A Physician Sees a Miracle

by Francis MacNutt
Sept/Oct 2010

I have just finished reading a book which made a deep impression on me when I first read it many years ago. It’s titled A Journey to Lourdes (1950) by Dr. Alexis Carrel1. Dr. Carrel was a famous physician who had won the Nobel Prize in medicine and also gained wide recognition in his treatment of the wounded in World War I.

Dr. Carrel prided himself on being “a tolerant skeptic.” Upon hearing about the renowned healing shrine of Lourdes, he decided that it was a cruel deception to lead the sick to hope that they could be healed. He decided to travel to Lourdes in 1903 to examine the facts for himself and expose the deception2.

In Paris he boarded a train bound for the Pyrenees Mountains, where Lourdes is located. The train was filled with sick and suffering patients, also headed for Lourdes, who were continuously being bounced around in the crowded railway cars on the grueling, bumpy journey.

In the railway car where Dr. Carrel had accommodations, he began getting pleas for morphine injections for those who were desperately ill. He ultimately ended up in a compartment where he met Marie Ferrand, a young woman who he was certain had only a few days left before she died of tubercular peritonitis. He carefully examined her and found that her abdomen was distended and she had various palpable growths in her stomach.

After they arrived in Lourdes, Dr. Carrel was asked to continue the morphine injections to alleviate her pain. He decided to stay with her at Lourdes to observe what happened.

“What about those who hope for a cure and suffer the miseries of the long journey in vain?” he asked.

He noticed, however, to his surprise that there was an atmosphere of gaiety, not sadness, among the pilgrims.

At one point Marie Ferrand slipped into a coma. Her pulse raced to an elevated 150, and again he had to deal with her pain by injecting her with laudanum and morphine, which made her feel better. During all the prayers and ceremonies, Dr. Carrel remained near her. He was sure she was close to death.

He also observed several patients that he judged were “neurasthenic” and were healed by the power of suggestion. He believed that it was his duty to guard against being deceived, and all the healing he was hearing about he ascribed to “pious propaganda.” He was convinced that real organic diseases could not be cured supernaturally.

He jokingly told a friend of his that if Marie Ferrand was actually healed, he “would become a monk.”

“If that girl is cured, I’ll accept anything.”

But Marie Ferrand was sinking fast. Her heart was giving out. Her ears and nose were turning greenish in hue. As he saw it, Marie was about to die without ever having lived. And yet, in all these tragic pilgrims he saw an unusual peace. He became filled with a longing to believe. He even began to pray for Marie.

Later, Dr. Carrel met an old friend and asked if he had seen any cures. He responded that “a few of the hysterical cases had recovered,” but nothing unusual.

At this point in the early afternoon, Marie Ferrand truly seemed near death. Suddenly, Dr. Carrel noticed that there was a slight improvement in her condition and her respiration had slowed. She continued to change gradually, and her improvement was undeniable.

Then, amazingly, Marie Ferrand’s abdomen started to flatten out. “Her eyes, so dim before, were now wide with ecstasy.” In a few minutes there was no longer any distension in her abdomen. Dr. Carrel “felt as though he were going mad.” He asked Marie how she was feeling and she said that, although she was feeling weak, she thought she had been completely cured.

“I think I can even walk,” she said.

The change was overwhelming. Carrel took her pulse and it was now a regular 80! He examined her carefully and found that the hard masses he had felt before had vanished like a bad dream.

Marie Ferrand was cured, except for her weakness and emaciation. It was the most momentous thing he had ever seen! She was radiant and Dr. Carrel had no explanation to offer. All he had ever believed was being turned upside down. He had seen so many cases of tubercular peritonitis that he was sure of his diagnosis.

He decided that this new, astounding phenomenon should be studied from every possible angle. He was embarrassed at being involved in a miracle, but he was honest enough to want to do his best to bring the healing he had witnessed to the attention of the scientific community. He was sure that a medical miracle had taken place, and so he decided to write it up.

But he was still too embarrassed, as a Nobel Prize winner, to put his real name on the medical report. So he wrote the report under the pseudonym “Dr. Lerrac,” which is “Carrel” spelled backward. His widow published this account of the miraculous healing of Marie Ferrand (her actual name was Marie Bailly) in 1950 under the title, A Journey to Lourdes, under his real name Alexis Carrel.

When I first read this book, around 1960, I was deeply impressed, and it prepared me to be open to the whole possibility of “supernatural” healing before it became popular in Catholic circles.

Just as Carrel was drawn to Lourdes because it was a place, a visible sign in France, signifying that some Christians believed that Jesus was still in the business of healing the sick, we too hope that sometime in the near future, our new healing center will become known as a holy place, a “city of refuge,” where the sick and desolate will come on pilgrimage to seek healing.

And, above all, to seek and find God!

1Dr. Alexis Carrel, A Journey to Lourdes, by Anne Carrel, Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., 1950.

2 Lourdes started as a healing shrine in 1858 after the peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous had a vision of Mary in a grotto in Lourdes in the Pyrenees. It soon became famous among Catholics as a place where healing took place and pilgrims by the thousands go there seeking healing.
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Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Magazine Issue

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