Fran Angelo visits his namesake at least once a day to say "thank you." Their friendship was forged 65 years ago in a time of crisis when, Fran believes, his namesake saved his life. It's a story of faith, the power of prayer and a beloved Western New York tradition that created the bond between the Buffalo police officer and a legendary 16th century missionary named Francis Xavier. It's a story that continues to inspire many as Fran once again joined hundreds of others in observing the Novena of Grace to St. Francis Xavier at St. Michael Church during the first week of March.
Angelo's mother, Norma Cady, was rushed to Sisters' Hospital on Aug. 8, 1951, when she unexpectedly went into labor two months ahead of her scheduled due date. Her situation was so difficult that the baby was actually born in the elevator as the staff struggled to reach the delivery unit. The premature baby weighed only 1.5 pounds, and was plagued with medical complications that caused the doctors to prepare Norma and her family for the worst.
The infant was not likely to survive. If he did live, he would most likely be blind, handicapped and prone to illness his whole life. Norma's baby boy would spend the first six months of his life at Sisters' Hospital in a special unit where his life was so fragile, the chaplain was called many times to offer the prayers for the dying.
Angelo's mother loved to attend Mass at St. Michael Church on Washington Street, where the Jesuit Fathers offered their prayerful support in her time of crisis. Norma was able to bring her baby home in February 1952 and decided that she would place him under the protection of her favorite saint, Francis Xavier, when she joined in the annual Novena of Grace that March.
"Mom always liked Xavier because he preached the Gospel and brought so many people to Jesus," Angelo observed.
She also vowed that if Xavier would bring her baby to health, she would give him the saint's name and make the novena for the rest of her life. In the months that followed the novena, her baby defied the doctors' dire prognosis, and Angelo grew into a very healthy boy.
Angelo believes that Francis Xavier has always cared for him. When he was struck by a car and declared dead by ER doctors in 1970, Fran is convinced that he was saved through Xavier's intercession once again.
"The nurse had already placed a DOA tag on my toe, but I heard a voice asking me if I wanted to return to my mother. I'm sure it was Xavier," he stated. Although he was in a coma for three months and spent even more painful months in rehab, he returned to a normal life.
Angelo and his family have always regarded St. Michael Church as their spiritual home. He recalls attending Mass there with his mother from early childhood, praying the Novena of Grace in honor of the great missionary to Asia each March. Cady continued to pray the novena even after she moved to Texas 12 years ago.
"Mom brought her novena cards to Texas and faithfully said her prayers until her health started to diminish," noted Angelo.
The bond forged with Xavier through his mother's faith is what prompts Angelo to take time to visit his namesake at the downtown church and celebrate for the annual novena, which ran from March 4-12.
This year's observance marks the 117th novena prayed in the historic parish. The legacy of other Jesuit missionaries who followed Xavier's inspiring example was the focus of each day's special talk.