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:
- Start showing the witnesses photos of priests with a reputation for holiness.
- Include photos of priests who are no longer alive.
- 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.
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?
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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.
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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.