In 1998, Esquire reported the story of a young viewer of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” with an acute case of autism. The child had never spoken a word until one day he uttered, “X the Owl,” which was the name of one of Mister Roger’s most popular puppets. And the boy had never looked his father in the eye either, until the day his dad said, “Let’s go to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.” After this, the boy began speaking and reading, which inspired the father to visit Fred Rogers personally to thank him for saving his son’s life.
Lauren Tewes, the actress who played the cruise director on the television show “Love Boat,” left the show in 1984 while struggling with a cocaine addiction. One particularly dark morning, the actress says she glanced at her television screen and saw the signature opening of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Something inexplicable happened inside of her, which Tewes later attributed to “God speaking to me through the instrument of Mister Rogers.” She spent the next several decades sober.
Later in Rogers’s life, he recounted the story of a child who was being abused by his biological parents, who reportedly “wouldn’t even give him a winter blanket and wouldn’t give him a bed to sleep in.” Through encountering “Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood,” the child began to hope that there were kind people in the world and became convinced that he too should be treated with respect. The child called an abuse hotline and was rescued. If the story doesn’t seem exceptional enough, consider that the hotline operator who answered the phone adopted the boy.
These are anecdotal accounts, impossible to verify. But they’re of a piece with the stories often told about saints.