It’s Time to Give Back…to the Knights of Columbus
By Marty Folan
ELGIN, IL – Sherman Hospital – I lay on a gurney, unconscious. Still breathing. But maybe for not much longer. They stood over me. Doctors. Nurses. My parents and two sisters. My best friend, Rob. Fr. George, and Fr. Greg, who anointed me. They prayed.
As a 17-year-old high school senior, I’d achieved one of the greatest feats of my life thus far, only six days prior, on July 4, 1981. At the starting line for a 10km road run, I stood, waiting, my Adrenaline pumping, my heart beating fast. Then, the gun fired and shot me out near the front of 250 runners, where I remained for most of the race. I crossed the finish line 15th, in 38 minutes, 18 seconds. The fastest race of my life.
I would never run so fast ever again.
A PERFECT YEAR AND THEN SOME
1980 was my golden year; I turned 16 on April 16. I felt as though my life had hit the jackpot. I had a blue-eyed blond, Irish Catholic girlfriend, the sweetest girl I knew. I earned above-average grades at school. Hung out with the greatest group of guys. Attended my first rock concert. Rob and I had co-captained two consecutive championships in the church softball league. A third was well within reach. The Knights of Columbus awarded the Folan family the highly distinguished Family of the Year award for the State of Illinois, from among 72,000 families. Every waking moment seemed a peak experience.
Then, the next summer it suddenly ended.
Friday, July 10, 1981 was another perfect sunny day. The sun rose and remained high in a clear blue sky and sent the mercury above 80 degrees. I jumped on my dark green 3-speed bicycle and peddled out west on a carefree ride. Thinking about senior year. Dreaming about college. Wondering about what life would bring.
Ten miles out, I coasted downhill near the intersection of Trout Lake Boulevard and Dunbar and veered around the corner to the right when — CRASH!! An oncoming Jeep hammered me.
A doctor described the injuries to my parents. “He fractured his left femur, suffered a slight crack to his pelvis and broke his collarbone. He is in a coma now, and we won’t know the extent of his brain damage until consciousness returns.”
THE KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS
In the spring of 1978, a Knight of Columbus approached my dad in the back of church after Mass. He asked him a simple question: “Have you ever heard about the Knights of Columbus?”
Dad joined. The KCs became a most meaningful part of his life. From Tootsie Roll Drives to golf outings, picnics, parades and honor guard, dad discovered greater meaning in life and grew deeper in his faith through his service with the Knights. In his role, dad headed a committee that reserved parking spaces for handicapped drivers in the late 1970s. Always sensitive to the needs of the physically and mentally challenged, he laid the groundwork and developed a park for the physically impaired. He was even appointed to the Community Advisory Council by then-Cook County State’s Attorney, and future mayor of Chicago, Richard M Daly.
My dad and the Knights of Columbus opened doors to improve the quality of life for families, children, the physically and mentally challenged, college students, seniors, and myself.
THE KNIGHTS WERE THERE
My mind blanked out over the next six weeks. Its memory bank, erased, from the night before the accident up to the day I relocated to a rehabilitation center. Yet, the face of Christ was emblazoned upon my mind. I saw Christ on the faces of classmates, neighbors, relatives, friends, family members, and brother Knights from my dad’s council, Hoffman-Schaumburg (IL) 6964. Everyone who helped bear the weight of my cross showed me the face of Christ. They united with me in my pit of despair, hopelessness and suffering. They listened. They encouraged me. They prayed for me and commended me to the healing care of the Lord.
…and I let go and surrendered, for I could do nothing on my own.
Unable to walk, talk or think, and without hope, I turned to the Lord and made a deal:
“Lord, if You give me a second chance to live, I will give You my life in return.”
HE BLESSED ME AND ANSWERED MY PRAYER
After 69 days, I returned home, only this time, instead of a warm, comfortable bed and a wide-open backyard, all I saw were mountains. Insurmountable mountains. The brain damage I’d sustained rendered me incapable of completing mathematical equations. I needed to pass Trigonometry in order to graduate. With short-term memory and my thought process impaired, my efforts to listen, process, reason and complete work in most all of my other classes seemed futile. The odds I’d graduate with classmates I’d grown up with were very slim. So I prayed.
… and a miracle was granted. I graduated.
From a wheelchair to a walker, then from crutches to a cane over the next 15 months, I asked, begged and pleaded with God for strength, energy and a commitment to endure the healing process. Rehab … another mountain I needed to conquer. I needed to find inner strength. I needed the same drive and determination that sent me flying across the finish line a few months ago.
So I prayed.
… another miracle was granted. And since then, I’ve run thousands more miles.
More than something I did in the morning, at night and in church on Sundays, prayer became a way of life for me. The Lord was with me at all times, I needed Him. So I prayed constantly.
The mountains ahead of me may have seemed insurmountable, but I knew my faith in the Lord – a gift from above – was stronger.
THE KCs AT COLLEGE
I attended Southern Illinois University at Carbondale to pursue a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Since fourth grade, my passion was writing. Sports, features and entertainment articles, with newspapers, magazines, yearbooks, even a radio station. Whatever medium needed a writer found my name on a by line. My future appeared crystal clear. A writer I would be.
Yet, the Newman Catholic Student Center became another focal point of life at college. With Fr. Jack Frerker as director and the Passionist community a religious presence, I joined the Knights of Columbus and my faith thrived. Through it all, I developed a greater appreciation for my father’s involvement, and what the Knights stood for.
My second year I represented the Newman Center council, #7682, at the National Annual College Convention in New Haven, CT. The following year I served as coordinating committee member at the Supreme Council’s headquarters. What an honor to share the news with my dad!
Through my years at SIU-Neman Center, I walked ever more closely with the Lord. Where will You have me go, Lord? How can I best serve You? On my journey of healing, in body, mind and spirit, a number of role model priests accompanied me: Fr. Greg Sakowicz, Fr. George Kane, Fr. Jack Frerker, Fr. Jim DeManuelle, C.P., Fr. Eric Meyer, C.P., and Fr. Joe VanLeeuwen, C.P. I saw myself in them. I wanted to be like them. Was priesthood my calling? Through my years at SIU, I trusted the Lord with my life and let Him change my once crystal-clear future.
LET GO, LET GOD
He picked me up after college graduation and dropped me down in the cornfields of Kansas, in the midst of the Farm Crisis. I had joined a lay ministry volunteer organization with the Archdiocese of Kansas City at KS. Thirteen men and women from across the nation volunteered their services as religious education coordinators, youth ministers, teachers, pastoral ministers and adult faith directors. This was my time to give God the opportunity to answer my question: Are You calling me to be a priest?
I lived with a priest who served as pastor of three churches in Blaine, Lillis and Onaga. This was only a glimpse of a priest shortage yet to be experienced across the nation. It was the Knights of Columbus, council 3185, who welcomed me, along with the Catholic faith community of each parish. Halfway through my term of ministry, I returned home, confused and disappointed. God hadn’t answered me, yet.
AND THE ANSWER IS …
Ten months later, while engaged in a peer counseling session back down at Southern Illinois University, the Holy Spirit swept down upon me and revealed to me that I was not being called to priesthood, but to some other ministry.
I returned home and continued writing, yet felt a deeper call to serve, in some other way. On a mid-afternoon run in May of 1991, I discovered that calling: Chaplaincy.
A warm summer morning while on call as a volunteer chaplain, an ER nurse called me down. I stood over a 17-yar-old Greek boy. Demetri had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving his parents’ car. He sideswiped another vehicle, and then crashed head-on into a brick wall. An ER physician sat across from Demetri’s parents. I sat beside them on the couch.
“I’m sorry. Demetri didn’t make it,” he said. A profuse outpouring of tears flooded the room. I wrapped my arms around their shoulders and wept with them. A young boy’s life had ended. Abruptly. Tragically. Nothing would bring him back.
I entered into their pit of hopelessness, suffering and despair, to be with them, as many others were for me years ago.
After a service of commendation, I completed my shift and walked outside.
“This is what mom and dad went through,” I realized, “only I was given a second chance.”
How can I serve the Lord in return for the second chance He’s given me to live?
Upon my return home that evening, I penned the opening chapter of my book, From Impossible to I’m Possible and published it in 1998.
Offered as a fundraiser for youth ministry and church organizations, the book funded mission trips, helped feed homeless populations, and provided care for relief efforts across the globe. While hard copies of the book sold out, electronic copies are available.
Most grateful for the ministry of the Knights of Columbus, and for the care they provided me in my time of need, I offer electronic copies of the book to councils to use as a fundraiser with 80 percent of proceeds returned to councils.
Marty Folan earned a master’s degree in Pastoral Studies from the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago in 1994. He became a Board Certified Chaplain with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains in 2008, and serves as Director of Spiritual and Pastoral Services at St. Nicholas Hospital in Sheboygan, WI.
To order electronic copies of From Impossible to I’m Possible, visit www.martyfolan.com
On the Order tab, follow the instructions for donations to specific organizations. Knights of Columbus councils should use the following code: 2013KC(council number). Funds raised by each council will be sent at the end of each month either electronically or via US mail.