‘Mystery Priest’ Who Appeared at Scene of Accident is Revealed to be… an Actual Priest

A couple of days ago, I posted a story about 19-year-old Katie Lentz, who was hit by a drunk driver, got dangerously pinned down in her own vehicle, and came ever-so-close to death.

The interesting thing was that the firefighters’ equipment wasn’t working properly — they could do some stuff but not fully extract Katie from her car — and as they waited for backup, a mysterious Catholic priest seemed to come out of nowhere, even with the perimeter blocked off (!!!), prayed with Katie, used some anointed oil, and left before anyone could get his name.

Suddenly, the backup equipment arrived and was able to get Katie out of harm’s way and into a hospital.

Crazy, right?!

So who was that priest?

Firefighters and friends assumed he was an angel:

“I think that this time I’ve actually witnessed a guardian angel at work,” Jeremiah See of the New London Fire Department told ABC News.

“Whether it was just a priest as an angel, or an actual angel coming down,” Lentz’s friend Travis Wiseman said, “he was an angel to everyone and to Katie.”

Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, offered a not-at-all-ridiculous idea for identifying him:

Who was that priest? I don’t know. But I do have a suggestion on how he might be identified:

  1. Start showing the witnesses photos of priests with a reputation for holiness.
  2. Include photos of priests who are no longer alive.
  3. Prepare for a shock.

Riiiiight. Because a search for a mystery priest should always begin with a list of dead ones.

Catholic blogger Joel Schmidt was far more direct when quoting his professor (emphasis his):

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.

Yep. Dead monk. That’s *gotta* be the answer.

Today, we found out — can you believe it?! — that there’s a perfectly natural answer to the mystery.

The Mystery Priest was Rev. Patrick Dowling, a living, breathing Catholic priest who is apparently not dead and in fact very much alive:

Rev. Patrick Dowling

Though the highway was blocked off, “I did not leave with the other cars,” Fr. Dowling commented. He parked as close as he could, “and walked the remaining 150 yards. I asked the Sheriff if a priest might be needed … on checking, he permitted me to approach.”

“You must remember, there were many people praying there, many, many people … and they were all praying obviously for healing and for her safety.”

“I was probably part of the answer to their prayers, I came by and Anointed and absolved, (but) I didn’t say another word … I did not say anything like the machinery would begin to work or they would succeed in getting her out of the car.

“That did not come from my lips, though two people heard it.”

So…. case closed. It wasn’t an angel or a dead priest. Just a nice guy who was in the right place at the right time, doing what he thought would be helpful. Nothing supernatural or mysterious about it. (Though commenters at some news sites still want to argue otherwise.)

Here’s some food for thought, though: See that picture of Dowling above? Compare that to the composite sketch that was drawn of the “mystery priest”:

Especially in stressful situations, we are not very good eyewitnesses, are we?

(Thanks to Katie for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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