From the Diocese of Raleigh, NC website, the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge is requesting prayers for one of our seminarians, Philip Johnson. Philip just completed his first year of Pre-Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Philip served two years in the Navy, having been granted a discharge in 2009 when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
Prior to this diagnosis, Philip believed God was calling him to the Priesthood. “I discussed the possibility of entering the Diocese of Raleigh’s formation program with Bishop Burbidge in 2006 before I went on active duty to fulfill my five year commitment,” he said. But the Navy informed him that was not possible. “So, my plan was to complete my tour of duty and then apply to the Diocesan formation program.”
In October 2008, while serving on a ship near Bahrain, Philip began developing problems. His roommate, who was a Catholic chaplain, noticed a seizure Philip experienced during his sleep. As a result, he underwent an MRI, which revealed a mass developing in his brain.
“I know many people would get mad at God receiving this kind of news,” Philip said. “I didn’t get mad. I got sad. I went to a small Catholic chapel on the naval base in Bahrain and cried, unsure of what the future held.”
The Navy assigned him to Norfolk to undergo further medical tests. In January 2009, a biopsy was performed, the results of which indicated cancer. That meant an automatic medical discharge from the Navy, which occurred several months later.
Philip met again with Bishop Burbidge, sharing with him the status of his illness. He noted that doctors, while acknowledging the seriousness of his illness, could not give a definitive prognosis and that his age was in his favor. “Bishop Burbidge told me he would not get in God’s way if I wanted to answer the call to Priesthood,” Philip said.
In April 2009, he began undergoing radiation for the tumor and chemotherapy.
Having been given the assurance by Philip’s physicians that he could participate fully in the seminary formation program without any detrimental effects to his health, Bishop Burbidge accepted him into formation for the Priesthood, and he entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in August 2009.
Regrettably, Philip was informed last month by his physicians that the tumor had begun to grow, and there is no standard treatment to address it at this time. On June 16, he began what will be regular visits to the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC, undergoing a new experimental chemotherapy treatment.
During this period of treatment, Bishop Burbidge has assigned Philip to an apostolate of prayer for the Church and Diocese at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Dunn. In addition, he is being granted permission by the Bishop to return to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France in July to participate in a seminarian program at the Shrine, which helps pilgrims who are ill. He will also serve as a tour guide at the Shrine. It will be his second year in this program. “It is something I am looking forward to,” he said, “because of my devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes and Saint Bernadette.”
As for a return to the seminary this coming fall, Philip said, “The Bishop told me that I may return if I feel I can handle it, and that is my plan. The Bishop also stressed the need for consultation and the consent of my physicians.”
Philip is sharing his story with others on a blog that he created. “My parents and I began receiving emails inquiring how I was doing. As word began to spread, I began getting even more emails of people sharing their illnesses with me and telling me how I was giving them strength and helping them with their faith,” Philip said. “Knowing that so many are praying for me, they in turn are giving me strength to go on. They are helping me to keep moving to the vocation God is calling me to.”
Bishop Burbidge stated that Philip is a powerful example of the faith and the trust we need to share in the sufferings of Christ. Bishop Burbidge said, “I join Philip in thanking the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of this Diocese for their continued prayerful support for Philip during this time of need.”