Swensen: God always answers
As a self-described “Doubting Thomas,” Karen Swensen is perpetually on the lookout for tangible signs of God’s presence.
She seems to have gotten what she asked for, according to personal anecdotes the local newswoman shared with the 330 men gathered at St. Anthony of Padua Church Feb. 20 for the 21st Morning of Spirituality for Men. The trio of keynote speakers, who reflected on the topic “God is My Anchor,” all hailed from local media: Swensen, a news anchor at WWL-TV; Bob Breck, chief meteorologist at WVUE Fox 8; and Ed Daniels, sports director at WGNO TV and a Clarion Herald columnist.
Swensen said confirmations of God’s loving hand were too numerous to mention in her 20 minutes at the podium.
There was the time at age 19 when she was extricated from a mangled car without a single scratch, having calmly prayed the Hail Mary as the car flipped over the icy road; there were the many “chance encounters” with faith role models, such as the woman Swensen had met at St. Jude who had lived 17 years after being diagnosed with terminal liver and brain cancer.
But miracles began taking place exponentially after Swensen was confronted with the most difficult challenge of her life: the cancer diagnosis of her husband, John Ronquillo.
“We were waiting on the results of an MRI to see if he would qualify for a treatment trial (after a surgery),” Swensen said. The news was bad: Ronquillo’s cancer was back, as aggressive as ever and there was nothing more his doctors could do for him.
Power of prayer
“I was despondent,” recalled Swensen, who watched her husband in his rocking chair, earnestly praying a nine-hour novena to the Sacred Heart. Swensen closed herself in her bedroom, took a crucifix off the wall and held it close, asking God, “Where are you? You abandoned us!”
“Before I could even process what was happening, the phone rang. It was the doctor who was part of (my husband’s) first surgery,” Swensen said. “He told me, ‘(The cancer) may not be back, and I’ve got a good buddy at MD Anderson who has started a new treatment.” At that moment, Swensen looked at the clock: it was 7:30, the stroke of the final hour of Ronquillo’s novena.
Swensen, who worships at St. Dominic Church, said other miracles followed, such as the single red rose she found during a midnight trip to a chapel – after praying a novena to St. Therese; and the Bible she tripped over while jogging and pleading with God: “Give me something to hold onto!”
“We do not have a total healing yet, but we have hope because we have God,” Swensen said, requesting prayers.
‘Thy will be done’
Breck told the assembled men that he came to a full understanding of a lesson a parish priest had once taught him when Paula, his wife of more than 30 years, died of a blood clot following surgery to repair a broken ankle. The priest had told his flock: “God will comfort you in your affliction; and God will afflict you in your comfort.”
Breck said his life-altering loss had definitely “afflicted me in my comfort,” and had led him to lean heavily on family, friends and, most importantly, faith. He also had to live out the part of the Lord’s Prayer in which the faithful ask God, “Thy will be done”
“I didn’t say, ‘Dear Jesus, let her live.’ I said, ‘Thy will be done,’” Breck said. “I don’t know if that was the right way to pray, but I felt in my heart that I wanted the strength for my sons and my family to go on, he added. “‘(God), give me the strength, the wisdom, to accept your will.’”
Breck, who later remarried and now worships at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Metairie, urged the men in attendance to be instruments of healing to others.
“Comfort the afflicted who have issues their life,” Breck said. “Remember: Don’t pray for ‘Joe’ to get better; pray that the Creator gives Joe and you the strength to deal with life.”
Daniels, a parishioner of St. Philip Neri in Metairie whose career spans 36 years covering Louisiana sports, told the men that his prayer every day is: “What can I do for others?” He said something sports talk show host Jim Rome once said also inspires him daily: “Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.”
“So when you go out after this (event) – we all have our issues, we all have our problems – don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better,” he said.
Daniels, a graduate of Archbishop Rummel High and Loyola University in New Orleans, said he always reminds coaches who have suffered a devastating loss that their “greatest days” are ahead of them, not behind them. He noted that this idea was true even back in the dark, uncertain months after Hurricane Katrina, when the Saints were toying with a relocation to San Antonio. Daniels remembers driving by the Dome every weekday on his way to work to gauge the progress of repairs to the building’s roof.
“Anytime I wondered about if we were going to lose faith as a city, if we were going to lose faith as a region, I looked at those guys on that roof, and I said, ‘You know what? We’re going to be OK,’” Daniels said. “’It’s not doing to be easy, but we’re going be OK.’”
Daniels recalls how his optimism came full circle when the Saints' Tracy Porter intercepted a Peyton Manning pass and ran it back for a touchdown, securing the Saints’ win in Super Bowl XLIV.
“The only thing I could think of was, ‘Four and a half years after our worst, we had our best!' How did that happen?” Daniels said. “Well, in my view, it was God’s will, but also there were a lot of people who were determined that they weren’t going to give up on this place and what it meant.”
The event, sponsored by the archdiocesan Family Life Apostolate, concluded with the sacrament of reconciliation, Eucharistic adoration and Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond.