by Jill Ragar Esfeld
What becomes of a boy who drinks an entire bottle of water from the miracle well at the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus?
I can tell you.
My sister and her husband, parishioners of Christ the King Church in Topeka, took a trip to Turkey many years ago.
There, they visited the House of the Virgin — not far from Ephesus — which tradition holds is the last residence of the Virgin Mary. There, my sister received a bottle of healing water from its miracle well.
Back home, while unpacking, she left her precious bottle in her kitchen — to be put away for times in need of special blessings.
Thinking it was just a bottle of water, my nephew drank it.
Pilgrims travel over great distances to get a sip from the miracle well. Kevin just walked from his bedroom to the kitchen and downed an entire 8 ounces.
My sister was not happy, and we all wondered — what will happen now? Will he become a priest, a bishop, a pope?
Not to detract from the power of Mary, but even before the “water incident,” Kevin was very gifted.
Sensitive and wise beyond his peers, at age 5, he engaged my husband in a game of chess.
When we asked my sister where he learned, she replied, “I had no idea he knew how to play.”
Kevin was just like that.
A voracious reader and an outstanding student, we all knew he was meant for something special.
At confirmation, he took the name of St. Anthony, and seemed to adopt that saint’s inquisitive nature and deep spiritual thirst.
He got his undergraduate degree in theology, and we thought he was on that pope path for sure.
But St. Luke must have had some influence because, after much discernment, Kevin decided to become a physician.
He was an unusual medical student with that background in theology rather than biology. But it served him well.
He had a heart for people facing their greatest struggles. While earning his doctorate, he worked with Sister Kevin Marie Flynn, SCL, in Kansas City, Missouri, who ministered to AIDS patients.
He eventually wrote a moving and compassionate thesis on the impact a terminal diagnosis has on spirituality.
He did his residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital and fell in love with the Big Apple. After a fellowship in Chicago, he returned to New York.
And that’s where he lives today — practicing medical oncology with a remarkable compassion for those who suffer, and with a heart for healing beyond the flesh.
It’s hard for me to imagine that the little boy, who loved to be scared by “Goosebumps” stories, is now facing real terror at the epicenter of COVID-19.
It’s hard for me to believe that the quiet kid, whose biggest concern was downing his mother’s bottle of holy water, is now trying to focus on the care of cancer patients while a pandemic rages around him.
Kevin copes with the stress by going on long runs through the streets of New York, and sends me surreal snaps of an empty Times Square.
He urges our family to stay quarantined and take this virus seriously.
Isn’t that the least we can do?
There are thousands of Kevins in hospitals across the country. Every family could tell a story like this, about a wonderful child who grew up to dedicate his or her life to the care of others.
I pray for Kevin every day — that St. Anthony will help him find the fortitude to endure this crisis. That St. Luke will implore the Holy Spirit to fill him with wisdom and strength. That the holy water from Mary’s well has long-lasting effects.
And most of all, that his compassion will not fade in the face of so much sorrow.
I pray that all our heroes serving the public will have faith in the promise of God — not to shield us from suffering, but to enter into it with us, and bring goodness and joy from our darkest hours.