SCROLL THE ARROWS to see another photo.
Father Christopher Aubuchon needs a new heart.
Fourteen months after venerating the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, the 32-year-old priest of the Jefferson City diocese is on a waiting list for a heart transplant.
“The Lord has a plan. He knows what he’s doing,” said Fr. Aubuchon. “I trust Him very much, and He’s been strengthening that trust through all of this — taking care of me in lots of hidden ways I could never have expected.”
Fr. Aubuchon started experiencing shortness of breath last December and was treated for pneumonia.
The symptoms persisted, prompting him to go to Hermann Area District Hospital in Hermann and eventually Mercy Hospital in Washington, Missouri.
It became evident that his heart had been damaged by a virus and was not pumping as much blood as it should.
He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and given medication. His fatigue and other symptoms continued to worsen.
The most mundane tasks — such as walking up a flight of stairs or taking a shower and brushing his teeth before bed — became exhausting.
“I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t sleep at night,” he said. “I was pretty much at my wit’s end.”
At the encouragement of Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, he sought a second doctor’s opinion. The doctor sent him to SSM St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City last month, from which he was transferred to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City for a more aggressive evaluation and treatment.
The doctors there concluded that because his heart is so weak and would not be able to recover on its own, he is a good candidate for a heart transplant.
“They’ve looked at every angle of the situation and determined that this is the only way they’ll be able to prolong my life,” he said.
After much prayer, reflection, discussion with family and friends, “and the shedding of some tears,” he agreed to be placed on a national heart transplant list and is presently awaiting a donor.
“I have made this choice in order to be able to live my life and Priesthood as fully as possible on this earth,” he said. “Obviously, the length of wait time is unknown and is in God’s hands.”
“Okay with that”
Realizing that a heart only becomes available for transplant after someone with a healthy heart dies, Fr. Aubuchon asks for continued prayers not only for himself but also for the donor and his or her family.
A priest friend and former seminary classmate who lives near St. Luke’s Hospital invited Fr. Aubuchon to stay with him at his rectory while waiting for the transplant and then while recovering.
“As overwhelming as all of this can be,” said Fr. Aubuchon, “God has been so very good to me, and I rest in hope knowing that Jesus is answering my constant prayer to make my heart like His Sacred Heart, through the intercession of the patroness of our diocese, the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
He has been overwhelmed with gratitude for all the love and support he has received.
“A lot of good is coming out of this suffering,” he recently wrote to friends. “It is through your prayers and the prayers of so many that I am strengthened.”
He spends a great deal of time before the Blessed Sacrament, telling the Lord, “If this is how You want to make me a saint in Heaven with You, then let Your will be done.”
“But if You want my opinion, I would like to be here longer to continue Your work as a priest and use this experience as an instrument to help other people.”
He said it’s a matter of bending his own will toward God’s, not the other way around.
“Asking God for something that I want, if it isn’t what He wants, amounts to settling for a lesser good,” he said. “If that means carrying a heavy cross, then that’s what it means. If it means dying, I’m okay with that, too.”
“We’re going to continue to trust in Him that way,” said Fr. Aubuchon. “He’s never let me down and I know He never will.”
Fr. Aubuchon hasn’t ruled out a miraculous healing, and he has gathered an impressive conglomeration of saints to help intercede for him.
“I’m asking my friends, the saints, to help me do what they did, which is to endure the kind of difficulty and suffering that helps us become saints,” he said.
Having been born on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and ordained a priest on the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, he has always turned to the Blessed Mother for help in time of need, and she brings him great comfort.
He took the name of her husband, St. Joseph, patron saint of the Universal Church, as his Confirmation name.
He turns to St. Michael the Archangel for help against temptation, especially anger or despair.
He’s called upon Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun, a fellow Kenrick-Glennon Seminary alumnus who died as a chaplain and prisoner of war during the Korean War.
He turns to St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, whose incorrupt heart he got to venerate in a reliquary during a diocesan day of prayer for vocations last year.
“I hear he may have also had heart issues, so I’ve been praying for his intercession,” said Fr. Aubuchon.
St. John Vianney was fond of praying, “My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.”
Then there are St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Rita and St. Jude Thaddeus.
“I ask for their intercession especially when praying for other people who are going through a hard time,” he said.
He remembers praying a Novena to St. Jude in high school while struggling to accept that God was calling him to consider the Priesthood.
“God wanted me to go to the seminary, but I was terrified of it,” he recalled. “I said, ‘St. Jude, through your intercession, if God wants me to discern Priesthood in the seminary, please give me calm. If not, help all of this unrest go away.”
Halfway through the novena, the future priest was filled with peace, tranquility and determination to give the seminary a try.
“Fast-forward some years, and I’m in a similar situation, in need and seeking that peace once again,” said Fr. Aubuchon.
He’s convinced that this whole experience can make him more patient, more spiritual, more reliant on God — in short, a better priest.
“I’ve often said that this life is a saint-making machine,” he stated. “That’s what you have to allow it to be. So if this is something God is using to help me to become a saint, then it’s exactly what I want.”
He celebrated his sixth priestly anniversary on June 7, which fell this year on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.
“I am filled with tremendous gratitude to the Most Holy Trinity for the gift they have shared with me, to be truly ‘In persona Christi,’ meaning, ‘In the person of Christ,’ for the sake of holy Mother, the Church; serving those entrusted to my care as a spiritual father,” he said.
He believes there’s a wellspring of homily material waiting to be tapped from his current experiences.
“If this goes the way I’d like it to, people are going to be hearing about it for years to come,” he said.
Remembering that God is always good and faithful in all things, please keep Fr. Aubuchon in your prayers.
Cards or notes of support for Fr. Aubuchon can be mailed to: Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, c/o Fr. Christopher Aubuchon, 3934 Washington St., Kansas City, MO 64111.