November 5, 2021

Drawing closer to God

‘God makes his glory known’ through two children and the people who pray for them

Helen Stephon enjoys a loving moment with her super-hero, cape-wearing grandson, Theo Quillen, who holds a copy of a book about Blessed Carlo Acutis. Stephon, her extended family and others have drawn closer to God through the connection they see between Theo and Blessed Carlo. (Submitted photo)

Helen Stephon enjoys a loving moment with her super-hero, cape-wearing grandson, Theo Quillen, who holds a copy of a book about Blessed Carlo Acutis. Stephon, her extended family and others have drawn closer to God through the connection they see between Theo and Blessed Carlo. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: The Criterion invited our readers to share the special moments in their lives—or the one thing—that has brought them closer to God. Here are some of their stories.)
 

First of three parts
 

By John Shaughnessy

It was a time of heartbreak for Helen Stephon, a time when the grandmother first learned that her 3-year-old grandson was diagnosed with cancer.

The diagnosis of leukemia for Theo Quillen came more than a year ago, on Oct. 1, 2020.

Knowing the heartbreak could be overwhelming, Stephon instead chose to focus on hope for her grandson. And she found a special reason to do so nine days later.

On Oct. 10, 2020, Pope Francis had beatified Carlo Acutis, a youth who had dedicated his life to documenting and sharing eucharistic miracles from around the world before he died at 15.

“He and Theo have the exact same diagnosis,” Stephon says. “Theo just celebrated his fourth birthday. Carlo needs one more miracle to reach sainthood. We thought the miracle could come from the south side of Indianapolis. So everybody started to pray. While we were praying, our faith increased.”

It was a time when she found herself drawing closer to God, a time when people also put their faith in action for Theo and his family.

The faith communities of St. Jude—the home parish of Theo’s family—and St. Barnabas—the home parish of Stephon—were at the heart of it all. The two parishes donated 700 rosaries and gave them to every student and teacher at St. Jude School, where five of Theo’s siblings attend.

“In February, we made 1,000 prayer cards for Carlo and sent them home with the St. Jude students,” Stephon says. “The Roncalli High School [in Indianapolis] lunch ladies pray the prayer to Blessed Carlo for his canonization every day.

“They also pass out prayer cards to all students who wish to commit to prayer or just to learn about Carlo. My favorite quote of his is, ‘The Eucharist is your highway to heaven.’ ”

Beyond the prayers, friends held a pizza fundraiser and have made meals for Jet and Katie Quillen and their seven children. A heating and cooling company also installed a new furnace in their home.

Stephon views the past year as a time of “prayer and practicing virtues.”

“Prayer took us all on the quickest path to the heart of Jesus,” she says.

So has Theo’s attitude. One of Stephon’s friends made a superhero cape for Theo, and he wears it whenever he goes to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis for chemotherapy treatments.

“He really is a superhero, so brave and strong,” says his grandmother. “When Theo came home from the hospital, he also wanted to pray for all those praying for him.”

The prayer sessions with Theo led to a joyful ritual in which the family began to “fish for souls,” Stephon says.

“We purchased a fishbowl and invited all to leave their intentions. Weekly, we would go outside to the fire pit, burn the intentions and our prayers would go straight to heaven. Then we would fill the fishbowl back up again with new intentions. After our weekly prayer circle,we always celebrated by eating goldfish crackers.”

There has also been the celebration of Theo’s fourth birthday and a great gift.

“We are happy to say that Theo is in remission,” his grandmother says. “We pray to Carlo that he will stay that way. Theo is in maintenance, which means monthly trips to Riley and oral chemo for the next year. We pray that his cancer will never return. 

“It is in times like this that God makes his glory known.” †


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