Holy Incident Was No Accident

car accidentIt was the kind of day when everything was going wrong. I could recite a litany of all the mishaps and disasters. I knew I needed a lifeline by 10 a.m., so I phoned a friend, my sister, who is a Daughter of Charity and a powerful pray-er.

I had just shared (spilled) coffee with someone in a failed work meeting, so I sat in my car in the Starbucks parking lot as Sister Julie prayed with me and gave me a pep talk. I breathed in God’s grace—more in faith than in feeling—and hung up. I felt better.

Backing out, hopeful for a better remainder of the day, WHAM! I backed into a woman backing into me. What? Are you kidding?I got out and headed to her car. “I can’t believe that just happened!” I said. Words of incredulity poured from me. She sat silent in the driver’s seat, writing out her contact and insurance information. Following her example, I fell silent and wrote out mine.

When she tore the paper out of her pad, and I gave her my page, I said, “I notice you have a rosary hanging from your mirror. Are you a Catholic?”

Several others things also hung there. She hesitated. Was it because she wasn’t sure how to answer the question? Was she having a crisis of faith? She finally said, “Yes.”

“I’m a Catholic too,” I replied.

Tears began to run down her cheeks. “I had breast cancer surgery last week,” she said.

“Can I pray for you?” I asked. She nodded, so I put my hand on her shoulder and began the most impassioned, heartfelt, storm-heaven kind of prayer I could think of. I guess I was feeling mad at God that this woman was getting hit with cancer, and hit by me, and I started to demand miracles for her.

Now this was not the first time I’ve prayed over someone. And sometimes, I can feel a person cringing under my hand on their shoulder, as if they can’t wait for me to stop. But this woman reached up, gripped my hand, and held it there. I don’t know if my prayer was too long or too short. Whatever it was, it was full of faith. And when I finished, she thanked me.

“I will pray for you all day,” I said and meant it.

And then she hugged me. “Have nice holidays,” she said as we parted.

As I walked to my car, I looked at the paper with her name and insurance information. Preprinted at the top was: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say: Rejoice! —Philippians 4:4.”

What just happened to me? Did I run into an angel? She wished me happy holidays?

That accident was a few weeks ago, and still I pray for the woman in the other car. I’ve asked friends and family to pray for her too. “God, bring good out of this,” I pray.

“It’s no accident you ran into her,” a friend said. I laughed out loud. With God, nothing is mere coincidence.

What holy incidents and happy accidents have occurred to you?

Previous articleAlone or Lonely?
Next articleAndrew Garfield on the Spiritual Exercises
Loretta Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer and the author of 2022: A Book of Grace-Filled Days, Women in Conversation: Stand Up!, and Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. A spiritual director since 2012, Loretta is trained in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Her involvement in ministry and parish life includes 20 years in small faith-sharing groups and Christian Life Community. Loretta gives retreats and presentations on prayer and women’s spirituality and is commissioned as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She and her husband Steve have four children and 10 grandchildren.


  1. This is so beautiful and moving. When I was 30, I had cancer surgery and was placed in a special care unit afterwards for a few days. My roommate was an elderly black woman who was very ill. One night, her pastor came to visit her. He went to pray over her and asked me if I would mind if he prayed over me as well. I said that I would be very happy if he did so. He placed one hand near my head and the other, near hers. I knew at that moment that I was going to be okay. That was 40 years ago, but I never forgot his kindness and faith in the Lord to heal us.

  2. I went to Church early Sunday and saw my friend Terry there. I sat next to him and told him how I was approached by a helper of my gardner to find public help. I asked Terry what he thought of my plan to help out.
    He smiled and said he was just praying that the Lord would give him some indication of how he could others in need. He was overjoyed at the prospect.
    An example of another Holy Incidence I would have missed if I didn’t read your piece.
    Thank you Loretta.

  3. Prayer, like hugging, is a mutually beneficial activity: at the same time we can be both pray-er and pray-ee, just as we are simultaneously hugger and huggee. This is a beautiful example of that, triggered by a most undesirable accident. Oh happy accident!

  4. God- incidences happen all the time but sometimes we are too busy to recognize them. I guess there is a lesson here to pause and be observant.

  5. That is a lovely and inspirational story. It illustrates so well how we never know what is going on with another, but when we reach out to them in love, amazing things can happen.

  6. Thank you for this lovely and surprising reflection! When the woman shared that she had cancer the entire tone of the piece changed as you prayed over her. What a blessing you two had that encounter in the parking lot. Perhaps a coffee-reunion between the two of you will occur!

  7. I’ve been reading the IS.com daily emails for several months now. This is the first time I felt the urge to make a comment…
    Thanks Loretta, it moved me.
    Take care

  8. The late De La Salle brother, Brother Jim from St Cassians Retreat Centre Kintbury, United Kingdom, used to call events such as these as ‘Godincidences’. Nearly twenty seven years ago, whilst driving down the road I glanced ‘by chance’ out of the corner of my eye a woman who I had only known previously as a fellow parishioner. She had recently left the novitiate; I was at that time a seminarian. I stopped the car and we had a coffee. This April we celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary. A ‘Godincidence’ for sure!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here