Was it divine intervention that saved the lives of four Northeast Philadelphia nuns and a Delaware County man?
The five were trapped inside the twisted metal of their two cars after they collided this month in Garnet Valley. Rescue workers, including two dressed as Santa, cut their way through the horrific wreckage to rescue them. The nuns were returning to the city after a visit to Longwood Gardens to see the holiday displays.
Bethel Township Police Chief Tom Sharp said he expected fatalities when he arrived on the scene shortly after 7 p.m. Dec. 10.
"They're lucky to be alive," Sharp said. When asked whether he felt the presence of God that night, the chief was more specific: "I truly believe that's why they're alive."
Sister Barbara Jean Wojnicki, the superior of the Holy Family Province of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, based in Chicago, said, "I'm calling it a Christmas miracle, even with Santa there." St. Nick, she said, likely was "coincidence or providence, since it was the season for it." More seriously, Sister Barbara Jean said the survivors were a true testament to the power of prayer and the dedication of emergency workers.
The nuns, from St. Katherine of Siena in Northeast Philadelphia, were identified as Sisters Boguslawa, Mary Anthony, Regina, and John. The four were in a 2003 Buick LeSabre heading east on Route 322. Near Foulk Road, a 1997 Honda Civic driven by a 21-year-old Delaware County man was going in the opposite direction when it crossed the center line, Sharp said. That driver, whose name has not been released, was alone.
All five involved in the accident were seriously injured. One nun remains in a rehabilitation center. The others were released and are recovering. It was unclear whether the driver in the other car remained hospitalized.
Sharp said that when he arrived at the crash scene, he wondered how many had died. Quickly, it became an accident like no other, as the nuns all asked about the driver of the other car. They told police to tell the driver that they were praying for him.
Local firefighters, who were handing out candy canes as they collected Christmas toys for children, rushed to help. After the nuns were rescued, they requested personal items from their vehicle, including a Bible, a rosary and a picture of Pope John Paul II.
Sister Mary Anthony told CBS3, "It was really a Christmas miracle that all of us are here. We just feel blessed to still be here."
Sister Barbara Jean said that before they start driving, the nuns always recite the "Prayer to Our Lady" for safe travel.
Sharp said the accident remains under investigation as local police work with the Delaware County District Attorney's Office.
The nuns serve families in schools, hospitals, parishes, and social-service agencies.
"All of our sisters express their sincere gratitude for the outpouring of prayers, concern, and support during this challenging time. We also ask for you to continue to respect our sisters' privacy as they heal," the order posted on its website.
A Dec. 21 Holy Family Facebook post reads: "God's hand was there. He was there protecting each person involved in the accident and guiding the first responders and medical staff who helped care for the needs of all those injured."
The post, written by Sister Barbara Jean, called pictures of the accident "shocking" and added, "With God's grace and your many prayers, our sisters continue their journey to recovery."
Sister Barbara Jean said in an interview, "It could have been so much worse. I guess God still has work for them to do."
Facebook posts have generated hundreds of comments expressing concern for the nuns.
Messages may be sent to the nuns online at PhiladelphiaSisters@nazarethcsfn.org, or by mail to Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, 2755 Holme Ave., Philadelphia 19152, to the attention of Allison Taylor.