Priest paralyzed by car accident taking life day by day

Father Stephen Popovich now resides at the Liberty Health Care Center.
Father Stephen Popovich now resides at the Liberty Health Care Center.

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WYTV) – Father Stephen Popovich’s new home is the Liberty Health Care Center in the first room on the right just past the receptionist’s desk.

“So thankful that I don’t have pain all the time, you know, in the legs,” Father Popovich said.

When asked if he has pain at all, he said it was “not too bad.”

“I might be a pain in the neck to some people,” Popovich said.

Father Popovich has maintained his sense of humor despite the consequences of what happened on November 13, 2013. He was headed to Youngstown’s supermax prison to celebrate mass when his car hit ice on Struthers Road in Poland Township.

“I just lost control of the car and eventually got hit by a truck and a tree,” Popovich said.

The crash damaged his spine and paralyzed him from the waist down. He does not remember much about the days and weeks following the crash. He was moved from St. Elizabeth’s Health Center to Cleveland Metro before being moved to Liberty. His room at Liberty is filled with photos of the past, a crucifix, momentos of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Serenity Prayer which reminds him to have the wisdom to know the difference.

He is getting stronger after making progress on the tilt table in the therapy room. The tilt is up to 70 degrees.

“That’s been a good experience because that’s contracting the legs. It’s putting weight on the legs so they’re very pleased that I’m able to do that,” Popovich said.

Both of his arms are mobile, and he’s had 15 surgeries. The latest surgery was on his left hand to make it more useful. As for his legs, Popovich said he cannot move them though he can feel when people touch his legs.

One of Father Popovich’s favorite songs is Jesus Take The Wheel by Carrie Underwood, a song about a young mother who loses control of her vehicle on the ice. Father Popovich believes Jesus took the wheel the morning of his accident.

“Yes, I’m still here,” Popovich said.

About six months following the accident, he went back to the scene.

“And then we saw the tree that I hit, too. And I offered, I was inside the van, and offered a prayer. You know, was that part of the healing process, going back to the scene? I think so. I think so,” Popovich said.

About 21 months after the accident, Father Stephen Popovich is going public. He gave the homily during the school year’s first mass at Cardinal Mooney High School, his alma mater, and recently concelebrated mass at St. Robert’s in Cortland.

He convinced Liberty Health Center’s management to plant him a garden which he waters himself most days. Aside from that, his future is day by day.

“Yeah, look out. I’m getting out and about with my wheelchair. Look out,” Father Popovich said.

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