When Arthur Boyle and two friends boarded the plane on Labor Day weekend of 2000, they weren’t going to Myrtle Beach for a golf outing, or to see the Red Sox play an away game. Their trip was to Medjugorje, a place Boyle had never even heard of.
But Boyle’s brother-in-law Kevin Gill and neighbor Rob Griffin had heard of the 1981 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was said to have appeared before some children, and the miraculous healing that took place in the hill town in the former Yugoslavia.
Boyle, who lives in Hingham, was 44 and fighting metastatic kidney cancer. He had a wife and 12 children.
With nothing to lose, the three men embarked on a most unusual buddy trip. That trip is the subject of Boyle’s new book, “Six Months to Live: Three Guys on the Ultimate Quest for a Miracle.” Boyle’s co-author, Eileen McAvoy Boylen, lives in Hull.
When he returned from six days in Medjugorje, Boyle made the headlines and news shows because the cancer, which had spread to his lung, had disappeared. According to a story in the Globe on Dec. 24, 2000: “His cancer may have receded by spontaneous remission, a phenomenon that doctors have recorded before, though only rarely. Or the smaller growths could still develop into something more troubling. But this much is certain: There was a potentially lethal spot on his lung before he traveled to Bosnia in September, and it was gone by the time he got back.”
Two years later, a CT scan revealed two small spots. They were removed — renal cells that had not grown or spread.
On the back of his book, Boyle’s urologist, Dr. Francis McGovern, blurbs: “With the severity and progression of Artie’s disease, metastatic renal cell carcinoma, it is difficult for medical science to explain why he is alive today. But, every time I see him, I am sure there is a God.”
In a telephone interview from Massachusetts General Hospital, McGovern, who had removed Boyle’s cancerous left kidney, says he can’t explain what happened. “There is a rare phenomenon with tumor biology where when you take out the primary cancer, you can have spontaneous remission of the metastatic disease.” But, he says, Boyle’s kidney tumor was “huge, high grade, and aggressive,” making such remission even less likely.
Years ago, Boyle stopped his cancer checkups. “I said, ‘Listen, Doc, I’ve been healed by Jesus Christ,’ ” says Boyle, who is 59. “My doctor said, ‘Congratulations! You’ve graduated from the School of Oncology. Very few people do.’ ” That was his oncologist, Dr. Matthew Smith.
“I have seen graduations, weddings, the births of many grandchildren, and had the great pleasure of witnessing a son enter the seminary,” Boyle writes. “And I’ve had all that extra time to enjoy with my lovely wife. I have learned a truer, deeper form of gratitude.”
Another son, Brian, was a hockey star at Boston College, played for the New York Rangers, and is now with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Boyle has been to Medjugorje 13 times with various groups, including his family, and is headed back over in November with a men’s prayer group. “It’s different every time,” he says. “I just go back to recharge the batteries. There’s a supernatural peace over there.”
He has spoken all over the country, and in Europe, about his experience. He recently spoke at Glastonbury Abbey, drawing an overflow crowd of 300, with 100 others turned away by Hingham police.
Though he obviously has a following, Boyle also knows some people may not believe his story, while others may think he’s crazy. “When I first went to confession in Medjugorje, the priest told us when we went back home, just to live our lives, and say nothing. Otherwise, people will think we’re a bunch of nut jobs. And we didn’t [talk]. I don’t talk about it unless I’m asked to speak,” he says.
Some scenes in the book defy logic, but Boyle and Boylen write matter-of-factly about what the six visionaries — now middle-aged men and women — say they have seen. One of them, Ivanka, lost her mother as a child. “Since then,” Boyle writes, “Our Lady has taken Ivanka to visit her mother in heaven five times.”
Boyle believes his story is one of hope, and he has accompanied other sick people to Medjugorje. Some have been healed, others have not. “In our plan, it doesn’t work every time,” he says. “But in God’s plan, it does. Just trust in God, and he’ll show you the way.”
When people ask how he was healed, he says he doesn’t exactly know. “I’m just a normal guy,” he says. “I play hockey and golf and drink beer. I love to hang out with my buddies and my family.”
He and his wife, Judy, whose children range in age from 17 to 40, attend two churches in Hingham: a prayer group at St. Paul’s and services at Resurrection. In addition, Boyle, who had a trucking company for 30 years, now works in development for the Archdiocese of Boston, raising money for inner-city parochial schools and The Catholic Appeal.
He, Gill, and Griffin all grew up Catholic and sat in church pews regularly before Medjugorje. “None of us would describe ourselves as deeply spiritual. . . . Simply put, Rob, Kevin, and I were neither heathens nor choir boys, just three guys desperate enough to take a leap of faith,” Boyle writes. At Medjugorje, he writes, all of that changed for all of them.
“I was in tough shape. It was not pretty. But I’m still here. To me, it’s a miracle,” he says. He isn’t crazy, he adds. “I’m blessed.”