Irving C. “Francis” Houle
Irving C. Houle was born December 27th, 1925, at his family home in Wilson, MI. His parents were Peter and Lillian Houle. They were faithful Catholics who raised seven children, six boys and one girl. Irving was the sixth child. As of this writing, all of the children have also died. The last sibling, Bob, having died in June of this year, 2018.
As a young child Irving recalled his family praying the rosary together, especially during Lent. Even then he felt a calling to suffer for Jesus. He told me that his mother “scolded” him for kneeling upon the metal grate in the room where they prayed. He recalled that his family would remain after Mass to pray the Stations of the Cross. His father would direct the children in praying an Our Father and a Hail Mary at each station. In addition to Holy Mass and the Eucharist, the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and in later years the Divine Mercy Chaplet were part of his daily routine.
At the age of 6, Irving was badly injured when he was thrown from the back of a galloping horse. He suffered a severe chest injury with broken ribs and a punctured lung. He was taken to a hospital in Escanaba, MI, where x-rays revealed the broken ribs and punctured lung. In addition, he was hemorrhaging badly through the nose and mouth. A local newspaper clipping reported the injuries as believed to be fatal.
Irving had an aunt whom was a Franciscan Sister. Her name was Sr. Speciosa and she and her sisters at the convent prayed an all night vigil for his recovery. The next morning the doctor at the hospital was amazed to find that Irving had improved significantly and was no longer struggling to breathe. Irving related to his mother and the doctor that a “beautiful man in a white bathrobe” had stood at the foot of his bed during the night and raised his hand over him. At the time the local bishop was notified of this seeming miraculous recovery and agreed the “beautiful man” must have been Jesus. Later in life Irving would tell those close to him that he knows it was Jesus.
Irving had a happy childhood with many memories of family celebrations at Christmas, Easter, attending Mass, family prayer and much love within his family. The Houle family had relatives in the city of Escanaba, MI, and when Irving was 16-17 years old, his family moved to Escanaba. Irving was happy about this as it gave him the opportunity to go to Holy Mass more often and to pray in a church regularly. Irving told this writer that he went to daily mass when he was in high school, even though he was the only young person from his school to do so. He loved Holy Mass and the Eucharist and it was not uncommon for him to be moved to tears at the consecration and upon receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. Irving graduated from Escanaba High School in 1942. While in school he was active in many sports and his love for sports continued throughout his life.
The day after high school graduation, Irving entered the U.S. Army and served in World War Il throughout Europe. His letters home frequently mentioned his faith, the Eucharist and his desire to attend Mass, and sharing his faith with fellow soldiers.
Irving married his wife Gail, November 17th, 1948, and they were married for 60 years. Gail Houle survives as of this writing. They were members of St. Joseph St. Patrick Parish in Escanaba. They raised 5 children, Margo, Steve, Peter, John and Matt. They have seven grandchildren and many great grandchildren, nieces and nephews. His family knew him as a devoutly religious, loving, caring person, who was fun to be around. Irving was known to be a teaser and a prankster. He was also known to have his feelings hurt easily, and at times he had a temper.
Throughout his working years Irving had several different jobs. He worked at several retail stores and for two major manufacturing companies. He worked the last 15 years of his working years at Engineered Machine Products, where he was the plant manager. Irving kept pictures of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart on his desk. Once a comment was made about the religious pictures and he replied “If they go, I go”. Irving was known to go to a church to pray the Stations of the Cross every day after work, no matter the hours worked. Upon retiring, he spent his days in prayer, daily Mass, Rosary, Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy Chaplet, and praying for other people. He always prayed 12 Our Fathers and 12 Hail Marys upon arising each day. He attended family gatherings and closely followed and attended his grandchildren’s school and athletic events.
Irving was a 4th Degree Knight in the Knights of Columbus. All six brothers, along with their father, were members. All devoted to Catholic life and to their families.
On Good Friday, 1993, Irving received the stigmata. The wounds first appeared on the palms of his hands and he began to experience physical sufferings. He suffered The Passion every night between midnight and 3 am for the rest of his earthly life. He understood that these particular hours of the day were times of great sins of the flesh. Jesus asked Irving to “touch my children”, and Irving spent the last 16 years of his life doing just that. He shared this charism with tens of thousands of people. Irving’s greatest concern was for the conversion of souls. He was most happy to learn of people returning to confession after 20, 30, or 40 years, and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.
If he were ever asked to speak at a church or gathering, Irving always gave glory to God. There were many extraordinary physical and spiritual healings and he always made it crystal clear that these things came from God. He would simply say, “I don’t heal anybody” and “Jesus is the one who heals”.
Irving and his wife Gail both suffered as a result of this special charism, however, they both persevered and eventually came to peace with their situation. Their love for God and for each other and their family allowed them to cooperate with our Lord and His will for their lives.
Irving died at Marquette General Hospital in Marquette, Michigan, on Saturday, January 3rd, 2009. He will be remembered for his love of God, his closeness to Jesus and the Blessed Mother, his love for the Eucharist, the Church, prayer, and his care and concern for others.
Prepared by: Deacon Terry Saunders