by Fr. Bob Pelton.
It was a cool day, one of very few in that summer of 1958. After my first year in the seminary, Fr. Callahan, the director of Madonna House priests, sent me to Winslow to help our staff at La Casa de Nuestra Senora teach daily catechism classes to the children and teenagers of their parish, Madre de Dios.
My classroom was an old school bus that heated up quickly every morning under the Arizona sun, so I was happy for the coolness of the day even though that day students and teachers had spent it at the creek, not in class. We splashed in the creek. Some of us scrambled up the hill on the creek’s west bank. We ate our sandwiches and apples.
I was just beginning to appreciate the vastness of the llano, the high plain, and of the sky that arched above it. You can feel small surrounded by such a great and silent space when you aren’t used to it.
After a few hours we climbed into the buses, one driven by Fr. Hannon, the pastor, and the other by Phil Knight of Madonna House, to return to Winslow. I was in Fr. Hannon’s bus, and we arrived back at the church first.
The kids piled out of the bus, and I was standing with two eight-year-old boys at the edge of the driveway. The boys were being boys, jostling and pushing each other, giggling, still full of energy.
The second bus began to pull up by the church. Phil was driving very slowly, but the bus was moving steadily toward us, fifteen feet away, ten, eight, when suddenly one boy gave his friend a hard push, and he began to fall right into the path of the right wheel of the bus.
There was nothing that could be done. The bus was a foot or two away. The boy was falling. He looked startled. The pusher and I watched, helpless. Then in mid-air the falling boy’s body was moved instantly to the right, and the wheel of the bus passed harmlessly a few inches from his head.
The hair on the back of my head stood up It was hard to tell who was more stunned, the boy who had fallen or the boy who had pushed him. Or me.
They looked at each other for a second, and in another second the fallen boy was on his feet, and he was laughing with his friend, and they were running off, still jostling each other.
I replayed the scene in my mind. The kid was falling. His back was toward the driveway and his arms were in front of him. He had no control over his body. Something else—Somebody else—had pushed him clear. I had witnessed a miracle.
And I knew that since it was almost certain that neither the pusher nor the pushed was going to remember this three-second drama, the miracle was apparently worked even more for me than for them.
The scene is as vivid in my mind 49 years later as this computer now before my eyes.
Many other scenes from that summer when I was 22 remain in my memory—the beauty of the San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon, the ugliness of prejudice and discrimination, many faces, many, many faces—yet it’s the memory of the miracle I saw right next to the Church of the Mother of God that continues to speak most powerfully to me.
I have never been surprised that this miracle happened in Winslow, a small town in the vastness of the llano, nor was I surprised when some forty years later, about ten years ago now, La Casa discovered and began to teach the Catechism of the Good Shepherd.
Why wouldn’t the Good Shepherd especially want to show his hand in a place where need and faith meet? Any child can feel small and falling in the great and silent space of the world.
And if the Good Shepherd reached out to break one child’s fall even as he revealed the movement of his hand to another somewhat older child, why wouldn’t this second child do his best ever after to tell everyone that this most powerful and merciful hand, so evident in Winslow, is everywhere?
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