As he lay bleeding with 13 bullet wounds, Jeffrey Rentegrado clutched the Knights of Columbus rosary that hung around his neck and heard an interior voice tell him to pray. He called on Father Michael Mc- Givney’s intercession.
“I said to him, ‘Please help me,’” Jeffrey recalled. “‘Help me so I can help those who need your guidance in our parish and also help those who can help me.’”
Jeffrey was 35 years old at the time two gunmen arrived at his house and opened fire. A successful fisherman, he lived with his wife, Ginalyn, and their two children in Davila, a small village in the northwest Philippines, along the sparkling shore of the South China Sea. Though the gunmen’s motive is still not known for certain, it was likely related to fishing rights in an area that relies almost solely on the sea for sustenance.
Despite his critical injuries and a delay in receiving medical care, Jeffrey lived, and eventually returned to his work as a fisherman. More than a decade later, he has long forgiven the assailants and is content to put the incident behind him. But he will never cease to be grateful for his remarkable recovery, which he attributes to the intercession of the Knights’ blessed founder.
“I feel that he provided for me and granted my prayers,” Jeffrey said. “And so I survived.”
On May 27, 2009, Jeffrey and his wife returned home from a local festival just past 9:30 p.m. Ginalyn began preparing a late dinner, and Jeffrey was sitting at a table just outside their house when shots suddenly rang out from two directions.
Jeffrey felt stinging pain all over his body as bullets broke his right femur, struck his chest and abdomen and passed through his neck, severing his esophagus. His 10-year-old son, John Reggie, ran to help his father and was hit in the back by a bullet; it missed his spine by a hair’s breadth. Ginalyn’s screams from the kitchen were met with a hail of bullets, as she crouched behind the sink, praying that her husband and son were alive.
Leaving Jeffrey for dead, the gunmen ran into the dark, firing stray shots to ward off witnesses.
Ginalyn emerged to find Jeffrey curled in a fetal position behind a coconut tree. She had studied nursing but never had seen so much blood. Noticing the rosary in his hand, she whispered, “Stay strong and pray,” and then screamed for help.
Concerned neighbors came running. Grabbing Jeffrey’s arms and legs, two men carried him across the street to the house of Dr. Marissa Onilla, and began pounding on her gate. She hesitated, unsure whether gunmen were still outside, but then decided, “I have to open the gate. Someone may be hurt.”
Jeffrey lay in the street, surrounded by neighbors who were trying desperately to stop the bleeding. The hale young fisherman whom she had nicknamed “King of the Sea” for his large catches now was pale and unresponsive.
“I thought that he was dead already,” recalled Dr. Onilla, who knew right away that she could not treat him in her small clinic.
After examining the neck wound and finding a weak pulse, she saw Jeffrey slowly open his eyes and turn toward her with a pleading look.
“Oh, no, what have they done?” she thought. “Not the King of the Sea!” She told the men to take both Jeffrey and John Reggie to the regional hospital in Laoag City, more than 20 miles away over narrow roads.
“I thought that he wouldn’t make it, but I said ‘just go,’ because it would be unfair not to try,” Dr. Onilla said. “I said they had to bring him to the hospital as fast as possible because he might still have a chance.”
Jeffrey was placed in the backseat of a neighbor’s car with Ginalyn beside him. The driver, Almer Ratuita, knew Jeffrey well. As grand knight of Davila Council 14302 in Pasuquin, Luzon, Almer had recruited Jeffrey to join the Order the previous year.
When Jeffrey tried to speak, blood bubbled from his mouth and oozed out of the wounds on either side of his neck. Almer reached back from the driver’s seat to take his hand, yelling, “Don’t die! Don’t die!”
He felt something in Jeffrey’s palm. It was the rosary he had received when becoming a Knight. Jeffrey had not attended Mass regularly before joining the Order, but afterward he went to Mass every Sunday with his family and wore the rosary around his neck as a sign of his commitment to the Catholic faith.
Almer prayed with passion as he drove. “I challenged the Lord at that time,” he recounted. “I told him, ‘If this man lives, I will surely believe. Show me a miracle!’”
They reached the emergency room in Laoag City by 10:15 p.m. The regional hospital had only one operating table, and the doctors decided to send Jeffrey in an ambulance to a larger medical center in Batac, 8 miles away, while they treated John Reggie. Ginalyn’s brother stayed behind with his nephew and she continued on with Jeffrey, who was drifting in and out of consciousness.
“When we got to Batac, two doctors attended him but were shaking their heads, saying, ‘This is a hopeless case,’” Ginalyn said. “Jeffrey was gasping for air because he was really very weak with the blood loss, yet I told him, ‘Just have faith, fight it out, you’re strong, think of your children — pray.’ He then replied, ‘Yes.’”
She went to the hospital chapel and began praying to Father McGivney “because I know he helps the poor, gives blessings to the poor.”
She also prayed that their pastor from Davila, Father Lester Leonor, would come to be with them — not realizing that Knights from Jeffrey’s council had notified the priest about what had happened.
“Suddenly, Father Lester was there, just like that,” Ginalyn said.
The pastor administered the anointing of the sick just before Jeffrey was taken for X-rays and surgery, and stayed to comfort and pray with Ginalyn.
He recalled, “After he joined the Knights, I noticed [Jeffrey] was so in love with this organization — helping the church, and inspiring other young men to join. I had to be there for him and his family.”
Over the next five hours, Jeffrey underwent three surgeries to repair his torn esophagus, insert a tracheostomy tube, assess his neck wounds and remove bullet fragments from throughout his body. In the morning, a surgeon told Ginalyn that it was “a big miracle” that her husband survived.
A metal rod was then placed in Jeffrey’s leg to support his broken femur, and after more than a month in the hospital, he spent about a year recovering at home.
“When I found that my father had survived, I was so happy,” recalled John Reggie, who also made a full recovery. “I realized it was not only me who was given a new life by the Lord. When I saw him at the time, he was all smiles and in tears.”
Shortly after the shooting, while Jeffrey was still in the hospital, police arrested two suspects, yet Jeffrey declined to identify them or press charges. He and his wife believed the gunmen were hired by someone in another village who was jealous of his success at fishing. Not wanting to escalate tensions in the area, Jeffrey let the case drop, saying that there is no room for anger in a heart filled with gratitude.
With Jeffrey unable to ply the seas during his long recovery, his family suffered financially. Knights from his council visited, prayed with him and helped provide food and other necessities. In time, he was strong enough to bring his boat and nets to his familiar fishing grounds, 12 miles offshore, and reclaim the nickname “King of the Sea.”
Today, at age 46, he is strong and healthy, and active in his parish and council. Jeffrey served two years as his council’s grand knight (2013-15), and he and his wife pray regularly in front of a large image of Father McGivney in their home. He also still has the Knights of Columbus rosary that he held that night for dear life.
“My husband is always reminding our children to go to Mass,” Ginalyn said. “He is so active and devoted to the church, and when they need people to work, he’s always there.”
Although there is not enough medical evidence to prove that Jeffrey’s survival was indeed miraculous, he has no doubt that God spared his life thanks to the intercession of Father McGivney.
“I just want to say that I survived because of Father Mc- Givney,” he said. “And now that I have a second chance to live, I hope to help others as well.”
BRIAN CAULFIELD is editor of Fathers for Good and vice postulator for the canonization cause of Blessed Father Michael McGivney.
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