BALLTOWN, Iowa — Christian Brother Stephen William Markham and Father Scott Bullock already shared a strong spiritual bond as two men who have dedicated their lives to serving Christ as a consecrated religious and a priest.
Very soon, they also will be connected by blood.
Come June 16, or thereabout, Brother Markham is scheduled to receive a kidney from his friend through transplant surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Since March 2015, Brother Markham, 72, a native of Rickardsville, Iowa, near Dubuque, has been dependent on dialysis to survive. A flare-up of chronic glomerulonephritis, a kidney disease he has had since age 14, caused his organs to fail. The surgery is expected to end the treatments.
Brother Markham remembers clearly the day he learned about his donor.
“It was a very humbling but very good feeling. It didn’t sink in until I got to dialysis that day,” he recalled.
“Father Scott and I had lunch the other day and I tried to say to him, there’s just no way (I can) thank him enough. He said, ‘You have thanked me.’”
Father Bullock and Brother Markham became friends when they served from 1999 to 2002 at parishes in nearby towns southeast of Dubuque. Father Bullock, the current pastor at St. Edward Parish in Waterloo, said he is not nervous about the surgery.
“It gives me a lot of joy to be able to do it. As a priest, I’m trying to model my life after Jesus. This seems like a perfectly concrete way to do that. I’m going to be a priest 25 years this year,” Father Bullock said.
Brother Markham joined the Christian Brothers soon after graduating from St. Joseph School in Rickardsville and Holy Cross High School in Holy Cross and later served as a teacher, an administrator and in posts for his religious order followed by assignments in the Dubuque Archdiocese.
In 2015, Brother Markham was serving in Chicago as director of vocation ministry for his order and had been appointed as vice provincial when he learned his kidneys were failing. After medications did not arrest the illness, his doctors encouraged him to seek a live donor. He sent word of his need through the order, parish bulletins and even in an interview with The Witness, the Dubuque archdiocesan newspaper. The story caught the eye of several potential donors, including Father Bullock.
“I read the article about Stephen,” the priest said. “I thought it was sad he was in a situation like that. I finished reading (The Witness) and put it in the trash. Then I took it back out, and thought I needed to consider being a donor more closely. I decided to take the next step.”
He underwent tests at the Mayo Clinic and learned he was a match for the procedure. He made the final decision to donate after a night in prayer.
Brother Markham was reluctant at first to advertise his need but realizes the providence of God in his disease and in the donation.
“I’m so conscious of the fact that I am receiving something that the odds are that it will only be better,” he said. “I’m nervous about the whole thing in that (Father Bullock) is giving up something that is working well for him.
Now retired and living in Balltown, Brother Markham is expected to spend several weeks in recovery at a special facility at Mayo.
Father Bullock, now in his 50s and in good health, is expected to recover at home after a few days at Mayo before being released. Full recovery could take up to six weeks. Father Bullock’s brother priests have agreed to assist with his sacramental duties. Women from the Seven Sisters prayer ministry at his parish have agreed to assist with home care.
Both are asking for prayers that the surgery goes well. After the transplant, Brother Markham will be required to take anti-rejection medicine for the rest of his life, but otherwise will be able to live normally. He considers that a small price to pay for the opportunity to receive a healthy kidney.
“There are no words to be grateful enough for all the support,” he said. “I’m grateful to Father Scott and all the others who have shown their generosity and love. I’m eternally grateful to God for many blessings.”
By Dan Russo, editor of The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.