Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Bryan Thatcher was a young physician with a very successful medical practice. He still remembers how he felt the day a young alcoholic bled to death in his arms. Physically, he had done all he could for him. But on a spiritual level, he had the sense he had missed an important opportunity.
“I was so distraught,” Dr. Thatcher said. “I didn’t know back then, but I could have helped usher him into Eternal Glory.”
At that time, this man of medicine would never have guessed that he was destined to become founder and director of a ministry known as the Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy (EADM). It would never have crossed his mind that this ministry would encourage people the world over to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for the sick and dying – people very much like his young alcoholic patient.
With Dr. Thatcher’s then-secular mindset, he also could never have imagined that EADM would eventually become an apostolate of the religious order that runs the Divine MercyShrine in Stockbridge, Mass., officially known as the Congregation of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception (MIC). Nor could he have believed that the EADM would give birth to 4,000 prayer groups in the U.S. alone and activity in 45 countries – and the apostolate is still growing!
All that and a lot more was hidden from the young doctor’s eyes. All he knew then was that his marriage was falling apart because he was never home. He also says that, back then, he thought being a great dad consisted in giving his kids anything they wanted to make up for the time he wasn’t spending with them.
Fortunately, a friend saw that this physician of the body needed some medicine for the soul and gave him a copy of a book many Catholics in the U.S. would eventually come to know and love: “The Diary of St. Faustina.”
“As I began to get into the Diary, the fonts used to jump out at me,” says Dr. Thatcher, who was at EWTN recently filming two episodes of “At Home with Jim & Joy,” which you can find here: http://bit.ly/BryanThatcher1, and here http://bit.ly/BryanThatcher2. “It was medication – balm – for a wounded heart. … One of my favorite quotes [from the Diary] was [Jesus’ declaration that]: ‘The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy.’” (Diary, 723)
In tears, Dr. Thatcher told the Lord he would go wherever he wanted him to go. As many a Catholic knows, that was all the Lord was waiting to hear!
Sometimes, we imagine that, as soon as we turn our hearts to Jesus, nothing bad will ever happen to us again. However, it’s more likely that this will result in an infusion of grace that helps us handle the path that lies ahead. As a result of his healed marriage, Dr. Thatcher and his wife were soon blessed with the birth of a son, John Paul, who nearly died at birth. For a time, all was well.
“When he was 15 months old, I had come back from a conference in Denver and was getting ready for a Mass in my home. We have a swimming pool with a screened in enclosure. My oldest boy, 11 years old, asked me if I could start the lawn mower. I did that, and then my daughters asked me to take them to swim practice. Twenty minutes later, little John Paul was dead. Someone had left the gate open [and he drowned in the pool.] I was in a state of shock. I told them to call 911. My wife is a nurse. She started CPR. The girls were praying and crying.”
The ambulance arrived. The family drove to the hospital. “We hit every red light. I was praying my heart out.”
As Dr. Thatcher prayed, he remembered that just the day before he had been telling people at a conference to pray, “Jesus, I trust in You.” He also remembered the Scripture verse in which Abraham offers Isaac to God. He told himself, he had to have the faith of Abraham. In his mind, he walked his son up a mountainside and gave his son, “the apple of my eye, the fruit of a healed marriage,” back to God.
The ambulance arrived. His wife, who had ridden in the ambulance, had gotten a weak pulse. Dr. Thatcher’s prayer group also heard about the accident and joined the family in prayer. John Paul began to heal.
“I took him home – normal – a few days later,” he said. “I saw my sister at Thanksgiving. She told me they had prayed for John Paul the night of the accident. She said the next morning, her best friend Norma said, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. I saw a vision of Abraham giving Isaac to God, and Jesus giving him back!’”
As Dr. Thatcher pondered over the Divine Mercy messages, and his own private miracles, he began to realize how profoundly Eucharistic the message of Divine Mercy is. He and his family began to tour Eucharistic miracle sites around the world. “All I wanted to do was tell people of God’s Mercy; that he loves us right where we are, not where we feel we need to be.”In the mid-90s, Dr. Thatcher said he contacted the Marians as well as St. Faustina’s former convent in Poland, and asked if they had a formation program for lay people. Neither of them did, so Dr. Thatcher started a prayer group at his own home in Brandon, Florida, which would become the future EADM’s first cenacle.
The group only read five pages a week, so it took several years to get through the whole book,’ he said. “We had a format: a prayer, faith sharing, more prayer, the chaplet and some social time.”
When the group became part of the Marians in 1999, that format became more formal. Dr. Thatcher was asked to integrate Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church into the meetings and a program of spiritual formation was developed.
As Dr. Thatcher read the Diary with his prayer group, he began to realize how often Jesus talked to St. Faustina about praying with the sick and dying. In fact, one of the key promises to those who pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at the bedside of the sick and dying is that Jesus will meet the dying person as a merciful Savior and not as the just Judge!
Dr. Thatcher wanted to know more. “What if my wife is in an accident in Florida,” he asked, “and I’m in Alabama. If I say the Chaplet and I’m not at her bedside, will the promise still hold?”
Who could tell him the answer to that question?
Dr. Thatcher had previously managed to get an apostolic blessing for those saying the chaplet in reparation for infants dying in the womb. (For more information on this, please go to http://bit.ly/EADMProLifePapalBlessing. He made that request after reading that, on several occasions, St. Faustina had suffered the passion for three days. The Lord told her it was to make reparation for these infants.
However, Dr. Thatcher now hoped to get a papal blessing for those who would say the chaplet for the sick and dying, even if they were not by the person’s bedside!
“In 2003, a Polish priest came to me in Jacksonville for some medical care,” Dr. Thatcher said. “I hadn’t thought about the papal blessing for a year. In my office, the priest said, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ I said, ‘Why don’t you ask the Pope for a papal blessing [for those who say the Chaplet for the sick and dying]?’ The priest said, ‘The Pope will never grant that to you.’ I said, ‘Okay, I just want you to ask.’”
The priest later called him from Rome, saying that he was preparing to see the Pope the next day. However, he reiterated that there was no way the Pope was going to give Dr. Thatcher the papal blessing he sought. Can you guess what happened?
“The next day, the priest called me and said, ‘The Pope saw the blessing, loved it, and signed it on the spot!’” (Click here to read the blessing: http://bit.ly/EADMSickDyingPapalBlessing.)
Today, people in more than 1,000 chapels around the U.S. pray the chaplet during Adoration for the sick and dying. Dr. Thatcher is currently trying to get parishes to set up teams of three Eucharistic Ministers to go to the bedside of fellow parishioners who are sick and dying. “”If a family calls, you want the priest, of course. But you also want the Church [in the person of the laity] to be more present to the sick and dying.”
Dr. Thatcher knows firsthand the importance of prayer at the beginning and the end of life (and everywhere in between). He helped care for his father during the last years of his life.
“I was doing this while working, doing ministry, and taking care of my family,” he said. “I look back and think, ‘How did I ever do all that?’ But it was the happiest time of my life. My dad used to call me frequently, particularly in the last few months and say, ‘What are you doing?’ I’d say, ‘Just working Dad.’ Those days are gone. No more calls. No taking him out for ice cream. We’re here just a short time.”
Dr. Thatcher admits that being a caregiver isn’t always easy. “When you get that eighth call within an hour – well, we’re human. It’s difficult work. That’s why we have to have that spiritual foundation.”
Today, Dr. Thatcher’s ministry includes travels to some of the poorest countries in the world bringing needed supplies to people from the EADMs and teaching the importance of LIVING the message of Divine Mercy. Prayer provides the foundation for the action in this merciful outreach – and that’s the complete spiritual package that membership in EADM provides.
If you are interested in joining or starting a cenacle in your area, please go to http://bit.ly/JoinOrStartaDMCenacle and to http://bit.ly/DMCenacleGuidelines. You can also watch a cenacle in action by investing in this 13-part series on EWTN: http://bit.ly/WatchDMCenacle, as well as its accompanying EWTN Cenacle Guide at http://bit.ly/EWTNCenacleGuide.
Jesus, I trust in You!