Little Audrey was the youngest of four children born to Linda and Steve Santo on December 19, 1983. During Linda’s pregnancy she developed sores on the soles of her feet that made it nearly impossible for her to walk. When her father Steve arrived at the hospital room and Audrey was being held by her mother, he noticed that the sores on her feet had already healed. Many considered this the first miracle of our future saint.
A couple of days later, Audrey arrived home in an over-sized Christmas stocking, a special Christmas present to her mom and dad, and her older siblings, Jennifer, Matthew, and Stephen. Perhaps it was their influence or just Audrey’s nature, she was precocious as a child, talking in full sentences and able to read and write before she celebrated her third birthday. She would write all the letters of her name, and her favorite number to write was ‘8’ a difficult task given the need to turn one’s wrist in both directions, not once, but twice.
Audrey loved to go to Mass and would turn and stare at people who talked aloud in church during Mass. She was almost ethereal, sitting next to someone on the couch, and before anyone could see her move, she was through the door and into another room in the blink of an eye. She had two favorite friends besides her mom and dad and siblings: Spike her dog and her cat, Bugsy. When she would try and cross the street to visit Baby Katherine, her neighbor, Spike would pull her back by the seat of her pants. She would come into the house whining that he had bit her behind. Her mother, knowing what had happened, would comment that she was not behaving and he was protecting her.
The ‘Audrey Event’ – the near-drowning in the pool
On August 9, 1987, when Audrey was three years old, she was playing in the driveway with Stephen, her brother. Stephen went into the house, but Audrey didn’t follow. In a very brief time, the family realized everyone was there, but Audrey. Searching frantically they found she had moved from the driveway to the backyard and was face down in the family swimming pool. To this day, no one can figure out how she got there since it had a ladder (which was in the up position) and was inaccessible.
Audrey recovered but was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Arriving at one local hospital, where her pediatrician providentially was present for another patient, the decision was made to transfer Audrey across the city to a larger teaching hospital, with the idea that they would be better equipped to handle this critical situation. Unfortunately, it would turn a difficult situation tragic. Once she arrived at the next hospital, a neurosurgeon, following protocols at the time for near drowning victims prescribed a dosage of phenobarbital. This remedy is supposed to be administered immediately at the site of a drowning with a patient who is unresponsive. As the doctor made this decision, Audrey began to move and tried to talk. A family member spoke up and demanded that the medication not be given to Audrey. The doctor ignored this, and administered a dosage, equivalent for a mature male, to Audrey who was not yet four years old. Subsequently, Audrey went limp and silent as the medication performed as expected and Audrey went into a medically induced coma. Audrey was in this condition for about three weeks. When she came out of the coma, the part of her brain that controlled her fine motor function had been permanently damaged; Audrey would never regain her fine motor skills. As a result, she was unable to walk, feed herself, or write ever again. This condition is identified as Akinetic Mutism. This also means that Audrey never spoke again. Professionals disagree whether her lack of verbal communication was a symptom of her medical condition or could have been a choice that Audrey made to live in silence.
Sometime during her convalescence in this teaching hospital, for reasons that have never been explained, a physical therapist was assigned to Audrey. During her therapy, which was wholly inappropriate given Audrey’s age and medical condition, the hospital’s physical therapist broke broke both of Audrey’s legs and dislocated her shoulder. By the time this injury was discovered, Audrey’s bones had healed incorrectly. She would now also not be able to bend at the waist or even sit, ever again. This meant she could not be placed in a car seat and therefore could never travel in a car again.
As it became clear that Audrey would be discharged from the hospital, the professionals insisted that to her family that Audrey should be placed in an institution. Audrey’s mother Linda, insisted that Audrey would be placed ‘in her arms, and no where else.’ She felt that Audrey would receive the best of care and have a better life being home with her family. The professionals disagreed vehemently and told the family that Audrey would die in their care within two weeks. Over the objections of the hospital staff, that November, four months following the accident, her family brought Audrey home. Not wanting to return her to the site of the accident, they bought a new home on South Flagg Street. It was a single story ranch where Audrey would live right off the kitchen, sharing meal prep, greeting her siblings coming home from school, and be an integral part of the routine and rhythm of their everyday life. While her body was broken, Audrey was every much a part of her family’s daily life. They surrounded her with their love and joy in having her among them.
Before she came home, while she was still in the hospital hundreds of people came to pray for Audrey. Old friends, relatives and even strangers, Catholics and people from other faiths came, sent prayers, cards and gifts to Audrey. The hospital was so inundated with people, media and phone calls they eventually put Audrey in a private room in the PICU. It seems that God had a reason and was fulfilling his plan right from the beginning for Audrey to be known to the whole world.
St. Paul tells us in scripture God sends us signs and wonders to get our attention. So is this what God has done with Audrey?
We believe that signs and wonders are manifesting with Audrey, around her and about her. Audrey seemed to manifest medically inexplicable marks on her body that resemble the wounds of Christ. St. Paul also instructs us that we must offer up our suffering to continue for Christ’s redemptive suffering. We also know Jesus Christ is the ultimate Victim. Suffering is not useless when offered up. We believe that Audrey did this. Suffering united to Christ takes on meaning and has a redemptive value in the Cross of Christ.
The religious images that continue to exude oil and blood are beyond natural explanation. We believe because of the good fruits that come in people’s lives: healing, conversion, belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and men who have been convinced and strengthened in their vocation to become priests, that these unexplained happenings are of God. An independent Commission established by Bishop Daniel Reilly, comprised of doctors, theologians and psychiatrists, investigated Audrey and her family in the 1990s. The Commission’s report clearly states that they found no trickery, absolutely nothing fraudulent, though they would not even speculate on how these amazing and inexplicable phenomena occur.
The healings that take place here were not investigated by the Bishop’s Commission but they are open to a full study in order to validate any claims. Prayer works; therefore Jesus Christ tells us “where are more than two gathered in My name …”
The Eucharist & Little Audrey
The greatest healing power God has left us in His Son, Jesus Christ, is the Eucharist. We must receive Him everyday and visit Him often. If we don’t do this, the fault lies with us. Audrey brings us to the Eucharist. There are seven consecrated hosts that have exhibited human blood, this does not mean these seven hosts are better than any other consecrated host. This simply means that God in His goodness has given us a profound and awesome gift. Again signs and wonders to get our attention.
Audrey is also clearly telling us God doesn’t make junk! That life is valuable at any level. We live in an epidemic of hate, violence and anger in our society. So, in contrast, Audrey is a sign of hope and mercy. We believe even though Audrey did not walk or talk after her accident, she was precious to God who chose her as He often chooses the seemingly inadequate, unproductive but also those most pure and innocent to convey His message. In a world of infanticide, homicide and genocide God wants us to choose the right side – the sacredness of every life – at every stage.
We place our confidence in faith, therefore believing this is to prove there is life in the Eucharist and the value of life in each of us.
Having resigned herself to God’s will prior to the age of seven (the age of reason), it is unlikely that Audrey has ever sinned. Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, a Massachusetts based Melkite Catholic priest whose ministry centers around peace and justice, believes that Little Audrey is redemptively connected with the sins of nuclear destruction.
Significant dates in Audrey’s life often echo monumental historic events as well. August 9th, 11:03 a.m., the first recorded medical entry on the day of the drowning accident, is also the exact date and time of the bombing of Nagasaki some forty-two years earlier. The date of Audrey’s initial release from the hospital, November 14th, is the anniversary of the bombing of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, in 1921.
Father Renê Laurentin, a world-renowned theologian, concluded a four year personal investigation into the life of Audrey Santo. He visited Little Audrey in July 1993 and was deeply moved by being in her presence and stated “This is Holy Ground.” Little Audrey was a soul truly blessed and chosen by God.
It is imperative that Audrey’s role, regardless of its magnitude, be kept in perspective. She is an instrument, an extraordinary one to be sure, but an instrument nevertheless. Audrey was fed by a “g-tube” but she did consume one thing, and one thing alone by mouth: the Eucharist. Each day, Audrey received her precious Jesus Christ in the greatest miracle of all.
Although we must not elevate Audrey such that we lose sight of Jesus Christ, neither should we discount or ignore His gift of Audrey to us. Let us go to this little thorn-less rose and ask for her assistance that like her, we too may truly become one with Christ. “But if we are children, we are heirs as well: heirs of God, heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so as to be glorified with Him.”
As difficult as life for this family sounds, their home then and now is so peaceful and full of love. When you meet Linda you would not think she had a care in the world. Many have written to little Audrey and every one of their letters was read in Audrey’s room and placed before the Tabernacle. Prayer requests and intentions continue to be placed in Audrey’s room and remembered at the Masses offered there. Pilgrims that visit now comment on the peace and holiness that they sense in Audrey’s room and in praying in her special chapel.
God called Audrey to share in his infinite glory on April 14, 2007. Surrounded by loving family and friends who had been so much a part of her journey for those two decades since the accident, Audrey slowly let go of life in this world, with her last breath uttering a loud cry, her only sound in 20 years. A priest at her bedside commented that it was the last cry of Christ from the Cross, as Audrey had shared his passion so intimately in her life.
Audrey’s wake and funeral took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Worcester. Rev. John Foley (Audrey’s pastor and founding President of the Foundation for the Cause for Canonization of Audrey Santo) was the homilist at Audrey’s wake on April 18, 2007.
Bishop Robert McManus (the Bishop of Worcester) and Bishop Daniel Reilly (Bishop Emeritus) were both present at the funeral Mass on April 19, 2007. The Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, Melkite Catholic priest (he is also the Director of the Christian Nonviolence Ministry) delivered the homily. A couple dozen priests and deacons and hundreds of people attended both events. A private burial took place in Notre Dame Cemetery in Worcester; Little Audrey is still buried there.