Exactly ten years to the day—18 July 2018—Ricky Peterson of Kansas City knelt once more at the tomb of Mary MacKillop, this time with a prayer of thanksgiving for the seemingly miraculous event that had changed his life a decade earlier.
The first time the now-57 year-old knelt at the tomb was as a pilgrim during World Youth Day in Sydney, when he had prayed a prayer he will never forget—that through the intercession of Mary MacKillop, 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’.”
It was only ten minutes later when the father of five was on the train, travelling with his youngest daughter back to their host family in Wahroonga, that Ricky first noticed the severe 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’.”
Despite his amazement and certainty that he’d been healed of Parkinson’s 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 in his arm had 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.”
Ricky’s wife Maura says when he phoned her from Australia to tell her the news she was filled with gratitude and “pure joy.”
The couple spoke to The Catholic Weekly at Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney on his return visit of gratitude; the visit is her first 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.”
Ricky said the Sisters of St Joseph documented what had happened to him and told him that if the second miracle being investigated for Mary’s canonisation was not approved, then his case was one of two they would “start moving forward.” This proved unnecessary however as the second miracle—the healing from lung and brain cancer of Australian woman Kathleen Evans—was eventually approved.
When he returned to the US several doctors assessed him without knowing what had happened to him in Sydney, and found he no longer had Parkinson’s. When Maura—who works as a nurse—asked Ricky’s neurologist whether the original diagnosis of Parkinson’s nine years earlier had been correct, he showed her the massive file documenting Ricky’s illness and said, “He had Parkinson’s.”
Ricky, who works as an electrician, had watched his own father die from complications of Parkinson’s, a disorder of the central nervous system that often causes tremors. He says that if he had not been healed, he would now be retired due to 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 that was with him 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and was exacerbated by tiredness and stress.
He now believes that the healing of his debilitating illness had occurred at the very moment he prayed at Mary’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. 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.”
Ricky and Maura were invited by the Sisters of St Joseph to attend Mary’s canonisation in 2010.
“It was amazing because the Sisters gave us two tickets right up the front [in St Peter’s Square] with them,” Ricky said.
Over the past ten years, Ricky says, he has not had even the slightest sign of the Parkinson’s returning.
Maura believes Ricky was healed because he asked God in a way that was not grasping.
“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’.”
Ricky now shares his amazing story with anyone who will listen, believers and unbelievers alike. “I share my story with people at work. I even share it with people at the gas pump,” he said.
He constantly carries with him a stack of holy cards bearing one of Mary’s MacKillop’s most well-known quotes: “Never see a need without doing something about it.” He hands them out to anyone who will take one.
Ricky said it was a dream come true to be able to return to Sydney with Maura for the ten year anniversary of his healing. “The city is as beautiful as I remember,” he said.
He still has a very 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.”