Could Fr. Lukas Etlin be the Missouri “Mystery Priest”?

MYSTERY SOLVED! — Please see Update #2 at the bottom of the post.

By now, you’ve most likely heard the story of the “Mystery Priest” from the car accident scene in Eastern Missouri. If not, here’s the original story from USA Today.

Phil Lawler of Catholic Culture has suggested how the priest might be identified:

  1. Start showing the witnesses photos of priests with a reputation for holiness.
  2. Include photos of priests who are no longer alive.
  3. Prepare for a shock.

Interestingly, we were at Conception Abbey in Missouri last week for deacon formation. As you might imagine, this was a hot topic of discussion with both the deacon candidates and the monks. One of our professors indicated he might have a clue about the identity of the mystery priest, which hinges upon Lawler’s suggestion. He believes it may be Servant of God, Father Lukas Etlin, O.S.B., a monk of Conception Abbey, who died in a car accident in 1927.

Is this simply a case of nepotism? I don’t think so; let’s examine this case, working from the premise that this is a supernatural event. It is reasonably well-established that no priest would have had access to the accident scene. Also, the priest does not appear in any of the approximately 80 photos of the accident scene.

First, there is the obvious Missouri connection. The accident happened near Center, MO. Conception Abbey is located in Conception, MO, less than four hours away.

Second, check out the computer-generated composite sketch of the priest from witness accounts. Note that the deputy sheriff at the scene says it looks nothing like the priest, with whom he interacted for about 20 minutes, even shook his hand. Rather, he described him as actor Walter Matthau with a less pronounced nose.

Could Servant of God, Father Lukas Etlin be the "Mystery Priest" from the Missouri accident scene?

Left – Composite sketch of the “Mystery Priest” (credit: Randall Sands); Center – Fr. Lukas Etlin, younger (credit: Eman Bonnici); Right – Fr. Lukas Etlin, older (credit: Eman Bonnici).

Okay, Fr. Etlin isn’t a dead ringer for either description, but that’s sort of the point. Neither one rules him out, either. Never mind that eye-witnesses often differ greatly in their descriptions. Consider that if this was a supernatural event, the priest could have appeared differently to different people, younger to some and older to others, depending upon what each witness needed to see.

Third, the deputy sheriff described the priest as having an accent he could not place. Fr. Etlin was born in Sarnen, the capital of Canton Obwalden in the foothills of the Swiss Alps.

Fourth, Fr. Etlin died as the victim of a car accident.

Fifth, the deputy sheriff noted that after anointing and praying with Katie Lentz, the injured driver who was trapped in the crushed vehicle, the priest spent time praying the rosary at the accident scene. When Fr. Etlin’s body was found following the accident that took his life, he was still clutching a piece of his rosary.

Sixth, the deputy sheriff described the priest as being perhaps 60 – 65 years old. Fr. Etlin was 61 years old when he died.

Finally, Fr. Etlin has done this before. According to Dom Mark Daniel Kirby:

I made a novena to Father Lukas last month beginning on November 16th. On the evening of December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception, I was given a picture of Father Lukas. I slipped it into the pocket of my habit before driving home. Less than fifteen minutes later I was the astonished and grateful surviver of a terrible automobile crash. No bumps, bruises, scratches, aches, or pains.

I have it on good authority that our professor has contacted the original reporter with Fr. Lukas Etlin’s information and photo. We’ll see what the coming days and weeks bring, if anything.

We’re just putting it out there. YOU be the judge. Thoughts?

*  *  *

UPDATE #1: We found another story we’d like to pass along. From the comments at Dom Mark’s blog, Mary wrote that she went on two retreats with the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Clyde MO, where Fr. Etlin was chaplain and is now buried. She spent time praying at Fr. Etlin’s grave and received the last copy of Fr. Etlin’s Eucharistic Adoration book left at the convent. Some time later, Mary fell asleep while driving at 70 mph from St. Louis, MO. Her SUV spun out of control, and ended up in a ditch. Mary, like Dom Mark, was strangely unhurt. She attributed her good fortune to God’s grace and Fr. Etlin’s intercession.

Another commenter wrote: “[T]he seminarian scholarship program [Fr. Etlin] started helped 2800 men become priests … including 3 cardinals, 5 archbishops, 11 bishops, 9 auxiliary bishops and 14 abbots.”

Finally, if you would like to pray a novena to Fr. Lukas Etlin, click here to get the prayer.

*  *  *

UPDATE #2: (August 12, 2013; 3:30 PM CDT) Well, the speculation may now end. The “Mystery Priest” has been identified as Irish-born Father Patrick Dowling, of the Diocese of Jefferson City. However, we have sincerely appreciated the opportunity to introduce so many people to Fr. Lukas Etlin — a remarkable, holy priest.

Get Updates

Get the latest posts from The Practicing Catholic, delivered straight to your inbox!

Comments

  1. says

    OK, I’m dying to know who this is too, but people need to stop spreading around that computer-generated sketch. It wasn’t done by an eye-witness – it was done by someone who just ‘had a feeling’ about what the person looked like.

    From the descriptions I’ve heard/read – the man was 5’6″-6′ tall in clerical garb, wearing an antique-looking silver pectoral cross. The man had and olive complexion and dark, curly hair with silver accents. He was approximately 60-65 years old, and spoke with a very thick accent. He was there for about 1/2 hour and prayed the Rosary. One person said he looked a bit like Walter Mattheau, and there was another actor named – the name escapes me right now. Some described dark wire-rimmed glasses. But, in any case, I don’t think Father Lucas Etkin fits the description.

    I was thinking Padre Pio, but the pectoral cross (indicating a bishop or higher) and clerical garb don’t jive. Bishop Sheen was also a thought, but he wouldn’t have spoken with a thick accent, and he doesn’t look anything like Walter Mattheau.

  2. says

    Bottom line here …. Joel and I hope those reading this will take the time to learn a little more about Fr. Etlin. He was indeed a very holy priest whose body of work lives on today in that area of Missouri and beyond. We are beneficiaries of that work and are grateful for his priesthood. And given we drive from Des Moines, Iowa to Conception Abbey, Missouri once/month for deacon formation, I have decided to give up my front passenger seat and allow Fr. Etlin to ride shotgun hereon. We now have a powerful prayer partner to accompany our travels to and from the Abbey for our last year of formation!

    • says

      The first police officer on scene spoke to the mystery priest for about 20 minutes and even shook his hand. The officer described the priest as having an accent that he could not identify. As Bishop Finn was born and raised in Missouri, the unplaceable accent rules him out. Furthermore, none of the people at the scene recognized the priest. It is unlikely that all of them were unfamiliar with the Missouri bishop.

      The officer also stated that the priest wore black shirt and pants with a clerical collar, along with a pectoral cross. The priest was short (about 5’6″) and had an olive complection. The last also seems to rule out Finn.

  3. Sue Loniewski says

    I agree with Dama Lewis. That picture was considered to be no where near accurate according to one eye witness. I don’t know who it was but…he was where God wanted him to be at the time. I love to learn about holy people who may become saints but we have to stay true otherwise how will people believe us?

    • says

      Hi Sue. Thanks for your comment, but I have to wonder if you and Dama actually read the article I wrote. If so, you both seem to have missed the following:

      Okay, Fr. Etlin isn’t a dead ringer for either description, but that’s sort of the point. Neither one rules him out, either. [emphasis added]

      The speculation about Fr. Etlin is not based upon the composite but rather a multitude of other factors.

  4. Tim Lilley says

    Since I first heard about and read coverage of the event, one priest has been on my mind. I believe it was Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who was born and raised just a few hours away in central Illinois – and who does resemble Walter Matthau with a less-pronounced nose. Someone should show the deputy sheriff a photo of Archbishop Sheen, I think.

    • says

      We’ve also heard speculation about Josemaría Escrivá who Lisa has a growing devotion to (his feast day is on her b’day). What we love about this story is suddenly so many people are willing to believe in the supernatural, and it has a specifically Catholic focus. The Church, and the priesthood in particular, can use some positive buzz for a change.

      • says

        Yes from the time I read the original story, I thought strongly of Father Josemaria. Yes. thank you for your communications on this matter. It just goes to show how we need God’s power in a world that is riddled with atheism. God bless.

  5. says

    Joel and Lisa – Thanks for sharing this with us. I am going to share this on my social media sites. This story really has captured a lot of people here in the US, even my non-Catholic friends are talking about it.

  6. says

    I’m not sure if we would ever truly know who this priest was. An angel? A saint? A bilocating priest we do not know of? or just a priest out for a troll, who found himself in the right place and the right time to exercise his ministry and now wishes to remain anonymous? Who knows, however to me the strangest thing about this story has been overlooked so far, if this was a priest which now wants to remain anonymous, what was he doing strolling about with a vial of “Oleum Infirmorum” (Oil of the Sick) in is pocket? I find this very strange, unless he was on his way to visit a sick person. This would justify the possession of Oleum, but this would also imply that the Archdiocese knew who this priest is, since they need the faculties of the Bishop to perform the sacraments. It was reported already that after consulting with all their priests, the archdiocese confirmed, none of these was the Mystery Priest..

    In any event, I’m just happy for Katie Lentz, and grateful to this priest because it gave me some good material for yesterday’s homily.

    Here it is the link in case you are wandering what I said:

    http://www.deaconharbey.com/2013/08/19th-sunday-of-ordinary-time-cycle-c.html

    “Viva Cristo Rey!!”
    Deacon Harbey Santiago

  7. Patriot says

    Deacon Harbey, I’m sure you know from your studies that ANY priest may administer the Sacraments to anyone in danger of death without regard to faculties granted by the Ordinary – and, surprisingly, this even applies to priests who have been laicized and do not normally have ANY faculties to administer ANY sacrament.

  8. Ed says

    Thank heavens for Phil Lawler telling us how to ID the priest (we already know how…) I am sure there will be lots of ideas popping up. We should be thankful the story has hits the major news networks, and that God chose a collared priest here to give us hope for the future.

  9. Marianne says

    I think it doesn’t matter really one way or the other, but that it does matter in so far as it causes hearts to consider the possibility of miracles – at time when not too many people believe in miracles anymore – including the resurrection of Jesus …

    It’s interesting to see all the interest for this story, including those who might not normally be interested in spiritual things …

    So maybe this is being used by God to get us all to be more open to the possibility of God’s supernatural ways and the most important of all, eternal life …

    Sometimes I think miracles are not so much about attending to our physical needs as to our spiritual needs :)

    … what do you think?

    • Marianne says

      Mystery Solved …

      Turns out, it was the prayers of a living priest who happened to be in the area at the time of the accident that were offered …

      Some may be disappointed to hear it was not an angel or Saint, but to me, it still remains an amazing story of an encounter with God, by a man of the clothe :)

      Here is the report from Catholic News Agency:

      Though the highway was blocked off, “I did not leave with the other cars,” Fr. Dowling commented.

      He parked as close as he could,

      “and walked the remaining 150 yards. I asked the Sheriff if a priest might be needed … on checking, he permitted me to approach.”

      “When the young lady asked that I pray her leg stop hurting, I did so. She asked me to pray aloud and I did briefly … the rescue workers needed space, and would not have appreciated distraction. I stepped to one side and said my rosary silently until the lady was taken from the car.”

      Once Lentz was removed from her vehicle, he explained,

      “I then shook hands with the Sheriff, and thanked him, as I left. I have to admire the calmness of everybody involved.”

      “The Highway Patrol sergeant was amazingly calm and completely in control. Everybody worked with the harmony of a Swiss watch.”

      CNA spoke with Fr. Dowling Aug. 12, and he explained that he gave Lentz Anointing of the Sick as well as absolution.

      He affirmed that it was in the normal duties of a priest, “except that there was something extraordinary it sounds like, in the sequence of events that coincided in time with the Anointing.”

      “You must remember, there were many people praying there, many, many people … and they were all praying obviously for healing and for her safety.”

      “I was probably part of the answer to their prayers, I came by and Anointed and absolved, (but) I didn’t say another word … I did not say anything like the machinery would begin to work or they would succeed in getting her out of the car.”

      “That did not come from my lips, though two people heard it.”

      Fr. Dowling was driving by Center while on his way from having said Mass in Ewing.

      A native of Ireland, Fr. Dowling was ordained a priest for the Jefferson City diocese in 1982.

      He has served at several parishes in the diocese, as well as its two mission parishes in Peru.

      Fr. Dowling currently serves in prison ministry and serves the Spanish-speaking population of the Diocese of Jefferson City.

      http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/mystery-priest-in-missouri-rescue-comes-forward/

  10. maria says

    whoever this mystery priest, for me he is from heaven just like an angel who come down on earth to rescue someone especially for those who is asking for intercession. Priest’s job is to pray all the souls.

  11. maria says

    The Diocese of Jefferson City identified the priest who assisted at the site of an Aug. 4 crash that injured a Quincy woman. He is Father Patrick Dowling .

  12. Marian says

    Mystery Solved …

    Turns out, it was the prayers of a living priest who happened to be in the area at the time of the accident that were offered …

    Some may be disappointed to hear it was not an angel or Saint, but to me, it still remains an amazing story of an encounter with God, by a man of the clothe :)

    Here is the report from Catholic News Agency:

    Though the highway was blocked off, “I did not leave with the other cars,” Fr. Dowling commented.

    He parked as close as he could,

    “and walked the remaining 150 yards. I asked the Sheriff if a priest might be needed … on checking, he permitted me to approach.”

    “When the young lady asked that I pray her leg stop hurting, I did so. She asked me to pray aloud and I did briefly … the rescue workers needed space, and would not have appreciated distraction. I stepped to one side and said my rosary silently until the lady was taken from the car.”

    Once Lentz was removed from her vehicle, he explained,

    “I then shook hands with the Sheriff, and thanked him, as I left. I have to admire the calmness of everybody involved.”

    “The Highway Patrol sergeant was amazingly calm and completely in control. Everybody worked with the harmony of a Swiss watch.”

    CNA spoke with Fr. Dowling Aug. 12, and he explained that he gave Lentz Anointing of the Sick as well as absolution.

    He affirmed that it was in the normal duties of a priest, “except that there was something extraordinary it sounds like, in the sequence of events that coincided in time with the Anointing.”

    “You must remember, there were many people praying there, many, many people … and they were all praying obviously for healing and for her safety.”

    “I was probably part of the answer to their prayers, I came by and Anointed and absolved, (but) I didn’t say another word … I did not say anything like the machinery would begin to work or they would succeed in getting her out of the car.”

    “That did not come from my lips, though two people heard it.”

    Fr. Dowling was driving by Center while on his way from having said Mass in Ewing.

    A native of Ireland, Fr. Dowling was ordained a priest for the Jefferson City diocese in 1982.

    He has served at several parishes in the diocese, as well as its two mission parishes in Peru.

    Fr. Dowling currently serves in prison ministry and serves the Spanish-speaking population of the Diocese of Jefferson City.

    http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/mystery-priest-in-missouri-rescue-comes-forward/

Trackbacks

Join the conversation!