BALTIMORE — Candida Montilla came upon the woman she describes as her guardian angel by accident — literally.
“What Karen did, the sacrifices she made to help us, it is unbelievable,” Montilla said. “I thought we were going to die, but she cared for us, and found help for us. I just thank God that when we got in trouble, it was at a blessed place.”
The place was St. Anthony Shrine in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where Karen Davis serves as a secretary. Late afternoon June 11, as violent thunderstorms wracked central Maryland, Davis got a call at home from a parishioner alerting her to an auto wreck on its campus.
On a road just past Mount St. Mary’s University, Montilla’s Dodge Caravan hydroplaned off the road and onto the shrine grounds, taking out a portion of a fence before coming to a stop.
One of her passengers was her husband, David, who has used a wheelchair for mobility since 1985, when a swimming accident left him paralyzed.
Davis arrived on the scene as the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office filed paperwork. She let the distraught Montilla and her grandson, Brandon Burgos, into parish offices to clean up. When she walked them back to their van, Davis met David Montilla and said her “heart broke in half.”
The Montillas planned to spend the night in their damaged van while they waited on their insurance company, but that would not do for Davis, who quickly mobilized parish and town resources.
She got in touch with a parishioner with a mobility van and volunteer firefighters transported the family to a local hotel for what turned into a five-night stay.
Davis also arranged for local collision center, owned by her sister and brother-in-law, to get the Montilla’s van towed and repairs started.
“I cannot explain how good these people are,” Montilla said from her home in Temple, Pennsylvania. “For me, it’s all a miracle from God. I feel like Karen is my sister.”
The Montillas, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic in 1974, could not have found a person more suited to coming to their aid than Davis, whose roots in the parish go deep.
A lifelong parishioner of the shrine, she started working there in 2017, a few months after her husband, Rex, became its maintenance man.
“Before my father passed away, it was his dream that one of us would work for St. Anthony,” said Davis, who had a 30-year career in the banking industry.
“My ancestors helped build the church. My grandmother, Alma Seltzer, who helped my father raise us, was in the choir and the organist and used to clean the linens at the seminary. She is the reason I am who I am,” Montilla told the Catholic Review, news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Like her grandmother, Davis cleans the linens and decorates St. Anthony Shrine.
The Montillas, who worship at St. Peter the Apostle in Reading, Pennsylvania, were on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington when the accident happened.
In lieu of Washington’s national shrine in the nation’s capital, before leaving Emmitsburg they stopped at the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes June 16, at the suggestion of Davis.
But first, Montilla delivered a bottle of wine and a hug to Davis, who said the help she gave was part of a team effort.
Father Collin Poston, her pastor, said it also included a higher power.
“This happened on the weekend when we celebrate the feast of our patron,” Poston said, since June 13 is the feast of St. Anthony of Padua.
“We erected a statue of him at our cemetery on the hill that day,” he said, adding that he believes “St. Anthony was interceding throughout, preserving the family from harm.”
McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.