November 25, 2022

A gift of love shows the ‘miracle-working power of prayer’ to change a life, a family

Tony Burkhart and his mother Janine Schorsch hold a prayer blanket that was made by the Ladies Sodality Prayer Shawl Ministry of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County. When Burkhart was at the edge of death in a hospital, Schorsch rushed to bring the blanket to him, wanting her son to be wrapped in prayers and God’s grace. (Submitted photo)

Tony Burkhart and his mother Janine Schorsch hold a prayer blanket that was made by the Ladies Sodality Prayer Shawl Ministry of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County. When Burkhart was at the edge of death in a hospital, Schorsch rushed to bring the blanket to him, wanting her son to be wrapped in prayers and God’s grace. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The phone call was a mother’s worst nightmare.

Janine Schorsch had already been praying to God continually to take care of her grown son, Tony Burkhart, who had been admitted to the hospital a few days earlier with a severe bacterial infection of his liver that continued to threaten his life.

Now her daughter-in-law Samantha was calling, “telling us that all of Tony’s systems were shutting down.”

Frantic, Janine started to rush to the car with her husband Thomas, pausing ever so briefly to grab the “prayer blanket” that a friend had given her earlier for emotional and spiritual support while Janine prayed for and worried about Tony.

As the couple drove from their home in St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright to the hospital across the border in Ohio, so many thoughts filled Janine’s mind during the 30-minute drive.

One led her back to the pure joy of the birth of Tony—her first child to live after one child died in a miscarriage and another was stillborn.

Now, fearing she was losing him, too, “I started praying and begging God for Tony to be all right. There was also fear. I couldn’t imagine losing Tony. I asked God to give me acceptance for his will—and that his will would match mine.”

Arriving at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, Janine and Thomas rushed to Tony’s room with Janine carrying the prayer blanket with her. Seeing her son and believing “he was dying,” Janine desperately wanted to do something to comfort him, to help him, to show her love for him.

“His fever was too high to lay the blanket on him, so I laid it next to him,” she recalls. “He later told me that he could feel a warm energy coming from the blanket, the power of prayer emanating from it. That night, his fever broke, and he lived.

“That was not the end of his fight against the disease, but it was never that severe again.”

Blessings of courage, strength, wisdom, healing and love

Three years have passed since that November night in the hospital. Now 39, Tony says, “I feel stronger physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually than I ever have.”

And the prayer blanket has stayed a constant in his life. He keeps it in a clothes’ closet where he sees it every day. He keeps it as a reminder of his near-death experience and of everything that has happened in his life since then, including drawing closer to God. He keeps it as a reminder of all the people who prayed for him in his long journey of recovery, including the women who made the prayer blanket.

His prayer blanket is one of 854 that have been made since 2014 by the Ladies Sodality Prayer Shawl Ministry of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County. (Related story: A special prayer ministry knits people together in faith)

After each one is finished, a note is attached to it that says, “This prayer shawl was handmade especially for you. As we created it, we tucked prayers inside it with each loop. We asked our Lord to give you many blessings of courage, strength, wisdom, healing and love. As you wrap this prayer shawl around you, may you feel our Heavenly Father’s peace and comfort.”

The care, quality and meticulousness that went into his prayer blanket still touches Tony.

“Just the idea of people creating this physical blanket and praying with each loop they put into it,” he says. “It’s one thing for people to say they’re praying for you—and that is such a blessing—but to be able to look at the physical blanket and have something you can hold and touch, it gave me a mental and emotional warmth.”

He relied upon that support and the feel of the blanket during the six months after he was released from the hospital, six months in which he needed daily antibiotics by IV to continue to recover from the infection of his liver.

“Everything was a struggle for months,” he says. “To have something that physically reminded me of the power of prayer made me feel I’m not alone. I have a blanket of prayers to protect me and rejuvenate me.”

‘It helped bring me a lot closer to God’

Tony also relied upon that support and the symbolism of the blanket as he and Samantha worked together to add balance and perspective to his life and their family.

Before the infection forced him into the hospital, Tony was working 80-90 hours a week in his music recording studio. He has trimmed it down to a 40-hour work week.

“It made me realize how mortal we all are, and it gave me a glimpse that there will be a time when I do pass,” Tony says about his health crisis. “It’s helped me see the bigger picture of life and to take steps in my life to always keep my focus on the bigger picture.”

That picture includes more family time with Samantha and their two daughters, 11-year-old Eden and 7-year-old Brooke.

“We see each other more because of the changes in my work schedule,” he says. “It’s really hard for children to grasp the magnitude of what happened, but they don’t take their parents for granted. They don’t take life for granted. They do see the bigger picture. We make a point to pray with them every day. We constantly teach them that God is the reason for all the blessings we have.”

His relationship with God has also changed dramatically in the past three years.

“It helped bring me a lot closer to God,” says Tony, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Harrison, Ohio. “It was a blessing in disguise. I felt God was reminding me that he was there for me. It made me re-prioritize—to put God first, my wife and family second. I’ve also reached out to the friends who have prayed for me, and I’ve reconnected with them.”

‘The miracle-working power of prayer’

As he looks back upon the last three years, Tony is grateful for all the people who have touched his life.

“Through the prayers of many people, the medicine, and the excellent doctors, nurses and people involved in my recovery, there have been a lot of angels.”

That list especially includes the women of the All Saints’ prayer shawl ministry.

“I’m so grateful for what they do. I hope they know how many lives they’re changing and how many people they’re helping by doing this,” he says. “It truly is a blessing. I really appreciate them putting their prayers into the universe and helping people during difficult times.

“I still get my prayer blanket out if I’m having a hard time or if I need some prayer time to myself. It helps me remember the big picture. It reminds me of the power of prayer, the power of God, and how far I’ve come since that whole incident.”

His mother is ever thankful, too, for the gift of the prayer blanket that was initially given to her.

“It was like God brought it to me so I would have it for Tony,” Janine says. “Our God is truly an awesome God. Physical healing can occur; our temporal bodies may be cured. The prayer blankets have been a channel for so much more: the acceptance of God’s plan for us, the love of God being poured out through the prayer blanket ministry, the drawing of souls closer to God.

“That is the true beauty—the miracle- working power of prayer.” †

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