By Andrea F. Philips
Newman was a twenty-year-old African-American who, in 1943, awaited execution in a prison in Mississippi. His crime was that of ambushing and shooting a man named Sid Cook, his beloved grandmother’s abusive second husband.
One day, noticing a medal hanging around the neck of a fellow prisoner, Claude asked the young man what it was. The latter responded by casting the medal to the ground with a curse saying, “Take it.”
The medal was a Miraculous Medal of Our Lady of Graces, and though knowing nothing about it or who it represented, Claude picked up the oval trinket and hung it around his neck.
During the night, Claude was awakened by a touch on his wrist to behold a glowing vision whom he later described as “the most beautiful woman that God ever created.”
The lady calmed the frightened man and said, “If you would like me to be your mother, and you my child, send for a priest of the Catholic Church.” And she disappeared.
“A ghost, a ghost!” screamed Claude, at the same time clamoring for a Catholic priest.
The next morning Father Robert O’Leary, SVD, (who later wrote the story) was summoned.
After listening to the extraordinary account, he found that Claude was illiterate, and knew nearly nothing about religion. So he proceeded to carefully catechize not only him but four other inmates who were deeply impressed by Claude’s account. Occasionally, two sisters from Father O’Leary’s church joined the catechetical team.
Heavenly Insights on the Sacrament of Confession
Several weeks later, when Father introduced the sacrament of confession, Claude volunteered, “Oh, I know about that! The Lady told me that when we go to confession we are kneeling down not before a priest, but before the cross of her Son. And that when we are truly sorry for our sins, and we confess our sins, the Blood He shed flows down over us and washes us free from all sins.”
The priest and nuns were stunned at this new revelation. Seeing their surprise, Claude heartily apologised, “O, don’t be angry, don’t be angry. I didn’t mean to blurt it out!”
But assuring him that he was far from angry, Father O’Leary asked Claude if he had seen the Lady again.
Taking the priest aside, the young man said, “She told me that if you doubted me or showed hesitancy, I was to remind you that lying in a ditch in Holland in 1940, you made a vow to her which she’s still waiting for you to keep.”