Priest to give kidney to religious brother
Stephen Markham, a De La Salle Christian Brother, found an organ after Father Scott Bullock read a Witness article on his search for a donor
By Dan Russo
BALLTOWN — Brother Stephen William Markham and Father Scott Bullock already shared a strong spiritual bond as two men who have dedicated their lives to serving Christ as a consecrated religious and a priest.
Very soon they will also be connected by blood. On June 16, Brother Markham is scheduled to receive a kidney from his friend through a transplant surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Since March of 2015, the De La Salle Christian Brother, who is a native of Rickardsville, has been dependent on kidney dialysis to survive. A flare up of chronic glomerilo-nephritis, a kidney disease he has had since age 14, caused his organs to fail.
In the past year or so, the 72-year-old has spent countless hours each week hooked up to dialysis and had accepted that this might be his fate for the rest of his life. He remembers clearly the day he found out about his donor.
“It was a very humbling, but very good feeling,” recalls Brother Stephen. “It didn’t sink in until I got to dialysis that day. As a dialysis patient, you have to tell the dialysis center everything.” “They know more about me than I thought anybody ever would,” he said. “I told them and the excitement on the part of the nurses — they were more excited about it than I appeared to be. Father Scott and I had lunch the other day and I tried to say to him, there’s just no way (I can) thank him enough. He said, ‘You have thanked me.’”
Father Bullock became friends with Brother Stephen when they were both serving together for three years (1999-2002) at St. Catherine and St. Donatus parishes — the former as pastoral administrator and the latter as sacramental priest. Father Bullock, the current pastor at St. Edward Parish in Waterloo, is not nervous at all about the surgery.
“It gives me a lot of joy to be able to do it,” said Father Bullock. “As a priest, I’m trying to model my life after Jesus. This seems like a perfectly concrete way to do that. I’m going to be a priest 25 years this year.
“This just seems so appropriate to me that out of thanksgiving for the marvelous life of being a priest … this is a tangible gift,” he added, citing Matthew Chapter 25. “I’m doing this for our Lord.”
Brother Stephen joined the Christian Brothers soon after graduating from St. Joseph School in Rickardsville and Holy Cross High School in Holy Cross. The Franciscan sisters who were his teachers as a boy inspired him to become part of an order dedicated to education. After attending St. Mary’s College (now University) in Minnesota, he served as a teacher, then an administrator and in various other posts for his religious order. Within the archdiocese, he was pastoral associate at St. Joseph, Bellevue, pastoral administrator at St. Catherine/St. Donatus as well as at the St. La Salle Pastorate, which includes parishes in Balltown, Holy Cross, Luxemburg, Rickardsville and Sherrill. He worked as a teacher and administrator at Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville, and holds a doctorate in education.
The St. La Salle Pastorate ironically bears the name of the founder of Brother Stephen’s religious order, St. Jean-Baptiste De La Salle, because the people there selected that saint to be their patron when the pastorate was formed, according to Brother Stephen.
In 2015, Brother Stephen was serving in Chicago as director of vocation ministry for his order and had just been appointed as vice provincial when he got news his kidneys were failing. Eventually, after medications didn’t arrest the process, his doctors encouraged him to seek a live donor. He sent out word of his need through his religious order, parish bulletins, and through doing an interview with The Witness. The article in the Jan. 17 issue caught the eye of several potential donors, including Father Bullock.
“I read the article about Stephen,” remembered the priest. “I thought it was sad he was in a situation like that. I finished reading (The Witness) and put it in the trash. Then I took it back out, and thought I needed to consider being a donor more closely. I decided to take the next step.”
After finding out his blood was a match, Father Bullock traveled to Rochester for three days of intense testing. He made the final decision to donate after an entire night in prayer at the clinic.
“One of the tests is an 18-hour blood pressure test,” said Father Bullock. “The kidneys are one of the organs that regulate the blood pressure in the body. I was for 18 hours hooked up to a cuff that was squeezing every 10 minutes. I resolved myself to the fact that I was not going to sleep and it was in the middle of that I became convinced that this is what I was going to do.”
Brother Stephen was reluctant at first to advertise his need, but realizes the providence of God in his disease, and in the donation. “I’m so conscious of the fact that I am receiving something that the odds are that it will only be better,” he said. “I’m nervous about the whole thing in that (Father Bullock) is giving up something that is working well for him.” “God’s providence is incredibly at work in all of this,” Brother Stephen continued. “You know, I don’t even remember who advised me—but one of the priests advised me to put something in The Witness. Other things from The Witness article that have been very moving and encouraging for me is getting communication from people that I worked with … I’ve heard from obviously lots of parishioners and other priests — colleagues that I’ve worked with around the archdiocese.”
Brother Stephen, now living in Balltown, is expected to spend several weeks in recovery at a special facility at Mayo. He said his doctors were surprised his kidneys had been functional for so long, since given the disease he has, most people would have experienced failure in their 50s, according to the medical experts.
“So I’ve had an extra 20 years,” he said.
Father Bullock, now in his 50s and in good health, is expected to recover at home after a few days at the clinic. The recovery process could take up to six weeks. Father Bullock’s brother priests have agreed to assist with his sacramental duties. Women from the Seven Sisters prayer ministry at his parish, have agreed to assist with his care at home. The date of the surgery is subject to change depending on health conditions of both men. Both are asking for prayers that the surgery goes well.
On April 2, Father Bullock discussed the situation in a letter to the priests in the archdiocese, stating the following:
“I will be relying upon many folks in the Parish of St. Edward in Waterloo to provide the support,” wrote Father Bullock. “I will need as healing happens and will trust in the support of my brother priests to provide pastoral care for the people of St. Edward in my absence.” “I know that Brother Stephen, who has served with a good number of priests and in many parish communities in our diocese, is most grateful for the help of the presbyterate that enables me to be away for the time necessary for this surgery,” he wrote.
“I too am grateful for your support in this endeavor.” “Brother Stephen and I rely upon your prayerful support during the next several months,” he wrote. “Through the skills of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, may our Lord, the great Physician, heal and restore the life of our brother, Stephen.”
Should the surgery proceed successfully, Brother Stephen will be required to take anti-rejection medicine for the rest of his life, but will otherwise be normal. He is now retired, but hopes to be able to continue an active lifestyle and is very grateful for the opportunity to receive a kidney.
“There are no words to be grateful enough for all the support,” he said. “I’m grateful to Father Scott and all the others who have shown their generosity and love. I’m eternally grateful to God for many blessings.”
The health crisis has been educational for the former teacher.
“I really have learned to take it one day at a time, to trust in the moment, trust in God and in your friends and let people help you,” said the brother. “That was very difficult for me because I’m very independent. You have to realize you can’t control things.” As he waits for the transplant, Brother Stephen is now again living and worshiping in the community where he spent his formative years as a child and teenager.
Photo: Brother Stephen Markham (left) and Father Scott Bullock. (Photo by Dan Russo/The Witness)
Regular updates will be posted on the pastor’s blog at St. Edward Parish at www.sted.org.