By THE HERALD-WHIG STAFF
CENTER, Mo. -- A priest who seemed to appear from nowhere to pray at an accident scene west of Center last week came across the crash while driving between morning Mass assignments.
The official identification by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City of the Rev. Patrick Dowling, who previously served parishes including Monroe City and Indian Creek, as the clergyman who showed up when he was needed most ends a mystery that gripped many witnesses and first responders since the Aug. 4 incident.
"I had Mass in Ewing as the regular priest was sick. As I was returning, I arrived at the scene," said Dowling in an account provided to the National Catholic Register website.
Witnesses had said they did not see the priest's car before he walked to the spot where emergency crews were cutting 19-year-old Katie Lentz, of Quincy, Ill., out of her badly mangled vehicle on Mo. 19 near Center. Lentz's vehicle had been struck head-on by a suspected drunken driver. Rescuers said the priest appeared just as the severely injured teen had asked them to pray with her.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported a 2006 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck driven by Aaron L. Smith, 26, of New London, was traveling east on Mo. 19 at 9:07 a.m. when it crossed the center line and crashed head-on with the westbound 1989 Mercedes 300E driven by Lentz.
Dowling said authorities were redirecting traffic near the accident scene. He waited until it was possible to drive up closer, then parked behind a large vehicle about 150 yards from the scene.
"I asked the sheriff's permission and approached the scene of the accident. I absolved and anointed Katie, and, at her request, prayed that her leg would not hurt. Then I stepped aside to where some rescue personnel and the pilot were waiting, and prayed the rosary silently. I left when the helicopter was about to take off, and before I got to my car, it was on its way to Quincy," Dowling said.
Lentz was taken by Air Evac to Blessing Hospital in Quincy, where she remains in satisfactory condition.
"I gave my name to one of the authorities, perhaps to the sergeant of Highway Patrol, explaining that I was returning have celebrated Mass at Ewing," Dowling said. "It was the sergeant who, at the sheriff's request, gave me Katie's name as I was leaving, so I could visit her in (the) hospital."
Dowling, who is based in Columbia, "is pleased that he was able to help by performing his ministry and noted that he was just one of many who responded to assist the victim at the accident," the diocese said in a statement.
Dowling praised the emergency responders at the scene.
"God has blessed your work," he said. "I hope the credit goes where it is due."
Dowling, a native of Kilkenny, Ireland, was ordained as a priest of the diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., in 1982. Dowling has served at parishes in Moberly, Milan, Unionville and Eldon and in the diocese's mission parishes in Marcona and Nasca, Peru. He currently is serving in prison ministry and in parish ministry to Spanish-speaking Catholics.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.