Last week, Father John Hollowell announced to readers of his blog and followers on Twitter that he has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and that he will be offering his sufferings for the victims of the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis.
Father Hollowell, 40, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis serving two parishes. He said within days of his announcement, hundreds of victims of sex abuse by clergy had reached out to him, thanking him, asking for prayers, or sharing their experiences.
He said in a blog post that his prognosis is good, and that he expects to undergo brain surgery to remove the tumor in a few weeks, and then radiation and chemotherapy.
Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis, Father Hollowell’s bishop, told CWR, “Deeply rooted in prayer, faith, and hope, Father John has evidenced courage and serenity in learning of his medical condition. Expressing his embrace of suffering as solidarity with victims of sexual abuse is a witness to his pastoral character as a pastor of souls.”
Father Hollowell has asked that victims of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church reach out to him, so that he may pray for them by name during his treatment, surgery, and recovery. He may be contacted directly at email@example.com.
Father Hollowell spoke with CWR about his diagnosis, and the tremendous response he’s received.
CWR: What were the circumstances that led to your diagnosis?
Father John Hollowell: About a year ago, while on a run, I found myself lightheaded and had to lay down. I later realized this is when I had my first (mild) seizure on one side of my body. I didn’t lose consciousness. As typical for a guy, three minutes later I felt fine, so I didn’t consider going to the hospital. I thought I’d WebMD it, figure it out myself—I didn’t take it too seriously. It happened again, however, about six months later. That’s when I began seeking medical help.
I ended up going to the hospital because they thought it was a stroke. The Mayo Clinic did some further testing. It was this week [February 12] that they discovered it was the tumor.
The crazy thing is, I had five episodes of these 60-second seizures, and that’s been the totality of the effect of the tumor on my life so far. Normally people find out—these tumors grow very slowly—by losing vision or having migraines when the tumor gets to a certain size. I was able to find out through running and not being effected nearly as much. Obviously, I have a tough road ahead with the surgery, but for right now, it’s nothing.
CWR: Are you afraid?
Father Hollowell: I’m not trying to be “macho” or anything, but I literally have zero fear. I don’t know what to chalk that up to aside from grace. There is a very small chance, my doctors tell me, that it could be a terminal tumor—but they test it as they take it out, so there is a sense that they will only know then. They’re very optimistic that, because it’s growing so slowly, that it’s not a terminal tumor.
CWR: What will your treatment entail?
Father Hollowell: After the surgery itself, shockingly, you’re able to leave the hospital six-to-eight days later. I’ll likely have physical therapy, possibly speech therapy. I’m going to receive radiation and chemo just to make sure they got it all. My tumor is located on the left side of my brain, towards the top—they said it’s not by what controls motor function. They say that the other parts of the brain—it’s wonderful—almost immediately begin compensating.
CWR: When you announced your diagnosis, you said that after the revelation of clerical sex abuse scandals in the summer of 2018, you asked God to let you share in the sufferings of the victims. This self-offering is not one that is taken lightly—were you afraid of what God would send as a cross?
Father Hollowell: That day I did it, yes. I was in the rectory saying Morning Prayer. It was clear, this calling. There was a part of me that—looking back on it now makes me smile—even then a part of me knew I was in trouble…in a good way. It’s not something to enter into lightly. I guess everything that I have read, and come to know—all the theological studies I was able to take in the seminary, reading St. John of the Cross and being really formed by him, and Mother Teresa’s autobiography—all of these seem to have gotten me to this point, being totally comfortable making that prayer. I said, “Lord, if there is something I can suffer to bring healing to the Church, I would do that willingly with great joy.”
CWR: Have you heard from victims since going public with your diagnosis?
Father Hollowell: Yes, I have received messages from hundreds of victims asking for prayers—some thanking me, others just providing me their names and stories. Some are out of the Church, some remain.
CWR: Tell our readers a little about yourself, and your vocation story.
Father John Hollowell: I am 40 years old, and have been a priest for 10 years—ordained in 2009. I am a priest for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and I currently serve two parishes in Western Indiana—I am the pastor of Annunciation Catholic Church in Brazil, Indiana and St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Greencastle, Indiana, which is a Newman Center for students from DePauw University. I also serve as a chaplain for Putnamville Correctional Facility. Liturgically, I say both the Extraordinary Form (Traditional Latin Mass) as well as Novus Ordo, bringing to the latter the principles found within the former.
I was raised a Catholic by awesome parents—I am the oldest of 11 children. I attended Catholic grade school, Catholic high school—my dad is the president of Roncalli Catholic High School, the one I attended. I later went on to college, and majored in math. I still went to Mass every Sunday, but I don’t think I had a very lively faith then—a more “mathematical” faith, one built on reason. I started reading the Bible in college each day, and as I did that I began to hear a very clear call toward the priesthood, which I had never really considered before. I decided to teach math and coach high school football and track for two years before I went into the seminary.
CWR: You have been engaged in social media ministry—why were you drawn to this, and have you seen fruits?
Father Hollowell: When I was ordained in 2009, I had a great distaste for social media and blogs—I didn’t understand it, it doesn’t appeal to me at all. Yet, in that first year of my priesthood, Pope Benedict came out with a statement in which he asked priests to blog and to use social media to evangelize. I love Pope Benedict—he’s a personal hero and had a great impact on me in the seminary—so I thought, “Well, he asked, so I’ll try it!” I’ve been engaged in it ever since.
There’s always, I guess, the temptation towards pride when you have a modest following, but it’s more been a mystery to me. Why do I have all these followers, or why did some of my content go “Catholic viral”? I’m a country priest from Indiana! I really couldn’t say what God was doing with all of this. Not until now. As I was driving home from the Mayo Clinic, it seemed to hit me that this diagnosis, and the calling I have been given is one of the reasons why. I have been placed in a position where I can get this message out quickly and help bring healing. I have a platform to do this.
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