Exactly 10 years to the day – July 18, 2018 – Ricky Peterson of Kansas City, Kansas, knelt once more at the tomb of St Mary MacKillop in suburban North Sydney, Australia, this time with a prayer of thanksgiving for the seemingly miraculous event that had changed his life a decade earlier.
Peterson, 57, first knelt at the tomb as a pilgrim during World Youth Day in 2008 and offered a prayer he will never forget: that through the intercession of Australia’s first saint, God would heal him of the Parkinson’s disease he had endured for nine long years.
“I said, ‘Mary, I’m asking you to pray with me again tonight. Lord, I would love nothing more than to leave this Parkinson’s and tremor buried beside Mary, if it’s your will. I’m going to go out and praise your name,'” Peterson recalled.
It was only 10 minutes later when the father of five was on the train, traveling with his youngest daughter back to their host family that he first noticed that the tremor in his right arm had disappeared.
“I kept checking every 30 seconds and I was like, ‘It’s still gone, it’s still gone,'” he said.
Despite his amazement and certainty that he’d been healed, he didn’t say a word to anyone.
It was during the final Mass at Randwick Racecourse, celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI, that while holding hands with her father, Jessica noticed the tremor was gone.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Your hand didn’t shake at all.’ I said, ‘Yeah, it hasn’t since Friday night.’ We both started crying.”
Peterson’s wife Maura said when he phoned from Australia to tell her the news, she was filled with gratitude and “pure joy.”
The couple spoke to The Catholic Weekly, newspaper of the Sydney Archdiocese, at Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney on their return visit of gratitude. It was Maura’s first visit to Australia.
“It was thanksgiving for a new future that we had given up on,” she said. “A month before, we had been talking about whether I should quit my job to care for him and whether we could afford financially to do that. So we had the future we had dreamed of back. So it was thanksgiving and just pure joy.”
Peterson said the Sisters of St Joseph, the saint’s order, documented what had happened to him and told him that if the second miracle being investigated for the canonization was not approved, then his case was one of two they would “start moving forward.” It proved unnecessary, however, as the second miracle – the healing from lung and brain cancer of Australian Kathleen Evans – eventually was approved.
When Peterson returned to the US, several doctors assessed him without knowing what had happened in Sydney and found he no longer had Parkinson’s. When Maura, a nurse, asked her husband’s neurologist whether the original diagnosis nine years earlier had been correct, he showed her the massive file documenting the illness and said, “He had Parkinson’s.”
Peterson, an electrician, had watched his father die from complications of Parkinson’s, a disorder of the central nervous system that often causes tremors. He said that if he had not been healed, he would now be retired because of disability. “I may not even be still alive,” he said.
When he had arrived in Sydney in 2008, he was suffering from a severe right arm tremor around the clock and was exacerbated by tiredness and stress.
He now believes that the healing occurred at the very moment he prayed at St Mary MacKillop’s tomb.
“My hand was shaking when I knelt at the tomb… There were 50 or 60 people in the chapel at the time and when I started that prayer I heard no one,” Peterson recalled. There was just quiet. I don’t remember hearing anything. When I stood and walked out, I didn’t even consider if it (the tremor) was gone… but I believe it happened right then.”
The Petersons were invited by the Sisters of St Joseph to attend the saint’s canonization at the Vatican in 2010. They sat with the sisters near the front.
Over the past 10 years, Peterson has not had even the slightest sign of Parkinson’s returning. Maura believes her husband was healed because he asked God in a loving way.
“I had been to Lourdes before and prayed for Rick’s healing,” she said. “And it was always, ‘Please heal Rick.’ His prayer at Mary’s tomb, however, was ‘No matter what happens, give me the strength to continue to carry your word to others.’ It wasn’t ‘give me.'”
Peterson now shares his story with anyone who will listen, believers and unbelievers alike. He carries with him a stack of holy cards bearing one of the saint’s well-known quotes: “Never see a need without doing something about it.” He gives them to anyone who will take one.
Peterson said it was a dream come true to be able to return to Sydney with Maura for the 10-year anniversary of his healing. “The city is as beautiful as I remember,” he said.
And he has maintained a close relationship with the Australian saint who changed his life.
“She hears from me daily. It’s like, Mary, here we go again, we’ve got a bunch of people to pray for.”