These Graces Were No Accident

After Car Wreck in Austria, Family Gives Thanks to St. Faustina

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David Leatherby Jr. is driving. His son, Jeremy, is in the passenger's seat, asleep. His daughter, Kimberly, is asleep on the backseat.

It's the middle of the night. They're on a highway in the middle of a foreign country.

Exhausted from several days pilgrimage in Rome, Mr. Leatherby, too, starts dozing off. Suddenly, to his horror, he sees that his rental car is about to slam into the back of an 18-wheeler. He turns the wheel, but it isn't enough. The bumper of the truck shears through the right side of the car.

When the car finally comes to a stop at the edge of the highway median, Mr. Leatherby turns to look at Jeremy. His son's face has been badly disfigured, and he's bleeding profusely. Kimberly is OK.

Mr. Leatherby pulls his son out from the passenger's seat and cradles him in his arms. You spend your entire life as a parent doing everything you can to raise your kids and protect them and keep them safe, and in one moment....

He can't think about any of that now. He knows he needs a miracle. He knows he needs the protection of Our Blessed Mother. He knows he needs the intercession of the saints.

Today, more than six years later, Mr. Leatherby says he knows there was one saint in particular who was watching over him and his children: Saint Faustina Kowalska, the "Apostle of Mercy," who in the 1930s saw extraordinary visions of Jesus that she recorded in her Diary.

"Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart," Jesus told her, "and I will fill it with peace" (1074).

A Tremendous Conversion
Mr. Leatherby, of Sacramento, Calif., was not always inclined to turn to Our Lady and the saints for their intercession. But in 1990, he traveled to Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Our Lady has reportedly been appearing since 1981 (though the Church has not ruled on the apparitions). That trip changed everything for him.

"I experienced a tremendous conversion there," says Mr. Leatherby, who works in commercial real estate and whose family owns ice cream parlors that have become northern California landmarks. "Through that trip, I was given a tremendous grace to know that the Catholic faith is true."

When he returned home, Mr. Leatherby began to incorporate his newfound faith in all aspects of his life, including in the rearing of his four children. His wife, Jennifer, also experienced a conversion over time.

As for Jeremy, he became profoundly influenced by his father's faith. After one year at the University of Notre Dame, Jeremy announced that he believed that God was calling him to become a priest. He went on to the college seminary, at St. Charles Borromeo in Philadelphia. In 2000, his final year in college seminary, his father invited him on a trip to Rome to celebrate the Jubilee Year of the Church. They would meet up with Kimberly, who was studying in Austria.

"We spent several days in Rome," says Mr. Leatherby. "It was great — having my two kids there. We had the most wonderful experiences, visiting all the churches and praying together."

After several days, it was time for Kimberly to return to classes in Austria.

"By the time we left, it was evening, and Kimberly had to start school the next day," recalls Mr. Leatherby. "So I rented a car and started driving from Rome to Austria, which is a 12-hour drive."

He remembers driving along a highway in Austria where cars travel at speeds upwards of 90 mph. It was about 3 a.m. when the accident occurred. It was a cold, dark October evening, and he'll never forget it.

We Must Pray
First came the impact. Mr. Leatherby's head slammed into the windshield and cracked the glass, and he blacked out for a moment. Their car finally stopped with its edge dangerously close to oncoming traffic. To add to the trouble, the car's lights were smashed, making the car nearly invisible to oncoming motorists.

"Dad, what happened? What happened?" Kimberly shouted from the back seat.

"Kimberly, I hit a truck," Mr. Leatherby responded.

"Are you guys all right?" she asked.

Mr. Leatherby looked over at Jeremy, who was dazed, but awake.

"His upper and lower jaw were broken," says Mr. Leatherby. "His bottom teeth were knocked out. His eye socket and cheek on one side of his face were shattered. I couldn't even recognize him. I thought, 'Oh my God, I've killed my son!'

"So I jumped up. I opened the door quickly on my side. I tried to open Jeremy's door, but the car was smashed, and the door wouldn't budge. All of a sudden a car goes by and misses us by inches.

Mr. Leatherby pried his fingers through the cracked windshield and yanked the glass back and out of the way. He reached in and grabbed Jeremy and heaved him onto his shoulders while Kimberly ran across the highway to try to flag down a motorist to help.

"I'm sitting there holding him," Mr. Leatherby recalls. "Jeremy is just shivering. He's awake, and he just keeps saying, 'Dad, it hurts so bad. Dad, it hurts so bad.' He is trying to touch his face, but I won't let him. I'm holding him like a little baby, cradling him like a baby.

"I just say to him, 'Jeremy, you've always been a small kid, but you were always the toughest kid on the football team. And now you're really going to have to be tough.' Then, he starts saying, 'Dad, I want to die, I want to die.' "

Mr. Leatherby then tells his son that he must ask Our Blessed Mother for help, and that he must pray to the saints.

"It's the most amazing thing," says Mr. Leatherby. "I was holding him, and all of a sudden I felt like what Our Blessed Mother must have felt holding the body of her Son. Then, a tremendous calm came over me. It's hard to describe. But I was no longer anxious. I wasn't worried. I knew this whole ordeal was for a purpose. I had this instant thought that Our Lady went through this — only worse.

"This great peace came upon me," Mr. Leatherby recalls. "I knew it was going to be OK — OK, meaning, I didn't know if Jeremy was going to die or not, but I knew that if he did die, it would be OK. It was like this great gift of grace at this moment. I calmed down, and I spoke clearly, and I prayed with Jeremy."

Just then, Kimberly flagged down a car. Mr. Leatherby picked Jeremy up and ran across the highway to her.

"Jeremy was going into shock," recalls Mr. Leatherby.

A Good Samaritan
Jeremy needed warmth. The driver who pulled over invited them to sit in his car, and he turned on the heater full-blast. They needed to call for medical assistance. The motorist happened to have a cell phone and happened to speak fluent English.

The stranger also happened to have a blanket, which he used to wrap Jeremy.

The medical personnel soon were tending to Jeremy, and the police started taking Mr. Leatherby's statement. But Mr. Leatherby recalls pausing for a moment.

"I looked over at the motorist who pulled over for us — this big, tall, handsome blond guy. All the sudden it hit me. I got this warm feeling inside. I thought, 'You know what, I wonder if he's an angel.'

"There he is: He has everything we need. A cell phone, a blanket, a warm car. He spoke English. And he was so generous to pull over, let us in his car, and let us bleed all over his car.

"And right as I'm looking at him thinking this, he was looking at our car that was smashed. He then turned to me and he said: 'You had angels protecting you tonight.' "

This floored Mr. Leatherby. He knew someone was watching over his family.

Relic of St. Faustina
Jeremy was taken 25 miles to Vienna to a major trauma hospital. Over a period of two weeks, doctors reconstructed his face. (Mr. Leatherby was also treated for relatively minor injuries.)

Jeremy's vision was restored. The Leatherbys, including Jeremy and his mother, Jennifer, who had flown over, headed back to Sacramento where Jeremy would begin the first of many plastic surgeries.

Just before the plastic surgeries were to begin, Bishop William K. Weigand of the Diocese of Sacramento, visited the Leatherby home. He had heard that Jeremy was going into surgery the next day, and he wished to administer the Anointing of the Sick.

Afterward the Bishop told Jeremy. "You know, I was praying and praying for you Jeremy, and it came to mind that I needed to bring in a relic of a saint who suffered a great deal." He then pulled out a relic of St. Faustina. He said, "I want you to keep this with you, and I'll get it back sometime in the future when you're all recovered."

The Leatherbys knew little of St. Faustina at the time. Occasionally, they had prayed the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. They owned a copy of her Diary. But the message of The Divine Mercy was not a huge part of their lives.

A few days later, Mr. Leatherby went to his prayer group and told them of how the Bishop brought the relic.

"Then, some woman in the prayer group said, 'Well, gosh, St. Faustina's feast day was two or three weeks ago,' " Mr. Leatherby recalls. "I had no idea."

Her feast day is Oct. 5 — the same date as the accident.

Mr. Leatherby came home that day and said, "Jeremy, I think there's more to St. Faustina than we thought. It seems it might not be a coincidence that the Bishop brought a relic."

A Trip to Krakow
As expected, Jeremy went on to endure intense suffering as doctors sought to restore his face to what it looked like before the accident. And all the while he had the relic of St. Faustina.

In the meantime, Jeremy completed his course work from the seminary. He graduated first in his class in May, 2001.

To celebrate and to offer thanks to St. Faustina for her intercession, Mr. Leatherby took his family to Poland to visit St. Faustina's former convent in Krakow.

During a tour of the convent, a nun asked the Leatherbys why they had come.

"I told her about the accident, and she had this kind of deer-in-the-headlights look, and she said, 'May I tell you a story? I think that it's no accident that you are here.' "

The nun proceeded to reveal how her sister and her sister's husband also had recently gotten into a car wreck and how her sister's husband suffered brain damage as a result. The doctors advised that he be taken off life support because he was unable to breathe on his own and was not expected to recover from his vegetative state.

The nun went on to say how on the night after she was told of the doctors' advice, St. Faustina came to her in her sleep and said: "Appeal to Jesus, The Divine Mercy. Ask Him."

When the nun awoke, she immediately called her sister and said, "Do not unhook those tubes!" Her sister listened to her. Miraculously, the husband made a full recovery. He is fine today. He has no brain damage.

His wreck, too, occurred on Oct. 5, 2000, on the Feast Day of St. Faustina, in the Jubilee Year — the year St. Faustina was canonized as the first saint of the new millennium!

"For us, this was real confirmation that St. Faustina had been involved in all of this — that she was interceding for us," says Mr. Leatherby.

The sisters, who belong to the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, didn't have guest accommodations like they do now. But they invited the Leatherbys to stay with them.

The next morning, Jeremy went down into the sisters' chapel to say his morning prayers. By the time Mr. Leatherby made his way down there, the chapel was filled with nuns singing and praying.

"I looked and saw one white shirt in the middle of all these black-clad nuns," Mr. Leatherby recalls. "It was Jeremy in the middle of about 100 nuns. I thought, 'What is he doing? Didn't he have the common sense to get up and leave when he saw all these nuns coming?' He's in the middle of their morning prayers."

Afterwards, Jeremy explained to his father: "Dad, one of the sisters came and sat next to me all by herself, and she smiled. Then another came and sat in front of me. Then another came and sat on the other side of me. I realized they were coming in, and I got up to leave, but one of the nuns put her hand on my shoulder and pressed down and said, 'We are offering our morning prayer for you.' "

"Pretty awesome!" Mr. Leatherby says as he recalls that morning.

'I Arrange Things'
Today, Jeremy is a priest, in the Diocese of Sacramento, close to home. And his parents are thrilled.

Our Lord told St. Faustina: "I arrange things" (Diary, 1147). Later, St. Faustina wrote: "Jesus gave me to know that even the smallest thing does not happen on earth without His will." (1262).

Mr. Leatherby says he and his family have come to understand this. That late night accident was no "accident." Rather, it was an opportunity to draw closer to Christ, the very Incarnation of Divine Mercy, and to fully experience the love and peace of God.

"We owe a lot to St. Faustina," says Mr. Leatherby. "I've been given the gift to understand that the words of Jesus in the Diary are true — that every single tiny thing is looked after by God and His saints. I know many people feel God is so far away and wonder if He hears their prayers. He does.

"I've also been given the gift to understand how important trust is," he says. "As my daughter Kimberly says, we always attribute original sin to pride, but first it was a loss of trust in God. The devil got us to doubt God's love for us.

"When we lose trust in God, that's when we fall."

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Karen - Oct 26, 2015

I am a Marian Helper, and know Fr. Leatherby. When he celebrates Mass, and during the Consecration, it is a totally different experience that I have had with anyone else celebrating Mass. I always attributed it to the fact that he had some of his training in Rome. But now, I truly believe that Divine Mercy and Saint Faustina are a crucial part of this, Godly Priest's formation.

David Murray - Jul 6, 2015

Local Bishop Peric of Medjugorje "My conviction and my position is not only non constat de supernaturalitate, but likewise, constat de non supernaturalitate of the apparitions or revelations in Medjugorje"

James Gilboy - Apr 11, 2014

Mr Leatherby just completed a book about his journey in Faith and is using the proceeds to raise money for Jeremy's rebuilding his Parish school;
call Sidney 1-916-482-8883
Published by CMJ Marian Publishers

nigel - Jan 19, 2011

I just attended an RCIA class with some friends of mine a couple days ago.
Kimberly Leatherby was the speaker. The talk that she was giving was over the
topic of the Sacrament of Marriage. She is an expert on this topic. After
studying Theology @ the University of Notre Dame she went onto continue her
studies @ a University in if i recall Croatia that was created by Pope John
Paul the Second. It was there she met her husband whom is now a Priest and
they have four children together.
There was a gentleman in the room that every now and again would add comments
/ insight to what she was saying. Throughout the whole talk I did not know
whom he was, I just thought he was another student in the class, who was very
devoted to his faith and knew quite a bit about Catholicism. However, after
the class I came to find out that he was the father of Kimberly, Mr. David
Leatherby. This family is truly remarkable, I could tell right away within
the first few hours of just hearing them speak. One thing I really wish I did
was record the talk that she gave, it was so good and very difficult to
reproduce. Many of the subjects and defenses that she had stated I had heard
before but never with such passion and conviction so as to draw me in with a
force so strong that I am yearning to hear and learn more from her.
I am a “cradle catholic” and I have listened to Catholic Radio for almost 3 years now and heard a variety of people speak. Similarly I have attended many Catholic Talks, including ones by Matthew Kelly. This talk that I heard from Kimberly was by far the
best one I have ever heard. There was just something about it, I am not
exactly sure how to describe it, but I do know that it was so powerful that it
moved me. You could just tell that this woman was so passionate about what
she spoke of and she would do anything to defend her faith. Which intern makes me wonder if she’s an apologist? Anyhow, if you ever have the chance to hear any of the Leatherby’s speak, don’t miss the opportunity. Or even if you are in Sacramento you could stop by and get a ice cream @ their family creamery.

Brian - Mar 30, 2010

Father Leatherby and the entire leatherby familly saved my life. They don't know it, but when I began RCIA in September of this year, I almost walked out. I've always had an issue with religion and almost walked away from it. After listening to Dave and Father Jeremy speak, it was all I needed to hear and realized I was brought here for a reason. It was Father leatherby's brother in Law that brought me to the Church and it was the dedication of the Leatherby family that kept me here. God bless all of you and thank you for helping me along the path of a life that was waiting for me.

webservant - Jul 6, 2008

Fr. Jeremy is our current pastor at Sacred Heart in Alturas. His father, Dave, told us about this website. What a blessing for all who read this story of mercy and grace! Thank you, Jesus, for sparing this holy man's life. He brings your Good News and light wherever he goes. It is a privilege to know Fr. Jeremy and his family.

Amy - Jun 5, 2008

I knew Father Leatherby in a different life, when he was young. I must say that he was Saint even before he became a priest. He is an amazing person and will surely touch many lives as much as he touched mine. Jeremy, if you ever receive this, I am so grateful you made it through this experience and thankful to have shared the time we spent. I am so proud of you. God Bless You.

MARIA RODA - Jun 2, 2008

i have touched by this story.Ilive in Zimbabwe wher currently we are facing a lot of hardships and struglles,political and current struggle is against buying foreign currency ,food and everything from the black know where things are nolonger available on the official market but due to inflation and shortages can only be gotten in the streets and other places.i have been able to hold out for some time now against taking this route but my family members acquire things from there and i end up using them and then i ask myself what is the difference then ,even if i do not acquire personally but i still use what has been acquired that way myself.But today and other times i find myself asking the Lord to give me light about this situation,today i almost lost hope after coming from the bank and knowing that my salary will not even last today if i had been able to withdraw it all and that those who are able to get foreign currency and sell on the black market are able to survive almost comfortably ad here many have instead grown rich at the expense of many becoming extemely poor.-these were my contemplations this afternoon,knowing i am growing weaker but upon reading this story it hit me hard that i need to trust in the Lord and i am losing slowly this trust as things are getting harder by the day with prices skyrocketing.

Ann from Leesburg - May 31, 2008

I'm sitting at my computer reading this testimonial with my 4 y.o. son on my lap and his twin sister playing behind us. As tears stream down my face, my son wipes them away with his little hand, and draws a clown face to make me smile. I tell him I'm reading of the powerful mercy and love of God. "Jesus loves you so much, " I tell him and his sister. This story attests to the UNFATHOMABLE mercy of God. To this amazing family I say, "I share in your suffering and joy. Thank you for your faith, trust and inspiration."

Dorothy sue - May 28, 2008

Jesus alone who arranges all things knows why he made me read this inspirational story.Thanks a lot.I pray that my baby due on October 19 be born on st Faustina's feast concealing my relationship with the divine mercy that saw me through the difficulties faced.

M - May 23, 2008

Thank you for this beautiful and inspirational story. Just what I needed as I looked to the Marian site for suggestion on who to pray to for my 19 year old son. He's not making good choices right now, and I will be praying to St. Faustina for him. God bless all of you.

Betty - May 22, 2008

I have been suffering from anxiety recently, and today without even knowing why , I was directed to your site(there are no coincidences only blessings).I am totally turning all my troubles to Our Lord and asking Sr. Faustina to pray for me.I already feel peace in my heart.

J. Valle 05/22 - May 22, 2008

In my eyes and in the eyes of God, Fr. Leatherby is a living saint. He is God's gift to us that's why he was given a second chance to live again. I'm so blessed to have crossed paths with him. I owe him my freedom, I owe him my life. His overwhelming desire to extend help and care for others without expecting anything back in return is exceptional. Only a true saint will ever do the things he does. God bless this holy man, Fr. Jeremy Leatherby.

P. - May 22, 2008

While Medjugorge is not a Church approved apparition(as far as I know!) , it is good to know how The Father's Mercy comes to help His searching children !May the intercession of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal also lead us along , in the Path of yearning to do always the Will of The Father !

May every priest glorify and be a model of The Father LOVE, as our Lord Himself !

Norma - May 22, 2008

My son has had a tremendously difficult first year at the Academy. He now has to endure another setback and is feeling very dejected. This article has helped me to see that we must appeal to God's Mercy, once again and ask for the intercession of our Lady and the saints, to help him get through his difficulties
and come to trust more fully in the Lord, God of Mercy.