Alexis Carrel was born into a Catholic family in a small town in France in 1873. He attended Mass regularly and went to Catholic schools run by Jesuits. Unfortunately, by the time he went to college he was an agnostic. He completely rejected the Catholic faith and wasn’t even sure if there was a God.
However, he wouldn’t stay that way. And an extraordinary miracle from Lourdes helped lead him back.
[See also: The Amazing Deathbed Conversion of Oscar Wilde]
As an agnostic, Carrel studied biology and medicine and went on to become a world famous scientist. He developed a way to allow organs to live outside the body, a huge step toward organ transplants, and he developed new techniques for cleaning wounds. Most importantly, though, he invented techniques for suturing large blood vessels, which earned him a Nobel Prize in 1912.
This is why his opinion about alleged miracles at Lourdes mattered so much.
Although the original apparitions at Lourdes had occurred in 1858, people in the early 20th century (as they are today) were still claiming to be cured by the water there. Despite the large number of alleged cures, the French medical establishment was firmly against the possibility that anything supernatural was happening.
Carrel himself was also a strong skeptic. That is, until he met a girl named Marie Bailly.
He was on a train to Lourdes with a doctor friend to see the hysteria for himself in 1902 when he came across Bailly, who apparently had something called tuberculous peritonitis. It was a fatal disease. She was only half-conscious and had a swelled belly. Trying to help, Carrel gave her morphine, but said he didn’t think she’d even survive the rest of the trip to Lourdes. Other doctors on the train came to the same conclusion.
When they arrived, her friends carried her to the grotto, and three pitchers of water from Lourdes was poured on her. With each pour, she said felt a searing pain throughout her body. To the amazement of the doctors present, her belly started to flatten back to a normal size almost immediately and her pulse returned to a normal rate.
By that evening, she was well enough to eat a normal dinner.
The scientist in Carrel didn’t know what to make of it all. He had to admit that everything he knew about medicine made it seem like her cure was indeed miraculous. But he knew that publicly claiming to have witnessed a miracle would ruin his career. So he just stayed quiet about it all. He didn’t even want people to know he had gone to Lourdes.
However, Bailly’s cure quickly became national news. News outlets reported that Carrel had been present, but that he didn’t think there was anything miraculous about what happened. This wasn’t exactly accurate, so he was forced to publish a public reply. In it, he scolded religious believers for generally being too quick to claim something unusual was miraculous, but he also criticized the medical establishment for ruling out the possibility of miracles, saying that Bailly may indeed have been cured miraculously.
This was a public scandal! How could someone so steeped in science and so accomplished in medicine say that Bailly’s cure might have been miraculous? His career in France was over. Unable to work in hospitals any longer, he moved to Canada, and eventually the United States. He joined the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research in New York and spent the rest of his career there. (Marie Bailly, for her part, joined a convent.)
So he had been convinced the woman’s cure could have been miraculous – what did that mean for him spiritually?
He didn’t know what to do with it exactly, since fully admitting to himself that he had witnessed a true miracle at Lourdes would require him to rethink his religious beliefs (or lack thereof).
It took him 25 years of working it out in his heart and mind, but finally, in 1939, he decided to meet with a Catholic priest in order to seriously consider returning to the Church. They became friends, and three years later he announced, “I believe in the existence of God, in the immortality of the soul, in Revelation and in all the Catholic Church teaches.”
And just two years after that, he died. But not without receiving Last Rites on his deathbed.
God had brought him back just in time.
Pray for Alexis Carrel, may he rest in peace!