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TN miracle investigation could name new saint

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Father Isaac Hecker. WBIR photo Father Isaac Hecker. WBIR photo
KNOXVILLE (WBIR) - At the Diocese of Knoxville, Bishop Rick Stika believes in the power of God. However, he has never officially investigated a miracle until now.

"The possibility of a miracle that has occurred here in Knoxville. And I stress possible because we don't have all the details," said Stika.

Stika will not say what potentially miraculous event took place in Knoxville, other than it involved a man's health.

The main reason the Catholic Church is taking such great interest in the investigation is it could help decide whether a 19th century American priest will officially be recognized as a saint.

"His name was Isaac Hecker. During his life he was known for his extreme holiness and like a zeal for the faith," said Stika.

Father Isaac Hecker died in 1888 and never even visited Knoxville. So why is the church now investigating a miracle in East Tennessee?

First of all, it is important to understand Catholic sainthood investigations into miracles are not for wondrous events that a person conjured up when they were alive. The potential miracles take place posthumously when the person may be in heaven. It is then the deceased person may be in a position to help with requests for God's miracles.

"It is like sometimes when people are looking for jobs, they say, 'You know this person? Can you talk to them for me?' In the church, a saint is someone we believe is in the presence of God. So we don't pray to the saint. We pray with the saint and ask can you intercede for me with Jesus. It's like asking a friend, 'Can you pray for me? I'm in need of some help.' The miracle comes from God and that's who we pray to," said Stika.

In the case of the miracle being investigated, the Knoxville man prayed and asked for Isaac Hecker's assistance with a medical miracle. Many Catholics in East Tennessee would have reason to know about Hecker because he was a founder of a group of priests that are now leaders at some Knoxville churches.

"At least on the surface, it is very difficult to explain what occurred to this particular person. It may or may not be a miracle. We need more details to see if there is another explanation," said Stika. "Here in Knoxville, we've got the person's doctors presenting his medical history. We'll review it, I'll pray about it, and then give my opinion."

It is ultimately up to the Vatican to determine if Isaac Hecker is a saint and East Tennessee is a land of Catholic miracles.

"Somehow if this is approved and true that we'll eventually call him Saint Isaac Hecker, as a bishop it's profound that there's a connection to Knoxville. This is my home," said Stika.

Miracles are only part of the case for sainthood. The Diocese of New York is investigating whether Hecker's behavior during his life qualifies him as a saintly role model.

"It is not to make sure someone is perfect. In fact, in most cases saints are ordinary people and sinners who became extraordinary holy people," said Stika. "Even Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa, had a diary with notes that said sometimes she doubted if God was paying attention to her and the work that she was doing. It just shows you don't have to be perfect to be holy."

Bishop Stika says there is no timetable for how long the investigation will take, saying it would be conducted "on God's time."If the Vatican decides there truly was a miracle in Knoxville, at that point it will release the name of the person and full details about what happened.

Read more at WBIR's website.


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