Local woman who experienced healing as a child returns to Lourdes 17 years later

Molly Modes, a member of the Order of Malta who joined the order last year, holds a child participating in the order's annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, in April. As a child with a severe illness, Modes was brought to Lourdes by members of the order in 2007, and later experienced her own inexplicable healing. (Photos courtesy of the Michigan Area Order of Malta)

First brought to France by the Order of Malta as a very ill 8-year-old, Molly Modes now helps others experience God's graces

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LOURDES, France — At a young age, Molly Modes learned that all things are possible with God. In her case, God worked through the intercession of the Blessed Mother and St. Bernadette, the humble teenager to whom Mary appeared 18 times in Lourdes, France, in 1858.

When she was 8 years old, Modes traveled to Lourdes with prayers for healing. Earlier this month — 17 years later — she returned with prayers of thanksgiving.

In 2005, Modes, then 6 years old, was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a chronic kidney disease through which 50 percent of patients lose kidney function within five to 10 years following diagnosis. She underwent several clinical trials, including one that took her out of school and isolated her from the public, yet her kidneys continued to decline.

As a child, Modes was diagnosed with segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a chronic kidney disease, which doctors struggled to treat. After being brought to Lourdes in 2007, Modes' illness slowly began to recede.
As a child, Modes was diagnosed with segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a chronic kidney disease, which doctors struggled to treat. After being brought to Lourdes in 2007, Modes' illness slowly began to recede.
After experiencing healing on the trip with the Order of Malta and becoming more familiar with the mission of the lay religious Catholic order, Modes joined as an affiliate member in 2023.
After experiencing healing on the trip with the Order of Malta and becoming more familiar with the mission of the lay religious Catholic order, Modes joined as an affiliate member in 2023.

Trip of a lifetime

In 2007, friends of the Modes family, James and Mary Ryan, members of the Michigan Order of Malta, invited Modes and her mother to join the order on its annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. As part of its mission to serve the poor and care for the sick — known as “malades” — members of the order accompany those with chronic illnesses to the shrine in France, which is known for healings.

“Knights, Dames, affiliates, chaplains and volunteers from the order worldwide travel annually to the site of the apparition of Our Lady in Lourdes to answer our Blessed Mother's call (to Bernadette) to ‘go, drink of the waters and wash yourself there,’” said Andy Smith, chair of the Michigan Area of the Order of Malta, American Association. “We go to Lourdes forgetful of ourselves and solely focused on attending to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our malades.”

Modes and her mother felt blessed to be invited on the pilgrimage. Though the experience has faded in her mind, Modes still remembers feeling as though she was “walking the red carpet” when she arrived at the elegant hotel where they stayed. She was in awe of the grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette, and of the basilicas.

“It was like Catholic Disney World to an 8-year-old,” Modes said. “I remember being inside one of the basilicas and seeing tiles with baby angels on the ceiling. I didn’t want to leave.”

Modes recalls fondly her first pilgrimage experience to Lourdes, which she likened to a "Catholic Disney World." As a member of the Order of Malta herself, Modes wants to help other children experience the same graces she did.
Modes recalls fondly her first pilgrimage experience to Lourdes, which she likened to a "Catholic Disney World." As a member of the Order of Malta herself, Modes wants to help other children experience the same graces she did.
Modes cares for one of the "malades" accompanying the Order of Malta on this year's pilgrimage.  As an adult, she decided to pursue nursing and today helps other children afflicted with illnesses like hers.
Modes cares for one of the "malades" accompanying the Order of Malta on this year's pilgrimage. As an adult, she decided to pursue nursing and today helps other children afflicted with illnesses like hers.

Modes was fully immersed twice in the baths that contain the waters in which Bernadette was told to drink and wash. She met other children who were also battling diseases or disabilities, including Jenna Kast, a Troy girl with ependymoma brain tumors. The two became fast friends. Modes was heart-broken when Kast passed away in 2010.

Coming full circle

Upon her return from Lourdes in 2007, Modes didn’t notice immediate signs of improvement to her health, but over time, her FSGS relented. She had been on multiple medications for years, including high-dose steroids, but one by one, she was able to eliminate them until she was down to just one blood pressure medication to ease stress on her kidneys at age 17. Nine years later, she continues to live with chronic kidney disease but typically only sees her doctor every six months. Unlike 50 to 70 percent of FSGS patients who need kidney transplants, Modes maintains her native kidneys.

After her pilgrimage with the Order of Malta and becoming more familiar with the mission of the lay religious Catholic order, Modes joined as an affiliate member in 2023. This year, on April 30, she returned to Lourdes — this time as an Order of Malta member accompanying other children facing many of the same obstacles she did as a child. Her sisters, Grace and Jane, joined her on the pilgrimage.

“It was a full-circle experience in many ways,” Modes said. “It was really special to be there helping children who are close to the age I was when I went the first time. They’re also similar in age to the patients I work with in my job.”

Molly Modes receives Communion from Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron during a pilgrimage this spring to Lourdes, France. Archbishop Vigneron, a member of the Order of Malta, is a frequent participant in the order's annual pilgrimage. This year, the archbishop was named Grand Cross Conventual Chaplain Ad Honorem of the order in honor of his service to the poor and sick.
Molly Modes receives Communion from Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron during a pilgrimage this spring to Lourdes, France. Archbishop Vigneron, a member of the Order of Malta, is a frequent participant in the order's annual pilgrimage. This year, the archbishop was named Grand Cross Conventual Chaplain Ad Honorem of the order in honor of his service to the poor and sick.

Modes is a registered nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

In Lourdes, she and her sisters aimed to treat the children in their care “like kings and queens.” Before the trip, they assembled personalized activity bags for the eight kids who would be traveling with the American Association of the Order of Malta. The bags were especially appreciated when the group’s flight was delayed by six hours.

“To paraphrase the grand master of the order, Fra' Dunlap, it is at Lourdes, in the malades we serve, that we recognize the humanity of Jesus through his people's vulnerability and ordinary frailty,” Smith said.

Unsurprisingly, Modes chose Bernadette as her confirmation name. She and her family pray for the Blessed Mother’s and Bernadette’s intercession and encourage others to do the same.

No limit to God’s grace

Modes is proud to be a member of the Order of Malta, not only in gratitude for what they did for her, but also for the care the order gives to the sick and the poor year-round, which she describes as “work that goes unnoticed.”

Although many pilgrims visit Lourdes each year hoping for healing, not everyone is healed. However, everyone who visits Lourdes returns with a story of God's grace, Modes said.
Although many pilgrims visit Lourdes each year hoping for healing, not everyone is healed. However, everyone who visits Lourdes returns with a story of God's grace, Modes said.

Smith notes that while many pilgrims go to Lourdes in hopes of physical healing, they often experience spiritual or emotional healing that is just as powerful.

“We never know how God's grace, love and power will manifest itself,” Smith said. “The Church obviously has to be very careful in its review of what it officially recognizes as a miracle, and there are official medical committees that certify situations where there is no scientific explanation for a physical cure that has occurred. But Lourdes is a reminder that miracles can and do happen.”

As part of the Order of Malta group who traveled to Lourdes this year, Smith was honored to witness Modes’ return. It was his first time visiting the holy site.

“A story like Molly's — a young child who experiences something that the doctors just can't explain — naturally excites us all, and is a reminder that God loves us,” Smith said. “And it is not just the cure, but Molly's whole story — the arc from being a sick child, to going on the pilgrimage as a malade, to inexplicable healing, to becoming a nurse and going back to Lourdes as part of the Order of Malta — that is just so incredibly beautiful that even the hardest of hearts cannot help but be touched by it.”



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