by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Jack was dead.
That was the consensus of the School of Faith pilgrims on the steps to St. Joseph Church in Nazareth.
They’d seen their guide, Jack Hallis, fall and lay unresponsive on the ground.
“I could see Jack’s face,” said School of Faith director of development Frank Cummings. “His eyes rolled back in his head. His skin was completely gray, and he had foam around his mouth.
“So, I looked at him and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, Jack’s dead.’
“It was horrible.”
Several doctors who happened to be on the pilgrimage with them were already at the side of their guide as he lay unresponsive.
They were trying to find a pulse, but couldn’t.
“The average person might not be able to feel a pulse,” said Cummings’ wife Katie, who was with the group and is a nurse trained in cardiac care. “But I have total faith that these physicians would have felt a pulse if Jack had had one.
“And he did not.”
As the crowd of pilgrims stood around, powerless and in shock, Katie reacted as she had so often before in emergency situations.
She knew time was of the essence.
100 pilgrims praying
“I started rubbing on his chest as hard as I could, saying, ‘Jack, Jack, can you hear me?’” she recalled.
“In my experience [in St. Luke’s Hospital],” she continued, “that’s my process — that’s what I do.”
Fellow pilgrim and Church of the Nativity, Leawood, parishioner Paul Thompson saw Jack’s unresponsiveness and gray appearance and couldn’t understand what Katie was thinking.
“She was like, ‘Jack, look at me. Jack stay with me!’ — these commands that you would hear on a movie or something,” said Thompson. “I was, like, ‘Why are you saying this — “Stay with me”? What do you mean? He’s gone!’”
But Katie was no longer just a pilgrim in the Holy Land; she was a medical professional doing her job.
“I’d seen this before,” she said. “I know you’ve got to do something and it’s important to act quickly.
“So, I just jumped in and started doing compressions.”
By “jumped in” Katie means she jumped on top of Jack and compressed his chest so hard she broke his ribs — but that’s what she knew she had to do if she wanted to save his life.
And when Katie started compressions, the Catholic crowd around her did what they knew to do. They prayed the rosary.
“Obviously, Katie was the perfect person, in the right place at the right time,” said Thompson. “And everybody else was doing what they could do, which was to pray.”
Doctor Daniel Towle, also a parishioner at Church of the Nativity, remembers the moment as one of surreal frustration.
“We were trying to provide medical care without any of the medications or equipment necessary, such as a defibrillator,” he said. “But at the same time, it was very peaceful and reassuring to be surrounded by 100 pilgrims praying out loud for Jack.”
The embrace of God
“I felt all these prayers surrounding us,” said Katie. “That was so important. That gave me a sense of calm.”
Thompson and his daughter Emily, along with Frank Cummings, went looking for a defibrillator, but to no avail.
“We were looking for an office that might be open,” recalled Thompson. “[There were] two different churches in the courtyard there, and we were running frantically in opposite ways, trying to open doors, find someone with a defibrillator.
“We didn’t have any help.”
Father Bill Bruning, pastor of Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park and a fellow pilgrim, went running, too, in search of holy oils to give Jack the sacrament of anointing of the sick.
Katie continued doing chest compressions as doctors continued searching for a pulse.
“It was two minutes that I did compressions,” said Katie. “And, then, one of the physicians felt a pulse — a booming pulse.”
Frank heard the call, “We’ve got a pulse,” and saw Jack begin to move.
Thompson returned to the scene with trepidation.
“I went back up expecting terrible news,” he said. “But Jack was sitting up, now awake and alert. Father Bill was praying over him.”
An ambulance arrived to take Jack to the hospital. The pilgrims went into the church and continued their prayers, led in a meditation on St. Joseph by Sister Susan Pieper, AVI.
“In my career, I have witnessed several hundred arrest situations,” said Towle. “Yet never one like Jack’s.
“I feel the event was one more mystery of our faith. I do know that Katie had a profound impact with her immediate, professional response.
“At the same time, Jack was in the embrace of someone far greater than us.”
“I really felt like God was present in that situation,” she said.
The pilgrims later referred to it as a “Lazarus moment.”
“It was a really poignant moment, but a faith-filled moment,” said Thompson. “’I’ve seen serious stuff before, but to have someone rise from the dead . . . wow.
“It was quite a memory.”
No doubt this was an outstanding experience of faith. Perhaps the most incredible aspect of the story, however, is the fact that Katie wasn’t even supposed to be there
Though Frank had always wanted to take his wife Katie to the Holy Land — a place he had visited as a young seminarian years ago — this School of Faith pilgrimage was booked solid.
There was no room for Katie.
The day of departure, Katie dropped Frank off at the airport and was headed back home with their 16-month-old daughter.
On the way, she got a frantic phone call from Frank saying a woman had suddenly canceled and Katie might be able to take her place.
Katie had a passport. She just had to cover work and arrange for child care — no small task, but she told Frank she thought she could do it.
“So I talked to Rich Boynton with Trinity Travel,” recalled Frank. “I told him we had an opportunity to bring Katie.
“He said, ‘Frank, we’ll have to move heaven and earth to make that happen.’ And I said, ‘Well, wouldn’t you move heaven and earth for your wife?’”
Heaven and earth moved, and Katie quickly pulled over in a parking lot to buy a plane ticket to Tel Aviv, Israel.
“I went home and packed,” she said. “My parents came in town, and I went back to the airport a couple of hours later.”
But once she had joined the pilgrimage, Katie questioned her impetuous actions.
“The first few days, I thought, ‘Should I be here?’” she said. “‘Shouldn’t I be with our daughter? Was this the right decision?’”
On the other hand, with his wife on the trip, instead of questions, Frank was seeing answers.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “I was in [the]seminary for four years, and when I was leaving, I went to the Holy Land, saying, ‘Lord, if you want me to be a priest, here’s your chance. I’m going to go home, so please speak to me.’
“So, it was really interesting to go back now as a married man and have that prayer answered.
“I did do the right vocation. This is the year I would have been ordained a priest. I wasn’t called to be a priest; I was called to marry Katie.”
A new lease on life
Jack left the hospital the next day and rejoined the group the day after, joyful and upbeat, and saying he felt he had a new lease on life and wanted to live it more fully.
Approaching Katie, he said, “I need to find the woman who made my chest hurt so badly. I think she broke a rib or two.”
Many who saw the event up close had been convinced Jack was not going to make it.
“So, when he rejoined us two days later with a radiant smile, a visible peacefulness and speaking of having seen a bright light,” said Towle, “the pilgrims sensed one more gift from God as [God] was with us on our Holy Land journey, and especially Jack’s.”
Now back home with his wife in Holy Spirit Parish, Overland Park, Frank reflects on the pilgrimage and sees, at its heart, a lesson in Christian boldness to do God’s will.
“I think just being bold and pushing for Katie to go on the pilgrimage,” he said. “Rich getting the trip organized for Katie at the last minute; Katie being bold in doing the compressions.
“All these bold steps people had to take, believing that they were doing the Lord’s will.”
And there is no doubt that Jack’s experience, in particular, brought the pilgrims closer to their faith.
“It is really hard to claim that Jack’s survival fell to just the care of a few medical professionals,” said Towle. “Like Jack, all of us looked beyond that and found far more strength in the power of prayer by the 100 pilgrims surrounding him.”
“In my career, I often have been blessed with the feeling that my God-given skills on a given day made a difference,” the doctor continued. “However, in this case, 100 pilgrims should feel their prayers were heard, and it is they who made the difference for Jack.”
“I really believe in the power of prayer and God being there with us and Katie being there because of God’s will,” he said.
Katie saw how God moved in her life during her visit to the Holy Land, but she firmly believes you don’t have to go anywhere to have such a powerful faith experience.
“It makes me want to embrace every day and give it to God,” she said. “You can find these experiences in your everyday life, too.
“You just have to seek them.”