance taking me to the hospital,” says Juniper. “When I got there I don’t remember what they did.” He was again released, partly because of insurance issues. In the days that followed, “I had succeeding seizures, and two more trips to the ER. I was on a first-name basis with the ambulance driver.” By now his friar brothers were thinking, “Why don’t they just keep him and fix it?”
As John recalls, “It was a crazy time.”
The following Friday, “I went to see how he was doing in his room at the house,” says John. “When I walked in, he was slipping out of his chair, holding his arms across his chest, in seizure mode. I picked up the phone and called 911.”
PHOTO BY CRYSTAL RODENOAt St. Mary of the Angels: Juniper Crouch, Andrew Stettler, John Stein, Robert Seay, Joe Hund and Dan Barrett
As he wondered, “Where in the hell is the ambulance?”, Joe Hund came to see what was causing the commotion. “He was looking for something to do,” John says. “I told him, ‘I want you to get holy oils and do the anointing of the sick.’ He did the religious part” while they waited for emergency responders. “They finally arrived and took over,” heading for the hospital while John followed in his car.
Later in the emergency room, “A real nice doctor came in to see me. ‘I’ll take you in and tell you what’s happening,’” he told John, then broke the news at Juniper’s bedside.
It was not a stroke. They had found a subdural hematoma between Juniper’s brain and the inner part of his skull, likely caused by head trauma. Veins were damaged, and blood had pooled outside the brain. “As it’s growing, the pressure of that [on the brain] is making all this stuff happen,” such as balance and memory issues, the doctor said. Untreated, it could compress the brain, leading to permanent damage, even death.
What had caused the injury? “The doctor said it was not fresh blood,” Juniper now says. “There were several times I remember having fallen,” including an accident years ago when he had competed in roller-dance competitions (see sidebar). And more recently, “Just before we got transferred [from Houston], I was doing some work at a bicycle shop where I volunteered. I tried to step over a bicycle and fell and hit my head on the back of the concrete. That may have been what jarred everything loose.” As the doctor explained, there was no easy way to drain the “old” blood that had collected. “You can’t just drill a hole and let it leak out. You have to cut a section of the skull open to get to it.”
PHOTO FROM https://www.touro.com/Top, “I was on a first-name basis with the ambulance driver.”; above, Juniper’s latest provincial portrait
When their patient survived the night, they were cautiously optimistic. Surgeons began to plan their next move. Besides being an insulin-dependent diabetic, Juniper was in otherwise good health. “I remember the doctor coming in and saying they were going to have to operate,” he says. “I think I said OK, that I understood what was coming.” Even if the surgery went well, “There was the possibility of memory loss.” The friars had other fears. What if Juniper could no longer walk or talk?
Andrew Stettler got on the phone, starting a nationwide chain of prayers that grew and grew. “I had the whole Secular Franciscan Order praying for me,” Juniper says. But he knew he was powerless. “I had given it up to God.” He remembers thinking, “It’s completely in Your hands, Lord. I’ll tag along as best I can.” Going into surgery a few days later, “He had a good, positive attitude about it,” John says.
Precision was crucial in the delicate procedure. “They didn’t go into the brain,” according to John. “They had to take a little square of his skull off above his right ear, toward the back side of his head, to get to the subdural hematoma.” When it was removed, “They put the piece back, cementing it like a puzzle, and stitched him up.”
Then, they waited.
As Juniper awoke in the ICU, nurses warned, “It’s going to be slow getting on your feet again.” Obviously, they did not know this feisty friar. When he tried to move, “I didn’t have any problems.” His mind and his memory were intact. Speech was slow, but completely intelligible. “There was no pain at all. I didn’t even feel weak” – not then, not ever. “I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed without someone there. I started testing myself on my own to see what I could do. When they took me for therapy, they were surprised what I could already do. I was surprising all the doctors and nurses how quickly I was mending.”
How was this possible? “God is good,” Juniper says. “Prayer works.”
He soon graduated to a regular room at the hospital. Two weeks later, he was in a short-term rehab facility, Our Lady of Wisdom Health Care Center. “He recovered really quickly and really well – beyond anyone’s expectations,” John says. A month later, Juniper was home.
FILE PHOTOWhile assigned to Lafayette, La., Juniper taught himself to play the guitar.
His friar brothers still marvel at the outcome.
“Who could have known he would come back here 100 percent?,” John says. “Nobody expected that to happen.” Since the surgery and therapy, “He’s like back to normal,” says Office Manager Paulette, who calls his recovery “amazing”.
Only once as he speaks does Juniper pause, overcome with emotion. “It’s hard to put into words the goodness God showed through so many people: the ambulance crew; the nurses; the concern of my brothers trying to take care of me. How I must have scared these guys. Yet they all rallied around me and have shown concern for me. I know I have a good group of brothers here and in the rest of the province, even though I don’t know them all.”
He sees this as “an event in my life that, hopefully, I will with God’s help turn it to my good and the good of others. It was good for my faith and hopefully it’s good for everybody else’s to see the generosity of God that I recovered so quickly.” The lasting lesson is that “we are loved and protected by God himself.”
This year, Easter will have more significance than usual for Juniper. “It’s going to be special, no doubt, looking at it from the perspective of having been so close to death. I have to try to add to my thanksgiving a little bit more this Lent. There is one of the Ways of the Cross I’ve seen that is something to the effect of: ‘Be willing to accept the manner of death that God has in store for you, whatever that may be.’ I’m thinking I can accept with joy whatever’s coming from His hand.”
Asked to sum up his experience, Juniper says, “‘Miraculous’ is a pretty good word. This was God’s doing. Look at me; I’m well. If you prayed for me, you’re looking at an answered prayer.”
Friar Juniper Crouch was 58 years old when he entered his first major skate-dancing competition. After winning a gold medal, he was hooked. The story of Juniper’s success in a sport that combines precision roller skating with intricate dance routines is told in a full-page feature in the Feb. 29 issue of the Clarion Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Read about his days in the rink at: Clarionherald
BY MARK SOEHNER, OFM
I hope you’ll read the article on Br. Juniper’s remarkable recovery that he attributes to the many people who have prayed for him. At Visitation he told me that he might hold the record for the most ambulance rides in the period of a few days. It took a while to accurately diagnose him, to understand whether the blood that the CT scan could see inside his skull was current or past, to know how it developed, to set him on a course of healing. They were not sure just how much recovery Br. Juniper could attain, if any.
But you should see him now: full of energy, normal eye-hand coordination, and so much more. He’s 86 years old, but ramping up to full-time work as the Provincial Spiritual Assistant to the Secular Franciscan Order. Nothing short of a walking miracle. It would seem at least one gift God gave this brother is another lease on life. Juniper’s mobility is like a hint of Easter in an otherwise overcast Midwestern sky trying to become Spring. It really is a miracle.
What is the gift God wants to give you? At the well in this weekend’s readings, the Samaritan woman asks for water, and she receives a fountain springing up within her. What is the deep-down desire of your heart? Perhaps this Lent might be more about receiving than giving up. In this mid-Lenten moment, let’s open our hearts to the gift that God can’t wait to see you unwrap.
BY TONI CASHNELLI
This week, as cases mounted, the stakes in the global war against the coronavirus got even higher. Schools canceled classes, travel was severely restricted, and some of the biggest sporting events in the world were canceled or postponed.
Most people will recover from this highly contagious illness. But for at least one sector of society – the elderly – coronavirus is a life and death proposition. That calls for special vigilance at senior care facilities like St. John the Baptist Friary in Sharonville, Ohio, where most friars are over the age of 80 and have underlying health issues.
“They [the residents] talk about this; it’s in the paper every day,” says Michelle Viacava, RN, Province Nurse for St. John the Baptist Province. “We don’t want them to panic, but we don’t want anyone to get it.”
So far no draconian measures have been enacted, but “We’ve been trying to take steps to prevent it,” says Michelle, who leads a team of 24-hour caregivers. The basics apply: Wash your hands; don’t sneeze into the air; avoid hugging and hand-shaking. But here, compliance requires extra attention. Memory is an issue with most residents, so they need to be reminded – often.
Province Nurse Michelle Viacava “The other main thing is to have frequent hand-washing and sanitizing – or use gloves – in handling food. We’re disinfecting tables and doorknobs and light switches. We just wiped down all the handrails going down the halls. We’re opening some windows to increase ventilation.”
At another community of senior friars, St. Margaret Hall in Cincinnati, visits are restricted, and guests are questioned every time they come. In the chapel, as at most parishes these days, there’s no handshake at the sign of peace, holy water has been removed, and sacred vessels are cleaned immediately after Mass.
Procedures are similar at SJB Friary. “We’re screening guests,” Michelle says. “If someone wants to come, we make sure they’ve not been in contact with someone who’s been sick. They come right in and wash their hands.”
Earlier today, Minister General Michael Perry released a letter from Rome addressing the coronavirus crisis.Read it at:New-coronavirusOutings for residents are limited. “If someone needs something, I tell them to give me their list and I’ll get it. I go to places when they’re not crowded, like later at night at Kroger. We’re not going anywhere that’s a public place where a lot of people are. We’re not going to the art museum for the next six months, or to malls or events. I was scheduled to go to a summit on dementia at Xavier University on the 16th, and it’s been canceled. There would be so many health care workers there, they’re afraid if someone gets it and it’s spread, there won’t be enough people to take care of the elderly.”
The bottom line is, Michelle says, remember to practice prevention. “Stay healthy by drinking a lot of fluids, sleep your eight hours, and follow a good diet.”
Now officially a pandemic, “Coronavirus will get worse before it gets better,” she says. But a story Wednesday in the Associated Press put things in perspective:
“Amid all the fears, quarantines and stockpiling of food, it has been easy to ignore the fact that more than 60,000 people have recovered from the coronavirus spreading around the globe.”
Like other viruses, “This one will run its course,” Michelle says. “But it’s got to be slowed down a bit or it will just spread and we won’t have enough health care workers to handle it.
“If we take these steps, it’s going to be more manageable.”
(Jim Bok sent this coronavirus update from Jamaica.)
Jim Bok reports from Jamaica.We had our first confirmed case Tuesday in Kingston. The government assures us that they have everything in place to keep us safe. But they say all sorts of things that never happen. Last week a huge cruise ship (like 4,500 passengers and 1,500 crew) was refused docking in Ocho Rios (resort town east of Montego Bay) as one crew member was sick (not necessarily the coronavirus).
The No. 1 industry in this country is tourism. This is high season and lots of people are coming and going. This past Sunday we had folks in church from the USA, Canada, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, UK, Switzerland, and Mexico. I fear it is only a matter of time before we get clobbered. At the moment no restrictions have been placed on us. I might note that our Bishop has mandated that there is no sharing the cup at Communion, no holding hands at the Lord’s Prayer and no shaking hands at the exchange of peace. We can use elbows, of course. Nothing was said regarding the knuckle bump, which is ubiquitous in Jamaica!
–Jim Bok, OFM
ON HOLY GROUND, US-6 FRIARS LOOK TO THE PAST, THE FUTURE
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY CHRIS MEYER, OFM
I was blessed to join 29 US-6 brothers on pilgrimage across the Holy Land Feb. 28-March 8. Upon first look, many of the sites are merely piles of rocks or elaborate modern edifices, but looking with the eyes of faith I saw our foundations – the sites of the annunciation, the nativity and manger, the public ministries of Jesus, and His passion and resurrection.
Franciscans Page Polk and Anthony Chircop led us across the land and invited us to reflect upon our response as friars today. I have a greater admiration for the work of the friars of the Custody who for centuries and under persecution have welcomed pilgrims and cared for our holiest sites. I am humbled by the faith and courage of other pilgrims I met along the way. And as 1 Peter 2:5 reminds, “We are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” More than mere piles of rock, God is building upon these humble foundations within our Church and Franciscan Provinces. I was encouraged by the fraternal experience and look forward to the future in our R+R process.
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PHOTO FROM https://www.touro.com/Top, “I was on a first-name basis with the ambulance driver.”; above, Juniper’s latest provincial portraitPrepared for the worst, John lingered until doctors and nurses told him, “You might as well go home.”
FILE PHOTOWhile assigned to Lafayette, La., Juniper taught himself to play the guitar.Beyond his regular checkups, “I’m just about finished with the follow-ups required” with the surgeon and neurologist. Juniper is not only driving, he’s riding his bicycle – and anxious to see the sights. “I tell people that my introduction to New Orleans was a trip to the hospital. I don’t know my way around the area yet. I think I’ll get to enjoy it as it gets warmer, hopefully to visit some museums and the Cathedral. I’ve got to start getting back to my Spiritual Assistant duties, to start visiting fraternities across the country.”
Ash Wednesday was just two weeks ago. The smudge of a cross on our foreheads has long since worn off. We set out on a journey of 40 Days hoping to come to the promised land of Easter. We frequently think of Lent as a time to give up something: my favorite peanut M & Ms; a grudge that’s like a piece of ice in my heart; lavish desserts. But I wonder if we ever thought of this holy season as a time to receive a gift from God? If you had to stop and think about it: What gift would God want to give you? Something only you know about that you hoped for, even need.