A select few people become saints.
Just as rare are those who make it possible for others to attain sainthood.
Jeanne Jugan was a French woman who lived in the 19th century and founded the Little Sisters of the Poor, welcoming indigent elderly women into her home.
Edward Gatz was an anesthesiologist and pain management physician in Omaha, Neb. In 1989, Gatz was told he had six months to live, at most.
While Gatz sunk into despair, his wife and their priest began praying to Jugan. Gatz's condition improved, and Jugan's role in his recovery helped her achieve sainthood.
Gatz was in Hoffman Estates Sunday as the featured speaker for the Amazing Grace Gala at Stonegate Banquet Centre. The gala is the major fundraising event for St. Joseph's Home for the Elderly in Palatine.
In 1989, Gatz, who was 51 at the time, began to suffer from digestive problems with a loss of weight and growths on his hands. Doctors found a cancerous lesion in the lower part of his esophagus, and underwent surgery. A biopsy revealed a third-degree adenocarcinoma, and a subsequent examination showed an aneuploid tumor.
Gatz refused both chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
"The next day I came back and resigned from (my job at) the hospital," Gatz said. "I just went home depressed."
"I had four to six months to live," Gatz added. "And I never prayed for a month or a week or a day."
But on the day he was diagnosed, Gatz's wife, Jeanne, spoke with priest Richard McGloin, who taught her Latin when she attended Creighton University.
"The very day we got home from the hospital, that was the first thing that I did was go to the telephone and call (Father McGloin)," Jeanne Gatz said. "He said, 'Well, the doctors have never heard of Jeanne Jugan.'"
McGloin encouraged Jeanne to pray and specifically urged her to say the novena prayer to Jeanne Jugan, of whom he was aware from being the chaplain at the home for the Little Sisters of the Poor in Milwaukee.
In 1839, Jugan and two companions took in a blind and infirm woman. From that gesture grew Little Sisters of the Poor, which today consists of 202 homes welcoming 13,232 residents.
Gatz said his wife and Father McGloin prayed every day without fail.
Father McGloin, who died in 2005, said at the time: "I have got a friend in heaven, Jeanne Jugan. I keep telling her if she wants to be a saint, then she had better get busy."
"Four months came and went, and I didn't die," Gatz said.
After being examined in March, 1989, the biopsy showed no signs of the tumor's recurrence. It was Gatz's cure that paved the way for Jugan's canonization, which took place last October in Rome.
Pope Benedict said the ceremony showed "how sanctity is a healing balm for the wounds of humankind."
"It was a miracle," said Gatz, 73, the grandfather of two sets of twins. "I have always believed in miracles. Miracles happen all around us."
The path to sainthood, however, required a petition to Rome. Ed and Jeanne Gatz took the facts to Mother Superior Marguerite McCarthy, who now resides with the Little Sisters of the Poor in Palatine. McCarthy said Jugan had been beatified in 1982, but needed one miracle before achieving canonization.
"They let us know about this intervention. I felt called to follow the story and see what I could do to make this known to our superiors," McCarthy said.
McCarthy said that Jugan would go out begging for the means to help the women in her charge. To this day, the Little Sisters of the Poor go out five days a week collecting funds and food, visiting churches along their rounds.
For 21 years, Ed Gatz has beaten the odds. Jeanne Gatz said she still prays the novena to this day.
"I'm still praying the novena to this day," said Jeanne Gatz. "We have seen (a miracle). We have had it happen to us."