“It’s God, very tenderly telling us, ‘Guys, I’m here for you. I’m always here and I’m here for everybody,’” said Johnson, who was overcome with emotion as he shared his story with your Catholic Herald. “Everywhere, anywhere, God may reach out to you. He’s not the God of the Old Testament, warring and defeating enemies; he’s the God that rode into Jerusalem on an ass and he’s here doing miracles for everybody all the time.”
Fr. John Yockey, pastor of St. Jerome Parish, also sees it as more than coincidence.
“I certainly stand in awe of what happened,” he said. “While I know we probably should use the word miracle in a restricted sense, this certainly is much more than coincidence. What’s the saying: ‘Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous’? Certainly you can see the marvelous working of the Lord in both cases.”
Johnson, a fallen away Lutheran, began attending Catholic Masses with his wife, Chris Gordon, when they married in 1991. About five years ago, he went through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process and was confirmed by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. As a couple, they spent at least an hour a week in adoration at St. Jerome. Although Johnson was born with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that causes the kidneys to enlarge as a result of multiple cysts, he noted that his prayers during adoration were not for a new kidney.
“I had a childlike faith that everything would be OK, and I do believe that God will take care of me,” he explained, adding that during adoration, his prayers ranged from personal requests to prayers for world peace.
By 2006, when he was 55, Johnson’s health had declined to the point where was forced to retire from his job in cement construction.
He was constantly fatigued, explaining that just before he received his kidney, he had been spending 20 hours a day in bed, too tired to do much else.
It was a trying time for the family, because in addition to Johnson’s illness, his wife lost her job through downsizing. But their faith remained strong.
As they had so many times before, Johnson and Gordon were together in the adoration chapel on Sept. 11, 2008. Because he didn’t answer his cell phone, the caller from Froedtert Hospital went to the next person on his call list to try to reach him: his stepdaughter, Stephanie Warren. Knowing where to locate her parents, Warren headed straight for St. Jerome, and banged on the locked door to alert them. Fortunately, Gordon heard her knocking, and when she and Johnson learned the news of the kidney match, he said his whole body filled with emotion.
They rushed to Froedtert Hospital and by 11 the next morning, he had a new, functioning kidney in his body. While he does not know the donor or his family, Johnson, with his pale skin and blond hair, likes to tell people he is now part Mexican, because he knows the kidney was from a Mexican immigrant.
Now that his strength has returned, Johnson teaches a cement masonry apprenticeship class and is a regular volunteer at the Adult Learning Center. He also spreads the word about organ donation as a speaker for the Wisconsin Donor Network.
Earlier this year, during a meeting at St. Jerome, Maglio remembered being moved by Johnson’s story about being called for the kidney transplant while in adoration, never thinking a few months later the same would happen to him.
Maglio, a former commercial real estate broker, whose wife of 50 years, Mary Ellen, died in 2006, also had kidney problems and had been on peritoneal dialysis for three years. Like Johnson, he had been on a transplant list for five years, but he had given up on the possibility of a transplant, thinking that his age would preclude such surgery. In fact, Maglio shipped 15 cases of the dialysis treatments to his sister in Arizona, planning that he would spend time with family members there.
As the trip approached, he continued his three-time daily home dialysis treatments and he continued his hour in the adoration chapel on Sunday mornings after Mass.
That’s where he was last Nov. 9 when Froedtert Hospital called with the news about the kidney. Maglio’s cell phone was in his car, but when he returned to his car following the hour in adoration, he heard it buzzing and retrieved the message. About the same time, his daughter, Tina Timmel, knowing where to locate her father, was driving up the St. Jerome driveway with the same news, as Froedtert called her after being unable to reach him.
Like Johnson, Maglio said he does not spend his time in adoration praying for a kidney. Rather, he said he often prays for the souls of his wife and oldest son who died in 2004, and he prays the rosary and meditates while in adoration.
When hearing the news that a kidney match was found, Maglio admitted he was stunned and even apprehensive. Should he undergo such surgery at age 75?
But after a battery of tests, doctors assured him he was in good shape for the transplant, which took place later that evening.
A few complications arose following surgery and a second surgery was required to repair an incision, but today Maglio is in good health, happy not to be tied to the daily dialysis treatments and is looking forward to that trip to Arizona that he had to postpone.
Adoration remains a key part of his week, said Maglio.
“Adoration is worthwhile going to even if you just sit there in contemplation and relax for an hour. There’s a great benefit. It’s just a wonderful thing that everybody should experience in the Catholic faith,” he said.
Not only were the circumstances of the men’s experience similar, noted Fr. Yockey, but their approach to prayer and adoration is very much alike.
“Both men were at prayer before the Blessed Sacrament when a family member brought the wonderful news, but both men have told me they were praying a prayer of self surrender, remembering all the intentions of others. The Lord blessed them in their selflessness and I’m very struck by that fact,” said Fr. Yockey.
Since news of the men’s experiences has spread throughout the parish, Fr. Yockey noted that not only does the parish have at least one adorer scheduled to be before the Eucharist around the clock, but oftentimes he sees several cars parked near the adoration chapel.
“I think the devotion of perpetual adoration is such a precious time of quiet before the eucharistic Lord. We receive (the eucharistic Lord) at every Mass and then are sent forth to take him to our world,” he said, describing it as invaluable to find time in one’s busy life to sit quietly to listen to the Lord for further support and enlightenment in adoration.
“Pope John Paul II had the hope that every parish throughout the world would have a perpetual adoration devotion and after observing the results here, I would strongly encourage parishes to very seriously consider it,” said Fr. Yockey, noting that in his parish young adults are taking the lead with adoration.