My family and I have just returned from a wonderful, long weekend in central Minnesota where we participate in a family camp organized by a friend at our Church. It is our third year at the camp, which is idyllic with a spring-fed lake, pine trees, and other magnificent natural accoutrements.
The get-away concludes with Mass in the log-cabin lodge at mid-day on Sunday. Perhaps one of the greatest blessings to come out of this experience over the past three summers is the opportunity to meet Father Mark Stang, who celebrated Mass last year and yesterday for us. Miracles do happen in this world and Fr. Stang is living proof. A year ago, he shared with us the miraculous story of how he became a priest.
Born in 1958, Mark Stang grew up one of 10 kids on a dairy farm near St. Nicholas, Minn. He grew up expecting to become a farmer but in his mid-20s he felt a nagging tug to the priesthood. He ignored it for a long time, telling himself that he wasn’t much of a student and probably couldn’t get through seminary. But, in fact, he enrolled in seminary and he advanced in his studies.
All the while, however, he couldn’t convince himself that God was really calling him to be a priest. He said he experienced long periods of “dry” pray. He thought about dropping out of seminary all together. He had been studying in Maryland when he decided to call it quits. He had his bags packed, ready to come home. But before going, he took in Saturday morning Mass. As he received communion, his knees buckled and he collapsed. After stumbling back to his pew, he saw a vision of himself as a priest celebrating Mass. He prayed for hours after Mass and ultimately interpreted the experience as confirmation that God wanted him to be a priest. He went back to his room, unpacked, and began to study in earnest.
After completing two and a half years of study, however, he was diagnosed with cancer. Even after undergoing chemotherapy, new tumors developed and doctors gave him a year to live, at the very most. He was close to completing his seminary studies; instead of devoting his time to an experimental treatment that may have prolonged his life, he worked toward ordination. He received permission from his bishop to be ordained early. If he was going to die soon, he wanted to die as a priest.
On August 25, 1990, he was ordained. He celebrated his first Mass on August 26 at his home parish. On August 27, he celebrated a private Mass with is family before leaving for the Mayo Clinic to recommence his treatment. But miraculously, when he showed up at the clinic, the doctors could no longer find any tumors. They examined him and could find no trace of cancer. It had completely disappeared. The doctors had absolutely no way of explaining it.
Next month, Father Stang will commemorate 17 years of the priesthood. I have heard him preach twice, and he clearly is burning with love for the Lord. Father shared this personal story with us last year, and I am so glad he did. I am inspired by miracles, which I know happen all the time. But it isn’t often that I get to hear a detailed, first-hand account of something so dramatic.
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
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