Priest cured of cancer after a vision saved his vocation in Maryland seminary

 

Father Mark Stang

 

December 19, 2003 - Reported in [Spirit Daily.com] online newspaper from the Morrison country record. Written by Sally Westfall. Priest to share his own ‘miracle story’ In a season that recalls the greatest of miracles, a local priest will share his own amazing story during a special Mass at Holy Family Church in Belle Prairie on Sunday, Dec. 28.

Father Mark Stang, pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Long Prairie, will be the celebrant during a recently begun every-other-Sunday night Mass in the Tri-Parish Community of Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Mary’s and Holy Family.

Fr. Stang will share the story of his journey from shy farm boy who had trouble reading, through college, major seminary and soul-wrenching doubts about his call to the priesthood. Then when a vision finally convinced him of his calling, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Fr. Stang’s bishop approved special arrangements to have him ordained early, so he could celebrate a Mass before he died.

Born in 1958, Fr. Stang grew up on a dairy farm near St. Nicholas, MN, with nine brothers and sisters. He liked helping his dad, Andrew, around the farm much more than going to school. “In third grade I was sent back to first grade reading,” he recalled, and believes his early years in school “affected my whole education.”

In his early 20s, Father Stang was farming with his father, which he “loved,” and had “dreams of getting married and raising a family like I grew up in.” He ignored “slight tugs on my heart to a call that I thought was impossible—a call to the priesthood of Christ.

“I ignored the tugs because I thought there would be no way that God would call me. I was too shy and scared of crowds. I despised any kind of books,” the priest recalled, and knew the priesthood would require extensive study in theology.

Finally, though, he decided to give the seminary a try to “get it out of my system.” Classes were difficult for him and he suffered long dry spells in his prayer life. He decided to fit an hour a day in front of the Blessed Sacrament into his already crowded academic schedule. “Most of my prayer time was very desolate,” he recalled. “Many times I felt like Jesus wasn’t there.”

Fr. Stang remembers walking across campus thinking how nice it would be back on the farm. He begged God for a sign that he was not being called to the priesthood after all. No sign came, and the young seminarian’s six month trial turned into years. He finished his studies at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, MN, and went on to Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. The work finally became such a struggle, however, that he decided to leave the seminary.

“I was all packed up and ready to go early on a Saturday morning, but before I left the seminary I decided to go to an early morning Mass,” he recalled. “When I went up to receive the Body of Christ, and as soon as Jesus was placed on my tongue, my legs went out from under me. It was as if they had turned to rubber.

“I stumbled back to my pew, and I then saw a vision of myself ... offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass. I cried and asked God, ‘what does this mean?’ After three hours of intense praying in the chapel, I went back to my room and started on my studies again.” His academic struggles would pale in comparison to what lay ahead for Mark Stang.

During his third year in the major seminary came a diagnosis of malignant lymphoma cancer. Surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, was followed by chemotherapy. But tests three months later showed the cancer had grown; new tumors had developed. Doctors at Mayo gave him months, maybe a year, to live. They held out some hope by suggesting an intensive type of treatment that could help but, on the other hand, could be so hard on his body that it would kill him.

“I said I have to think about this and find out where God is in all this,” he recalled. ”I have to admit I was very sad.” In prayer, he received a strong sense of the presence of Jesus with His arms outstretched saying, “Just trust in me. I will be with you. I won’t let you go.” He then had a “powerful sense” to be ordained before becoming so sick, weak and near death. The doctors discouraged him from postponing the treatment, but he decided to prepare for his ordination instead.

He was ordained Aug. 25, 1990, and celebrated his first Mass in his home parish Aug. 26. His thoughts were on saying goodbye to his family and going home to God. On Aug. 27, he celebrated a private Mass with his family and headed to Mayo Clinic for treatments.

However, tests showed that the new tumors had disappeared and the original one had shrunk to what is now considered scar tissue. Seven doctors told him they had no explanation for the cure and he recalls one saying, “You must be really close to God.”

“I really can’t explain why things happened the way they happened, and why I still am alive and healthy today. However, I do realize that my life is really not mine anymore,” Father Stang concluded. “It is so much now in God’s hands and I am very comfortable with it being there.” The Mass at Holy Family, Sunday, Dec. 28, will begin at 6 p.m.