Cured of multiple sclerosis after 'a whispering breeze'
Marion Carroll, who has been resident in Athlone all of her life, was shot to international prominence 20 years ago when she was instantly cured of multiple sclerosis during a visit to Knock Shrine. Anyone who knew Marion in those days would say that she was only a short time from death, on that fateful day in September 1989 that she visited Knock. She had endured the slow loss of her bodily movements, until she was totally paralysed and existing from wheelchair to bed, at her family home in Carton Drive. But through it all, Marion maintained an amazing mental strength from her Catholic faith and her prayers to God and the Blessed Virgin. Marion is the eldest of the well-known Athlone family, the McCormacks, who for several decades ran the SOS Shoe Shop on Northgate Street. Marion has three brothers - Jimmy, Shane and David, and a sister Jacinta. Life for Marion started originally in Ave Maria Terrace in the 1950s, and she went to school in Ss Peter's and Paul's. As a child, Marion was caught up in the Tuberculosis (TB) epidemic of the 50s, and following her First Holy Communion she was sent to Peamount Hospital. When she was cured of TB, Marion's late father, Joe McCormack, in thanksgiving for her survival, organised the building of the holy grotto in the Batteries. From she was a child Marion had a devotion to the Blessed Virgin and was a member of the Legion of Mary, spending a lot of her spare time in church. Marion had a great love of praying the Rosary from the time of her youth; when she was on her own a lot doing housework in her parents' home. "All I ever wanted to be in life was a wife and mother, and I loved domestic science in school," said Marion. "I left early and went working in a factory around Monksland, which made gadgets for aeroplanes and I used to cycle there every morning." Later on Marion worked in Case's Shop in the town centre, and following a short work stint in the UK, she returned to Athlone to work in Gentex. She met her future husband Jimmy Carroll, who comes from Co Offaly around Christmas 1970 in the Crescent Ballroom, Athlone. They married over 18 months later and their wedding was the first that took place in the Newpark House Hotel, Kiltoom. Marion had a bad pregnancy with their first child, Anthony, and following his birth, she started falling over, and thought she had a slipped disc. "It was the early 1970s and MS wasn't known about, so then I gave birth to Cora, and I was finally diagnosed in 1978," said Marion. "I'd get good and bad times and got remissions, but went down completely from 1985, and then got to the stage that I was at home completely paralysed." Marion strongly praised Jimmy throughout her interview with the Westmeath Independent, and said that he used to regularly get up at night to look after her, and in the morning he got Cora and Anthony ready for school. "He'd cycle the whole way home and never once complained, so I was very lucky," she said. Marion kept her faith throughout it all, and never faltered, and felt that God didn't put MS upon her, and she also said that "we had messed up our environment, and blame him for everything". She always thanked God for having such a great husband and children and felt that there was many people out there who didn't have what she had in a marriage. That Sunday in September 1989 everything changed beyond recognition for the Carroll family. She was in great trauma most of the time, due to getting many kidney infections, and felt she was coming to a crossroads in her life. Marion, who was wheelchair and bed bound, was brought to Knock that day by a group of friends who worked at St Vincent's Hospital, Athlone. She went simply to give Jimmy, Anthony and Cora a break for a few hours, and while she had always prayed that she would be able to manage her burden of MS, she said that she had never ever prayed to be cured. She said that she had always trusted the Lord in whether she had lived or died. In Knock Marion was placed, while strapped to a stretcher, under the statue of Our Lady of Knock, right in front of the mass altar. Bishop Colm O'Reilly gave her the Anointing of the Sick Sacrament, but accidentally called her 'Mary' and for some unknown reason to herself, Marion got restless and was annoyed that the Bishop had got her name wrong. "I received Holy Communion, and I got a very bad pain in my heels, and when the pain went there, every pain in my body went," said Marion. "I got a beautiful feeling inside me, and it was like a whispering breeze had told me, that if the straps were taken off my stretcher, I'd be able to get up and walk." She asked for the straps to be taken off, and to pacify her, one friend took off the straps. "My two legs swung around and I stood up, and it was like I was never sick," said Marion. She sat and drank tea on the journey home, and when she came near the driveway in Carton Drive, Jimmy came out the front door with a wheelchair, and Marion walked down the steps of the ambulance. She had put on her surgical collar to surprise Jimmy, although she did not need it anymore. Marion was accompanied that day by Athlone resident nurse, Ann Flanagan, and emergency medical technician Gerry Glynn. The next day they both visited Marion, and Ann remembers her making tea for them. "She walked around the house, a little bit furtively but she got around and we just couldn't believe it," said Ann. "It was an unreal experience. Her muscles should have been lax after being immobilised for such a long period of time, but she could now put one foot in front of the other and support herself." She had been completely cured of multiple sclerosis and over the 20 years since, much deliberation and investigation has gone on between Knock Shrine and the Vatican and it is believed that the cure will soon be declared a miracle! "In some ways I miss them years, because Jimmy sheltered me from the world, but now I'm part of a different world, because the Lord has given me my ministries," said Marion. "Physically there is not a loss on me, except I'm getting older now, but I can't explain it, it's like I was never sick." Marion's ministries involve her travelling all over the world and speaking in churches, schools, and on television and radio programmes, about prayer, her experiences of MS and the events of that day in 1989. "No matter what you have, you will find some comfort from prayer and if you get the cure fair enough, but you have got to have peace within your heart, and acceptance," said Marion, when talking about illness. Marion promoted Athlone recently on the top rated 'Dateline' programme on the US NBC network, when a TV crew filmed her in town for the programme. "When we finished filming in Knock, I brought them around Athlone, Clonmacnois and Hodson Bay," said Marion. "We talked about Athlone and the River Shannon, and I'm so proud of my town. I travel a lot on my ministries, but I like being at home as much as possible. I like doing what I'm doing and don't need to be recognised as the Marion Carroll, because when the Lord called me he gave me a mop and a bucket, and not a crown."