By Alyssa Weston
October marked the five-year anniversary of a Youngstown State University student’s miraculous recovery from drowning being declared a miracle by the Vatican.
Jack Sebest, a senior communication studies and nonprofit leadership major, died from drowning, was revived and fully recovered within three days in 2003. Sebest was 5 years old.
“I was under the water for about 14 minutes; no one could find me,” he said. “When they pulled me up, I was completely blue. They pronounced me dead on the scene, and they brought me to the hospital. I got put into an induced coma.”
While Sebest was in a coma at Tod Children’s Hospital, he was prayed for by family, friends and the Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Liberty, where Sebest attended preschool at the time.
The Oblate Sisters placed a prayer card of their foundress, Mother Teresa Casini, under Sebest’s pillow and sent out the same prayer cards to local churches, asking them to pray through the intercession of Mother Teresa Casini.
Sister Vittoria Nisi was the principal at the Oblate Sisters at the time and encouraged the community to pray for Sebest even when doctors didn’t think he would recover.
“The doctor called and asked to see the family. They invited me to go with them and have a meeting with the doctor. The doctor said, ‘I just want you to know, there is nothing to be done for your son, and tomorrow we are going to remove all the wires. If he survives, don’t expect the same child you had before,’” she said.
Two days later, on the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Sebest moved his finger. Shortly after that, he was awake and acting normal.
Before sending documentation to Rome, Nisi wanted to confirm with the doctor that the incident was unusual.
“[The doctor] said, ‘Sister, I am not a Catholic. I am a Muslim. But scientifically, he would not have survived,’” she said.
Monsignor Michael Cariglio managed the miracle investigation for the Diocese of Youngstown.
“In this case, 13 doctors unanimously said this cannot be explained by science alone, and that there had to be an intervention by God, therefore, a miracle. All of the evidence and testimony given under oath was also examined by a theological commission. They determined that Jack was healed through Mother Casini’s intercession,” Cariglio said in a 2015 WFMJ article.
According to Sebest, it took 12 years to gather evidence and for the incident to be officially declared a miracle.
“They needed to prove year after year that I wasn’t having any [health issues] from it. They needed to prove that people were praying,” he said. “It’s kind of a big deal when they make something a miracle. They have to get custom boxes made for transporting the paperwork.”
In 2015, Sebest visited the Vatican with the Oblate Sisters and the Youngstown Diocese for a ceremony to celebrate the miracle where he met Pope Francis.
The miracle also declared Mother Teresa Casini as blessed. If another miracle is brought through her intercession, she will gain sainthood.
Although Sebest’s faith is still strong, the incident didn’t change his view on religion too much. He even was going to school to become a priest before he ultimately decided to study at YSU.
“I happened, and we were thankful and blessed for it. And because of that, we were able to grow deeper in our faith,” he said. “I still am religious. I go to church on Sunday, but it’s not like it was before. But I still definitely think I need to do something impactful with my life because I was so blessed.”