An interview with Michelle Schachle by Sr. Mary Margaret Hope, SV and Sr. Zelie Maria Louis, SV.
Michelle Schachle and her husband Daniel never expected to be at the center of the miracle leading to the Beatification of Knights of Columbus Founder Blessed Fr. Michael J. McGivney (1852-1890). But God’s healing power streamed into their Dickson, Tennessee family in an extraordinary way when Michelle was pregnant with Michael, their 13th child.
Can you share a little of your own story?
My story starts before I was born. When my mother was pregnant with me, she and my father were about to get a divorce. She was pushed very hard to have an abortion; if she didn’t, she knew that she would have to raise us by herself. She said “no” to the abortion. After my father left, we moved to Tennessee. My mother remarried, but my stepfather was abusive. He was really the only father I ever had. It took a lot of years to heal from that. When I was 18, I found myself pregnant, and I married the boy. But the baby was stillborn, and I think that triggered a lot of my childhood pain. I lived with it for many years.
How did you and your husband Daniel meet?
We like to tell everyone that we met in the “Pen.” We both worked in this big old prison, in the little town where I grew up. At the time, I was a single mom with twin girls who were about three years old. Dan and I knew each other for two years, and he kept asking me to marry him, and I kept saying “no.” Then one day, he had one of my children on his shoulders, and I said, “I appreciate how much you love her because she’s my child.” He said, “I don’t. I love her because she’s my child.” After that remark, I married him. But there was a lot of pain in the beginning of our marriage because we weren’t living right. I became Catholic after I married Daniel, and we learned a lot going through RCIA together. We slowly decided to follow God, making little daily choices.
You made some big choices, too.
We decided we would be open to life. I mean, you don’t plan on having 13 kids. When Dan said he wanted a large family, I was thinking four or five. But it was all the daily choices we made, even when they were hard, that gave us the grace for God to use us in this way. But He had to allow a lot of pain to bring us to that moment.
Tell us about Michael’s diagnosis.
When I was pregnant with Michael, we went to get an ultrasound. The doctors called me to tell me the baby was a boy and that he had Down Syndrome. I called Daniel. He said, “That’s the most wonderful news I’ve ever heard in my life.” I said, “But I’m going to need someone to help me.” I knew a child with Down Syndrome was going to need a lot of extra care, and I just needed Dan to know that I needed help. He said, “Okay.” So I said, “Okay, we can do this.” But when I was almost 20 weeks pregnant, they did an extensive ultrasound. They called us into a room, a really small room that had lots of screens. The doctor was pulling up all these different images. She began to explain to us what fetal hydrops is. She showed us on the ultrasound how there was fluid all through his body, in his lungs, through his skin. Some children they can treat, but when fetal hydrops is connected with a genetic condition, there’s nothing they can do about it.
Did the doctor give you any hope?
The doctor said, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do. He’s going to die.” Dan said, “I need a percentage. What’s the percentage that he will live?” She said, “I’m sorry, Dan. Zero. I’ve been doing this a long, long time, and I’ve never had a baby survive this. It’s also important for you to know that Michelle can get what he has (Mirror Syndrome), and she can die. You can induce now, or you can wait and deliver after the baby dies … but if Michelle starts getting Mirror Syndrome, we may need to have a very serious conversation.”
What did you do?
Dan was so angry at her for telling us to induce, but I never was. I knew that I could die. But I said, “We’re going to pray.” Dan works for the Knights of Columbus, and it was just a few days before we were supposed to go on an employee pilgrimage to Fatima. Later that night, I was a little hysterical, and I laid down on the floor to cry. That’s when Dan prayed to Fr. McGivney, “I don’t know what to do. But I know you need a miracle. And if you pray for my son, we’ll name him after you.”
So, you started calling the baby “Michael”?
Actually, we had a bit of a disagreement. I really wanted to name him after my grandfather Ben, who was called “Lucky.” But Dan stood up and said, “He’s going to be fine. We’re going to Fatima, Fr. McGivney’s going to pray for him, and we’re going to name him Michael. We’re naming him Michael because there’s going to be a miracle.” For a few minutes I was upset, then I thought, “Well, Fr. McGivney does need a miracle.” The next morning, we were emailing our friends: “We’re going to be in Fatima on this day, and we’re requesting through the intercession of Fr. Michael J. McGivney that the baby be healed.” But my friend who helped send the emails out still had a burial gown made for him, just being honest.
What happened on your pilgrimage?
The day we landed in Rome, the Holy Father announced the Year of Mercy. I remember thinking, “Mercy, Lord. Mercy.” That day for Mass, our pastor just randomly picked the altar that the Knights of Columbus had refurbished, which had a beautiful icon of Our Lady holding the Baby Jesus. And when we got to Fatima, the Gospel during Mass was the one where Jesus says to the official in Cana who asks Him to heal his son, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe … You may go; your son will live” (Jn 4:48;50). Hearing that verse gave us great hope.
What happened when you returned home?
The doctor had told me, “You’re going to be fine … but it’ll probably get pretty serious quick when you return.” I went back to the doctor within a day or two after we flew back. I was terrified. The technician was taking a long time. I saw something white on the baby’s lungs, and I started crying. I said, “Is that fluid?” She looked at me and said, “Michelle, this is the prettiest baby I’ve ever seen in my life.” I said, confused, “I was told there was no hope.” The doctor said, “Michelle, didn’t you just come back from Fatima? With God there’s always hope. There’s a little wet spot on his lung, but it’s really not a big deal. What’s your baby’s name?” I said, “Well, there’s been a lot of controversy over that in our family, but his name is Michael.”
How did you know it was a miracle?
The first doctor called every specialist in hydrops she knew. She was so afraid that she might have made a mistake in telling me to induce. But they all told her, “No, there’s no way you made a mistake.” I actually had hydrops when he was born. I had Mirror Syndrome. That’s part of the miracle. How could Michael not have it, but I did? The doctor came around after he was born and said, “It’s been the honor of my life to deliver your baby, your little miracle, your precious baby.” And he was born on the anniversary of the charter of the very first chapter of the Knights. And Fr. McGivney and I share a birthday. God was saying over and over again that He meant for this to happen. Fr. McGivney chose us. We were chosen before time; in God’s mind, this would happen.
Has this physical healing brought other healing into your life?
I’ve always been able to say I love Jesus, but I was never able to say that I loved God the Father. I didn’t have a father to teach me how to love. It really wasn’t until after the miracle when I told someone, “God the Father can never be outdone in generosity,” that I realized how afraid I had been to love the Father. But now I could see that He knew my story, and He was there with me through it all. He loved me, a Mary Magdalene. I’m not the Virgin Mary. I’m not pure, but He came into my body, into my womb, and performed a miracle inside of me. He loved me fully. That’s what God does — He performs miracles inside of us.
Why do you think Michael wasn’t healed of Down Syndrome?
It never crossed our minds to pray for that. It would be like saying, “God, I don’t want my Bella to have her beautiful voice; I don’t want Leo to have his green eyes.” That’s part of who they are. Who am I to tell God, “I don’t want that gift; give me another one”? He is the Maker of life! My favorite part of it all is that Michael’s story is important because he has Down Syndrome, not in spite of it. This was a little wink from God that He approves of how the Knights have carried on Fr. McGivney’s mission by what they have done for the unborn, for the disabled, for the widows and orphans.
How has Michael changed you and your family?
Having a child with special needs is such a gift. It shifts you from turning inward to turning outward. It’s crazy. I went from thinking, “O Lord, You are going to have to help me; I’m already overwhelmed and now I am going to have a baby with special needs!” to thinking, “God, I just want this baby with special needs. Can I have him for a day? Can he live for a month? Can he just live?” And there’s just a love that Michael has that is unadulterated and beautiful. He just loves and teaches you to love. How can you look at Michael and not know that God is real? Yes, he poured a whole gallon of milk on the floor … but how can you not say “thank you” for a little relic that runs around and says, “Mommy, I love you”? I will spend eternity thanking God for what He has done in our lives. It’s changed everything.
What would you say to families who are struggling?
People think we’re “so holy,” but we’re not a perfect family. We have all the things that happen in a real family in this age. That’s the beauty of the story: God loves us where we are. He loves all of us and has a plan. It was part of the Gospel reading that day at Fatima, after the official’s son was healed, that “his whole household believed” (Jn 4:53). We still have children that are away from the faith, but I have been clinging to that promise. He’s the God of mercy. If we follow God’s plan, He’s going to do great things … He’s going to write our story. We just have give Him a little tiny bit.
Originally printed in IMPRINT Magazine Spring 2021.
KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS: Founded to protect and care for the needs of widows, orphans, immigrants, and refugees, the Knights of Columbus are a worldwide spiritual organization of Catholic men who seek to build up the Church and help families grow closer to Christ. Deeply committed to the cause of human life, they have been an unfailing support to our lives and our missions, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their incredible generosity and witness. For more information: kofc.org