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May 10, 2009

Carrying out Jesus’ healing commission

By Joyce Duriga


There is a decorative plaque on the wall of the small chapel at International Compassion Ministry in Olympia Fields that reads “Everyday holds the possibility of a miracle.” For this group, a miracle is more than just a possibility.

International Compassion Ministry (ICM) is a phone, Internet and mail prayer ministry founded by Servite Father Peter Mary Rookey in Chicago in 1987. And the prayers that go out from their offices each day regularly elicit positive responses from God, if the thousands of “witness” letters the group has received over the years are to be believed.

There are stories of the blind seeing, people with back problems walking again and almost any ailment being removed or relieved. There are also stories of emotional healings and, most important, spiritual healings.

“Right here in these offices something wonderful happens every day,” said Rookey.

ICM’s mission is all part of what Jesus told the apostles to do before he ascended to heaven, Rookey said. The spry 92-yearold quotes from the endings of the gospels of Mark and Matthew where Jesus tells his followers to go out and spread the Good News, to “teach all nations” and “lay hands on the sick and they will recover” (see Mk 16:20).

“I tell the sick, ‘See how close you are to the heart of Jesus? His very last words were about you,” Rookey said, adding the mission of ICM is first about spreading the gospel. Any healings that come from its prayer ministry are just Jesus backing up his own words and deeds.

Credit goes to God

The nonagenarian — who exercises daily and rarely sits still — moved easily around ICM offices during a recent visit, joking and greeting the staff and volunteers, whom he called “saints.” A large Miraculous Medal hung around his neck and over his well-worn black clerical shirt and collar.

Rookey wears hearing aids in both ears but doesn’t regularly wear glasses. He credits God with healing him of his own physical blindness as a child.

When recalling how his healing ministry began 60 years ago, he said God “just made it happen.”

“I just fell into it. I didn’t ask for it or think about it even,” Rookey said.

It was 1948 and Rookey was on assignment in Benburb, County Tyrone, Ireland, helping to establish the Servite order there with Servite Father John Mary Keane. The Servites began offering daily Mass at their priory for the few area Catholics and people asked for blessings afterward.

“Well, some of them would come back and say they were healed,” Rookey said.

Soon people came by the busloads to be blessed by Rookey.

Not long after, the Servite order transferred Rookey and gave him other duties so his healing ministry “was put on the shelf” for 30 years, he said. Rookey ministered for his order all over Europe and eventually back in the United States.

The Wisconsin native returned to Chicago in the late 1980s, where he served for brief periods before, and, in 1987, was given permission by his order to resume his public healing services at the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows on Jackson Boulevard. He traveled all around the archdiocese, the country and the world conducting healing services following Masses.

Turning to the phones

Seven years ago, on Good Friday, the Servites asked Rookey to once again cease public healing services. He obeyed and since that time he and a group of dedicated volunteers and a small staff operate prayer ministry through phone, e-mail and letters. It’s a ministry in demand judging by the fact that the phone rarely stops ringing during the hours that ICM conducts its work, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Fridays. Calls for prayers also are left on voicemail overnight. And prayer requests come in through e-mail and letters.

“They go on from the moment we begin our day until we leave,” said staff member Sandy Badke, a parishioner at Queen of Martyrs Parish in Evergreen Park. “Every aspect of life is covered with intentions for praying.”

Staff and volunteers answer the calls that come in through three phone lines, write down the name of the caller and what they are seeking prayers for on Post-It notes, put the caller on hold and hand the note off to Rookey.

He will pray with the caller, pull out a simple plastic rosary from his shirt pocket, along with the relics of Servite saints that he carries, raise his hands and bless them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In the case of a recent caller from Australia, Rookey turned to his window, presumably in the direction of Australia, and offered the blessing out the window.

“Our Lord’s power goes out,” he said of the way the prayer ministry works.

But the prayers don’t end there. All requests that come in are logged into books that are then placed at the altar during Mass and overnight.

It may seem simple, but the prayers matter. “The call that they make is a call that gives them some kind of hope,” Badke said. “Father is such a direct line of hope for so many people.”

Each day, the office stops for Mass in the chapel at 12:30 p.m. and to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m. It is during the time of the chaplet that ICM accepts appointments from people wanting to come to the office to meet with Rookey and receive a blessing in person.

The priest often speaks of various physical, emotional and spiritual healings from the Lord that he has witnessed. But the most important healing is one we can’t see, he said.

“Your greatest healing is your spiritual healing. Physical healing is only temporary because we’re all going to die,” he said. “Your spiritual healing is for all eternity.”

Rookey readily offers that it’s not him, but God who does the healing. “I’m just a big sinner,” he said.

For information about the International Compassion Ministry, contact ICM at 20180 Governors Hwy, Room 203, Olympia Fields, IL 60461, (708) 748-6279, [email protected],