LIBERTY, Ohio (WKBN) – Six years after an accident left him paralyzed, Father Stephen Popovich continues to be guided by his faith and a determination to keep living.
On Nov. 13, 2013, Fr. Popovich, then the pastor at St. Paul The Apostle Church in New Middletown, was driving early in the morning along Struthers Road in Poland Township, headed to the Ohio State Penitentiary to celebrate mass. He hit ice, causing his car to run into a truck and then a tree.
Ever since that moment, Fr. Popovich has been paralyzed from the waist down.
He has now become a “priestly inspiration.” He’s made amazing progress thanks to the help of his therapists at the Windsor House at Liberty Health Care Center, where he currently lives.
There, Fr. Popovich works on things like holding on to parallel bars to stand up and exercising his legs on stationary bikes. He’s developed enough strength in his arms and core that he can sit upright on a bed and adjust himself when seated in his wheelchair.
He also spends a couple days a week at Park Vista, swimming in the pool.
“I try to achieve as much of a positive outlook as I can, but realizing that there’s days where, you know, I don’t know what lies ahead,” he said.
“He’s an inspiration to not just us here with all the therapists, but also to the residents around this building,” said physical therapist Ramon Lim.
“My brother is the epitome of faith,” said Margie Cretella.
Fr. Popovich’s sister and brother-in-law, Margie and Mike Cretella, never go more than a few days without visiting.
“I feel he’s going to be victorious one day when he does stand and walk on his own, whether it’s now or in heaven,” Margie said.
As far as the accident from six years ago…
“Yes, I think about it. There’s less and less of it that I remember from that day,” Fr. Popovich said.
“We call this St. Stephen’s Church, just kidding there,” Fr. Popovich laughed.
Fr. Popovich, despite losing his ability to walk, has not lost his sense of humor or his direction in life.
“I like to think of it as a pilgrimage. That’s what I really feel I’m on with my family, my friends, my faith communities, people that I’m so thankful for,” he said.
Fr. Popovich would like to thank Donna Santucci, who takes care of his workman’s compensation claims. He said she’s the money lady who allows him to lead the life that he lives.