“There is no coincidence in life.” Bishop Frank Caggiano made that observation a while back in his “Let Me Be Frank” Radio Veritas podcast with his guest, Deacon Greg Kandra, creator of the popular blog, The Deacon’s Bench.
The blogger was recalling a chance encounter he once had with a permanent deacon who worked for the BBC and how their conversation may have been the spark that helped influence his decision sometime later to pursue a vocation to the permanent diaconate.
It was no coincidence, the bishop said. It was part of God’s plan for Greg’s life. (If I refer to Greg familiarly, it’s because I’ve known him and have appreciated his talent since his days as a superb writer for CBS News, and then in his ministry as a deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn.)
Bishop Caggiano’s comment on coincidence caused me to think about an event many years ago involving a man with an impressive life story who had a life-threatening experience.
John Mannix was a lot of things: a family man who, with his wife Wardie, raised and educated eight kids; Jesuit educated, first at Brooklyn Prep, where he was an All Met halfback and a Penn Relays medalist, then at Holy Cross College; a successful businessman in the automobile industry; a public servant for two decades, initially as an elected Connecticut state representative, then as a Governor-appointed state board of education member who became its president, where he championed education for inner-city youth; a trustee of Our Lady of Fatima parish in Wilton; a responsible community leader; and a pilot, an experienced one.
On an August day in 1992, flying his twin-engine Beechcraft on a short flight from Nantucket to Hyannis on Cape Cod, he felt the left engine fail, and moments later, saw the right engine do the same. As he prepared to ditch the plane into Nantucket Sound, he remembered an emergency procedure: he stuck a shoe in the door so he could swim out when he hit the water. Otherwise, the pressure would trap him in the cockpit.
When the Beechcraft met the Sound, it landed about a hundred yards from a lobster boat out of Martha’s Vineyard. The boat angled toward Mannix bobbing in the water, pulled up beside him and crew members yanked him out of the water. The plane sank in about 40 seconds.
Mannix survived, but not unscathed. He suffered broken vertebrae in his lower back. The incident was detailed in the Hartford Courant.
But another detail struck me when I read the whole story. The plane crashed on Aug. 13, two days before the solemn Marian Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The lobster boat that rescued Mannix? It bore a prophetic name: Lady Marion.
Curious how a boat identified with a name derived from Mary suddenly appeared when needed on a day close to a commemoration of Our Blessed Lady? A coincidence? Maybe. A secular naysayer would see no connection. But I like to think that when Mannnix’s life was in peril, the Blessed Lady, knowing that he fingered the beads more than a few times in his lifetime, interceded with her Son on his behalf. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.
A recent Catholic press column by papal biographer George Weigel about Pope John Paul II reasoned along a similar line. Here’s what he wrote:
“On May 13, 1982. Pope John Paul II flew to Portugal on a pilgrimage of thanksgiving for his life having been spared the year before. At the airport welcoming ceremony , the Pope, reflecting that he’d been shot on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, mused that ‘In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences.’ What we think of as coincidence is rather a facet of the divine plan for our lives that we’ve not fit into the proper frame.”
A chance encounter, a crash survival, a defying of a would-be assassin’s bullet—any connection? Hard to think not. As Bishop Caggiano said: “There is no coincidence in life.”
(Frank DeRosa is a Wilton resident and member of Our Lady of Fatima Parish. He is the former the Associate Publisher of The Tablet and director of the Diocesan Public Information Office for the Diocese of Brooklyn. He retired in 2008).