The making of a miracle

Patrick and Shannon Watkins relax with their children (from left) Talbot, 1; Becket, 3; Dymphna, 11; Malachi, 12; Declan, 8 and Eamonn, 6. When they learned before Talbot was born that he might be very sick, they prayed for his health and the safety of Shannon through the intercession of Matt Talbot, a poor laborer in Dublin who died in 1925. Talbot, an inspiration for alcoholics and those suffering other addictions, could be beatified if the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth are deemed a miracle. Photo by Joe Bollig
Patrick and Shannon Watkins relax with their children (from left) Talbot, 1; Becket, 3; Dymphna, 11; Malachi, 12; Declan, 8 and Eamonn, 6. When they learned before Talbot was born that he might be very sick, they prayed for his health and the safety of Shannon through the intercession of Matt Talbot, a poor laborer in Dublin who died in 1925. Talbot, an inspiration for alcoholics and those suffering other addictions, could be beatified if the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth are deemed a miracle. Photo by Joe Bollig

Talbot Watkins wasn’t supposed to be a healthy little boy. In fact, all medical evidence pointed to something seriously wrong. But a possible miracle changed the boy’s fate.


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

OVERLAND PARK — Other than the fact they have six kids, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the Patrick and Shannon Watkins family.

They live in an ordinary city, in an ordinary house, raising an ordinary family.

Ordinary — other than the fact that their youngest son, Talbot Joseph Watkins, is alive today because of a possible miracle.

And that possible miracle may lead to the beatification of the 20th-century Irish ascetic Matt Talbot.

The circumstances of the birth of little Talbot one year ago are so extraordinary that the vice postulator for the cause of canonization of the Venerable Matt Talbot traveled from Ireland this August to meet the family and gather information.

The case has caused some excitement among those devoted to Matt Talbot, an unskilled laborer who died on a Dublin street on the way to Mass on June 7, 1925.

Talbot, who just celebrated his first birthday on Aug. 10, is oblivious to all this.  He is, after all, an ordinary one-year-old.

“He does everything normal babies do,” said Shannon Watkins. “He doesn’t want to be put down sometimes when I’m trying to get the house clean.”

“He’ll get mad and throw a fit when he wants a toy,” she continued. “How interesting it is that this baby is so normal.”

And yet . . .

Call him Talbot

“Twice in my life have I known what God has wanted of me,” said Shannon. “Once was to marry my husband, and the other was to name [my son] Talbot. It was very clear he was supposed to be named that.”

About four months before Talbot was born, Patrick and Shannon were attending a relative’s baby shower in Lincoln, Nebraska, when they drove past the Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach.

Shannon had heard of Matt Talbot before, and Patrick might have — he isn’t sure. Neither had any particular devotion to Venerable Matt Talbot, who is a model for people recovering from addiction to alcohol, drugs and other things. Each of their children has an Irish name, and this one for their sixth seemed to be inspired.

The time drew close for Talbot’s birth. It had been a fairly easy pregnancy for Shannon, with none of the usual morning sickness. She was a couple of days overdue, so her doctor called her in for a sonogram and a non-stress test.

“At that point, my doctor was not expecting anything out of the ordinary,” said Shannon.

The fetal heart monitor indicated the child wasn’t moving around very much.

Later, the doctor called. She wanted to induce labor, because the tests indicated some “chromosomal abnormalities,” loops in the bowels and the presence of large amounts of meconium.  Later, they learned the doctor suspected Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis.

“I met with my birth team and we decided we’d wait and see if I’d go into labor naturally,” said Shannon. “An induction can lead to complications, and we knew we’d be dealing with a sick baby.”

For a week previously, she had gone into start/stop labor. Her doula (a nonmedical person who assists a woman during childbirth) told her sister to be prepared because this kind of labor usually indicates something is wrong with the baby.

“She didn’t tell me this, of course,” said Shannon.

The doctor sent the sonogram to some specialists and they concurred with Shannon’s obstetrician.

“I was a little nervous, but I grabbed upon the vague reassurances that [the doctor] gave that there might not be a problem or it would not necessarily be the worst case,” said Patrick. “I was listening to any potential positives and just grabbing onto them.”

But Shannon knew, from her experiences as a paralegal, that their doctor was just trying to calm them.

“I knew exactly what she was getting at, and that they don’t bring up these possibilities unless they are pretty sure that something’s wrong,” she said.

Meeting a miracle

It was only three days from the time they had some indication something might be wrong with the baby until the actual birth. But during that time, Shannon’s sister Katherine Fulks, an Olathe resident, mobilized a prayer chain. Since the child’s name would be Talbot, she asked everyone to pray for the intercession of Matt Talbot.

There was a lot more staff in the delivery room for this child than for her previous ones, remembers Shannon. And unlike the previous births, this one was easy.

Anxiously, Shannon asked about the baby.

There were no bowel loops. There was no meconium. No Down syndrome. The Apgar scores were good.

Everything was normal. Ordinary. Good. No health problems — not even the tendency toward lazy eye, which runs in the family.

The doctor was stunned. Doctors aren’t allowed to use the “m” word. But she did say that the baby’s condition was “medically inexplicable.”

The doctor was so struck by the healthy birth, in fact, that she urged Shannon and Fulks to “tell someone about this.”

When they asked her the baby’s name, Shannon blurted out without any thought or consultation with Patrick, “Talbot Joseph.”

She didn’t know that “Joseph” was the name Matt Talbot took when he became a Third Order Franciscan.

Shannon did some research on the Internet and sent a message to Father Brian Lawless, pastor of St. Agatha Church in Dublin. He is the vice postulator for the cause of Matt Talbot and reports directly to Rome.

“I expected to get a nice little pat on the head and be told, ‘That’s great for you that you think a miracle happened, but we’re looking for a real miracle,’” said Shannon.

To their surprise, the Watkins were taken very seriously. An email correspondence ensued and Father Lawless came to Overland Park this past August — coincidentally, the day after Talbot Joseph Watkins’ first birthday.

Sometimes, they ask themselves why — why they should be so favored with a miracle. (They’re not shy about calling it that.) They know it’s not because they are such a holy family, and this is humbling.

“I’ve definitely asked myself that,” said Patrick. “We know people who, in the last year, wanted and needed a miracle and the worst case scenario happened for their baby.”

“One thing that makes sense of it is something Father Lawless talked about,” he continued. “It’s Matt Talbot’s time. In order for his cause to go through the process, there has to be this verifiable event. There might be miracles happening all over the place thanks to his intercession, but if they aren’t reported, no one knows about them.”

This is the age of many addictions, so the world needs Matt Talbot more than ever. The Watkins hope that this miracle will make Matt Talbot’s cause known far and wide, and will culminate in his canonization.

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