Published September 20, 2013
Katie Lentz, a college student who nearly died in the mangled wreckage of a car crash last month, and the “mystery priest” who appeared out of nowhere to minister to her held an emotional reunion Friday at her Illinois home.
“I was just so thrilled he was there,” Katie told FoxNews.com about her meeting with Father Patrick Dowling on the same day she celebrated her 20th birthday.
“I thanked him for being there (at the crash scene) that day and he said he was very happy I could walk with my walker.”
She said there were no tears, but they exchanged a warm handshake and he sat next to her on the sofa in her family’s home in Quincy, Ill. while they chatted.
“They were just very happy to see each other,” said Katie’s mother, Carla Lentz. “She said she was so grateful he’d been there and he offered a prayer.
“He said God loves all of us and God loves you, Katie.”
The priest’s appearance at the Missouri crash scene baffled police, who said he seemed to mysteriously appear from behind a police line to pray with Katie, then disappeared into the night.
Katie has endured a long recovery after the accident, in which her car was hit head-on by an alleged drunk driver, but she counts herself lucky that Dowling, who stepped forward after numerous reports about the "mystery priest," was there in her time of need.
She said Friday that while she couldn’t see him as she lay trapped in her car’s wreckage, she recognized his voice immediately when he came to her home. “His voice was hard to forget,” she said.
Katie, a Tulane University student, was struck by a suspected drunk motorist around 9 a.m. on Aug. 4 while driving on Route 19 near the town of Center, Mo., causing the 1989 green Mercedes she lovingly called the "Green Bean" to flip -- trapping her inside.
The young woman suffered 15 broken bones and a lacerated liver and spleen. Her "vitals were failing quickly" by the time rescue workers arrived, her mother said. After two hours and 10 minutes trapped inside the car, she was extricated and air lifted to Blessing Hospital in Quincy.
Her family credits two occurrences for her survival: Katie's plea for first responders and witnesses to "pray out loud" as she lay with her head on the pavement and the arrival of Dowling, who anointed her with oil and prayed at her side.
"We are so thankful for the simple message our Katie spoke from the very beginning -- for everyone around her to pray out loud," her mother said. "That message went around the world, and was propelled by the mystery priest we now know as Father Dowling, who just happened upon the accident and he offered his prayers."
Dowling came across the crash in northeast Missouri while driving between morning Mass assignments.
Dowling, who is based in Columbia, Mo., "is pleased that he was able to help by performing his ministry and noted that he was just one of many who responded to assist the victim at the accident," the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City said at the time.
The clergyman visited Katie in the intensive care unit one week after the crash, but the meeting was very short, given Katie's fragile condition, according to her family.
"Today is the real reunion," her mother said.
In the weeks that followed the crash, Katie received get-well cards from all over world -- including countries as far away as South Africa and Australia. The family has established a website, called "roadsidemiracle.com," to raise money for Katie's medical expenses. The site also advertises a "5k Run/Walk," to be held on Oct. 19, with proceeds benefiting the first responders who helped saved Katie's life.
"The Bible tells us the steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord," said Katie’s mother.. "And I believe Father Dowling was at the right place at the right time."
"There are so many reasons she should have perished," Lentz said. "When you see the pictures from the crash, you say to yourself, 'God is good.'"
For more on Katie Lentz's story, visitroadsidemiracle.com.