A mystery was solved when the so-called “angel priest,” who anointed a young woman trapped in her wrecked vehicle on August 4, was identified. Rev. Patrick Dowling of the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, stepped forward. According to the Catholic News Agency on August 12, Fr. Dowling said of the incident “I thank God and the amazingly competent rescue workers." He continued, “I thank them for making me welcome in such a highly charged situation and allowing me to minister as a priest.” Besides anointing the victim of the vehicular accident, Fr. Dowling also anointed several emergency workers on the scene as they rescued Tulane University sophmore Katie Lentz.
Reports that a man dressed as a Catholic priest had suddenly appeared on the scene after Lentz had requested prayers circulated worldwide. Speculation was varied, since the emergency workers on the scene said that the priest left the scene just as suddenly as he had appeared.
Lentz was involved in a serious accident near Center MO and was trapped in her crumbled Mercedes-Benz automobile. Rescuers had spent nearly an hour trying to cut into the sturdy vehicle and remove Lentz. As her vital signs began to wane, Lentz asked for prayers. Suddenly, there was a priest who appeared who said "I will."
According to one of the members of the emergency response team, the priest told them that their tools would soon release Lentz from the wreck. She rapidly improved after the intervention of the priest. Soon, she was on her way to a local hospital where she was treated for her injuries. When the rescuers turned to thank the priest, he had disappeared.
Fire Chief Raymond Reed of New London MO, who was at the scene of the accident, told local media “A sense of calmness came over her, and it did us as well. I can’t be for certain how it was said, but myself and another firefighter, we very plainly heard that we should remain calm, that our tools would now work and that we would get her out of that vehicle.” Chief Reed also said that the priest's presence at the scene was odd. “I have 69 photographs that were taken from minutes after that accident happened — bystanders, the extrication, our final cleanup — and he’s not in them,” Speaking to USA Today, . Reed said, “All we want to do is thank him. … We all go back to thank this priest, and he’s gone.”
The grey-haired bespectacled Fr. Dowling is a native of Ireland and has served in his diocese since his ordination in 1984. He currently serves in a prison ministry.
Traveling through the area of the crash, Fr. Dowling parked as close as he could, “and walked the remaining 150 yards. I asked the Sheriff if a priest might be needed … on checking, he permitted me to approach.”
“When the young lady asked that I pray her leg stop hurting, I did so. She asked me to pray aloud and I did briefly … the rescue workers needed space, and would not have appreciated distraction. I stepped to one side and said my rosary silently until the lady was taken from the car.”
After Lentz was pried from her car, Fr. Dowling explained that he greeted the sheriff on hand and thanked him. As to his own powers of healing, Fr. Dowling was quite modest. “You must remember, there were many people praying there, many, many people … and they were all praying obviously for healing and for her safety.”
“I was probably part of the answer to their prayers, I came by and Anointed and absolved, (but) I didn't say another word … I did not say anything like the machinery would begin to work or they would succeed in getting her out of the car.”
That first responders would allow a Catholic priest to enter an accident scene has long been a commonly accepted practice, given the great number of Americans who are Catholics and who desire anointing when in danger of death. This tradition, however, was flouted in the aftermath of the deadly Islamist bombing at the 2012 Boston Marathon. When the bomb detonated by the Tsarnaev brothers killed and maimed runners and spectators, several Catholic priests came running from a nearby parish church to offer consolation and anointing for those desiring it. However, police on the scene specifically banned the priests saying that they were not needed and that the area was now a controlled crime scene.