OUR LADY OF BAYSIDE TIMELINE
1923 (July 12): Veronica Lueken was born.
1968 (June 5): Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert Kennedy. This event was tied to the onset of Lueken’s first mystical experiences.
1970 (June 18): The Virgin Mary appeared to Lueken for the first time at St. Robert Bellarmine’s Church.
1971-1975: “The Battle of Bayside” occurred. This period saw escalating tensions between Lueken’s followers and the Bayside Hills Civic Association. Vigils would draw thousands of people. At the height of the controversy, up to 100 police officers were needed during vigils to keep the peace.
1971 (March 31): Monsignor Emmet McDonald of St. Robert Bellarmine’s Church wrote Bishop Francis J. Mugavero, asking for his help in removing Lueken’s movement.
1973: A Canadian group called the Pilgrims of Saint Michael began supporting Lueken. They brought busloads of pilgrims from Canada to attend vigils and published Lueken’s messages in their newsletters, Vers Demain and Michael Fighting .
1973 (March 7): A new comet was sighted by Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek. Baysiders briefly interpreted the comet Kohoutek as the “Ball of Redemption” described in Lueken’s visions.
1973 (June 29): Under pressure from the Bayside Hills Civic Association and St. Robert Bellarmine’s parish council, Chancellor James P. King formed a commission to investigate Lueken’s visions. The commission read transcripts of Lueken’s messages from heaven and concluded that her visions “lack complete authenticity.”
1973 (November 27): The diocese removed the statue of Mary from St. Robert Bellarmine’s in an attempt to stop the vigils. Pilgrims responded by bringing their own statue made of fiberglass.
1974 (January 29): Lueken’s youngest son, Raymond, was shot and killed in a hunting accident while camping with friends in upstate New York near Callicoon. Lueken became reclusive following his death.
1974 (June 15): Seventeen year-old Daniel Slane engaged a pilgrim in a heated argument. While walking back to his car, he was stabbed twice in the back. Church authorities claimed his assailant was a Pilgrim of Saint Michael who boarded a bus and successfully escaped to Canada.
1975 (May 22): Lueken and her followers agreed to a settlement to relocate the vigils to Flushing Meadows Park. On May 26, the first vigil was held in Flushing Meadows Park.
1975 (June 14): The Bayside Hills Civic Association organized a “Day of Jubilation” to celebrate the removal of the pilgrims.
1975 (September 27): Lueken delivered a message announcing an “imposter pope,” a communist agent whose appearance had been modified using plastic surgery to resemble Paul VI.
1977: The Pilgrims of Saint Michael withdrew their support. Their official reason for leaving had to do with whether female pilgrims should wear blue berets or white berets. However, their actual motivation appears to have been that Lueken’s celebrity had come to overshadow their movement. Lueken’s movement became incorporated as “Our Lady of the Roses Shrine” and began producing its own newsletter. It continued to grow.
1983 (June 18): An estimated 15,000 pilgrims from around the world gathered at Flushing Meadows Park for the thirteenth anniversary of the first apparition of Mary at Bayside.
1986: Bishop Mugavero promulgated a strongly worded declaration, stating that Lueken’s visions are false. It was sent to dioceses throughout the United States and to conferences of bishops around the world.
1995 (August 3): Veronica Lueken died.
1997 (November): A schism between Veronica’s widower Arthur Lueken and shrine director Michael Mangan split the Baysider movement. Both factions began scrambling for resources, followers, and access to the vigil site at Flushing Meadows Park.
1997 (December 24): A judge awarded Arthur Luken the name “Our Lady of the Roses Shrine” as well as all assets and facilities. Mangan’s group founded its own organization called “Saint Michael’s World Apostolate.”
1998: The New York Parks Department brokered a deal allowing both groups to share access to the park.
2002 (August 28): Arthur Lueken died. Vivian Hanratty became the new leader of “Our Lady of the Roses Shrine.” Our Lady of the Roses Shrine and Saint Michael’s World Apostolate continued to hold rival vigils in Flushing Meadows Park.
The apparitions at Bayside began with Veronica Lueken, a Roman Catholic housewife from Bayside, New York, who became a
Marian seer. Lueken’s first mystical experiences followed the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy on June 5, 1968. The next day, as Kennedy lay in the hospital, Lueken was praying for his recovery when she felt herself surrounded by an overwhelming fragrance of roses. Although the senator died late that night, the inexplicable smell of roses continued to haunt her. Soon she would wake up to find she had written poetry that she could not remember writing. She had prayed to St. Therese of Lisieux to save senator Kennedy and suspected that Therese was somehow the true author of these poems. She discussed these experiences with the priests at her parish church, St. Robert Bellarmine’s, but she felt they did not take her seriously. Her husband, Arthur, also discouraged any discussion of miracles.
That summer her visions grew darker. In the sky over Bayside, she saw a vision of a black eagle screaming “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth!” She became convinced that these frightening visions signaled an impending disaster. She wrote Cardinal Richard Cushing in Boston and warned him that something terrible was going to happen. She also felt that her growing sense of danger was somehow connected to the Second Vatican Council that had concluded in 1965. Lueken felt that the Church had turned its back on the Catholic traditions she had practiced since she was a girl. In 1969, she wrote a letter to Pope Paul VI and asked him to oppose the reforms the Council.
In April, 1970, the Virgin Mary appeared to Lueken in her apartment. She announced that she would appear at St. Robert
Bellarmine’s church in Bayside “when the roses are in bloom.” On the night of June 18, 1970, Lueken knelt alone in the rain praying the rosary before a statue of the Immaculate Conception outside her church. Here, Mary appeared to Lueken and instructed her that she was a bride of Christ, that she wept for the sins of the world, and that everyone must return to saying the rosary. Lueken announced that a national shrine should be built on the church grounds and that Mary would henceforth appear there on every Catholic feast day. Over the next two years, a small body of followers joined Lueken in her vigils in front of the statue. At each appearance, Lueken would deliver a “message from heaven,” spoken through her by Mary as well as a growing cast of saints and angels. These messages typically included jeremiads about the weight of America’s sins and warnings of a coming chastisement (Lueken 1998: vol. 1).
In 1973, Lueken’s visions attracted the attention of The Pilgrims of Saint Michael, a conservative Catholic movement from Quebec. The Pilgrims were also known as “the White Berets” for the hats they wore. Like Lueken, they were disturbed by the reforms of Vatican II. The White Berets declared Lueken to be “the seer of the age” and printed her messages from heaven in their newsletter. They also began organizing buses that transported hundreds of pilgrims to attend vigils in front of Lueken’s parish church. Lueken’s messages began to hint at global conspiracies, a coming nuclear war, and a celestial body called “The Fiery Ball of Redemption” that would soon strike the Earth, causing planet-wide destruction.
Church authorities had tolerated Lueken’s activities for three years, but her growing movement was creating a crisis. St. Robert Bellarmine’s church was surrounded by private homes on all sides and The Bayside Hills Civic Association (BHCA) was horrified by the crowds of pilgrims that had descended on their quiet neighborhood. The residents objected to the vigils that often lasted until midnight. Pilgrims, they claimed, were trampling their manicured lawns and driving down the property values of their homes. The BHCA put immense pressure on the parish and the Diocese of Brooklyn to bring Lueken and her followers to heel (Caulfield 1974).
When a hurried investigation by the diocese reported that her experiences were not supernatural, Lueken was asked to cease holding her vigils at St. Robert Bellarmine’s. When she refused, diocesan officials began interrupting her vigils with a bullhorn, reading a letter from the bishop and ordering all loyal Catholics not to participate. Lueken and her followers responded that such tactics only proved how far a Satanic conspiracy had spread through the Church since Vatican II. The BHCA began holding counter vigils and heckling pilgrims. The situation became dangerous and growing numbers of police were dispatched to keep the peace. Several residents were arrested for disorderly conduct and assaulting police officers. A few were even hospitalized after violent confrontations with police or pilgrims. These events came to be called “The Battle of Bayside” (Cowley 1975). The situation was finally resolved in 1975 when the Supreme Court of New York issued an injunction barring Lueken from holding her vigils near St. Robert Bellarmine’s (Thomas 1975; Everett 1975). The night before agreeing to the injunction, Lueken received a message from Mary and Jesus to relocate the vigils to Flushing Meadows Corona Park (Lueken 1998 vol. 3, pp. 106-07).
The new vigil site was a monument marking where the Vatican Pavilion had stood during the World’s Fair. Followers had
purchased a fiberglass statue of the Virgin Mary that was brought to the park for vigils. The crowds only continued to grow. The Pilgrims of Saint Michael eventually withdrew their support and returned to Canada. But by this time Lueken’s followers had created their own organized mission. The movement created the corporation “Our Lady of the Roses Shrine,” which managed an international mailing list of thousands. A group called the Order of St. Michael led the movement’s missionary efforts. Members of the Order, which included former members of the Pilgrims of Saint Michael, lived in community and devoted all of their time to the shrine. On June 18, 1983, fifteen thousand pilgrims from around the world gathered in Flushing Meadows Park for the thirteenth anniversary of the apparition at Bayside.
Catholics who believed in Lueken’s messages came to call themselves “Baysiders” after the original location of the apparition. Ironically, the residents of Bayside, New York, also referred to themselves as “Baysiders.” They regarded the pilgrims as an invading and foreign force and were confused that they would claim this title for themselves. During the 1980s, independent Baysider chapters were established across the United States and in Canada. Lueken’s messages were translated into many languages and disseminated to Catholic communities on every continent.
The Baysiders professed to be traditional Catholics loyal to canon law and the Holy See. However, their defiance of the Brooklyn diocese caused many Catholics to regard them as an insubordinate and schismatic movement. Shortly after arriving in Flushing Meadows, Lueken delivered a revelation that resolved this paradox, at least for her followers. Pope Paul VI, who had endorsed the reforms of Vatican II, was an imposter. The true pope was kept heavily sedated by the conspirators, and the man now claiming to be Paul VI was actually a communist doppelganger created with plastic surgery. The Baysiders were not in rebellion against their Church, they were only questioning the orders of conspirators and imposters who had infiltrated the Church hierarchy (Lueken 1998 vol. 3, p. 241).
In 1986, Francis J. Mugavero, bishop of Brooklyn, made an announcement reiterating that Lueken’s visions were false andcontradicted Catholic doctrine (Goldman 1987). Mugavero’s findings were sent to three hundred bishops throughout the United States and one hundred conferences of bishops around the world. Despite this censure from Church authorities, Lueken’s followers still identify as Catholics in good standing and they defend their views citing canon law. They contend that Lueken’s visions never received a proper investigation led by a bishop, and that the diocese’s dismissal of Lueken is therefore not legitimate. If anyone has violated Church law, they argue, it is the modernists whom Lueken condemned for receiving communion in the hand and other ritual transgressions that go against long-established Catholic tradition.
Lueken continued to give regular messages from heaven until her death in 1995. In total, Mary, Jesus, and a variety of other heavenly beings spoke to her over 300 times. These messages were consolidated into a canon known as the Bayside Prophecies. Although the crowds are nowhere near the size they were before Lueken’s death, Baysiders still travel to Flushing Meadows from as far away as India and Malaysia. On the Internet, Lueken’s messages have become part of a larger milieu of conspiracy theories and millennial speculation. Baysiders still await “The Chastisement” described in Lueken’s messages. Many Baysiders believe that when God punishes mankind for its sins, the chastisement will take two forms, World War III (which will include a large-scale nuclear exchange) and a fiery comet that will collide with Earth and devastate the planet.
After Lueken’s death, Our Lady of the Roses Shrine continued to hold vigils, promote the Bayside Prophecies, and coordinate
pilgrimages to Flushing Meadows with followers from around the world. But in 1997, a schism occurred between the shrine’s director, Michael Mangan, and Lueken’s widower, Arthur Lueken. A judge ruled in favor of Arthur Lueken, declaring him president of Our Lady of the Roses Shrine (OLR) and awarding him all of the organization’s assets and facilities. Undaunted, Mangan formed his own group, Saint Michael’s World Apostolate (SMWA). Both groups continued to arrive at the movement’s sacred site in Flushing Meadows where they held rival vigils. Once again, police were sent out to keep the peace (Kilgannon 2003). Today, this conflict has thawed into a detente. Their celebrations of Catholic feast days are sometimes timed such that only one group will be present in the park on a given day. For events where both groups must be present, such as Sunday morning holy hour, they alternate which group will have access to the monument. One group may set its statue of the Virgin Mary on the Vatican Monument, the other must use a nearby traffic island. The rival groups have decided it is in everyone’s interests to appear professional while in the park.
The Bayside Prophecies fill six volumes and contain hundreds of messages. Critics have noted that some of this material seems quite fantastic, containing apparent references to such topics as UFOs, Soviet death rays, and vampires. However, like any religious movement with a sacred text, most Baysiders do not interpret all of the prophecies literally or place equal emphasis on every message. Instead, the prophecies are a resource that Baysiders draw upon to make sense of the world. Many Baysiders interpret current events as an unfolding of predictions described in the Bayside prophecies.
The most important belief for Baysiders is that Veronica Lueken was a special woman and that the monument in Flushing Meadows Park is a holy place where vigils should be held. Baysiders also believe that the reforms of Vatican II was either a grave mistake or a deliberate attempt to undermine the Church, and that America is in a state of moral decline. Additionally, most believe that their freedoms as Americans and Catholics are threatened by a Satanic global conspiracy (Martin 2011). While Lueken stated that a communist agent successfully impersonated Paul VI, this belief is not essential to the Baysider worldview (Laycock 2014).
The Bayside Prophecies also describe an apocalyptic scenario described as “the Chastisement.” Warnings of imminent disasters have been a trope in Marian apparitions since the nineteenth century. Lueken’s visions repeatedly described a fiery celestial object called “The Ball of Redemption” (possibly a comet, although this is not clear), that will collide with the Earth, killing much of the population. Her visions also describe World War III, which will include a full nuclear exchange. Horrifying descriptions of nuclear war have also been common in Marian Apparitions since the start of the Cold War. Unlike Protestant dispensationalism, Baysiders believe that the Chastisement can be postponed through prayer. When prophecies do not come to pass, Baysiders often take credit for earning the world a reprieve from judgment.
Some of Lueken’s messages also allude to a “Rapture” in which the faithful will be taken up to heaven and spared the Chastisement (Lueken 1998 vol. 4:458). Representatives from Saint Michael’s World Apostolate have explained that this idea is not the same as Protestant notions of the Rapture derived from John Nelson Darby. While most Baysiders believe that the Chastisement will eventually happen as prophesied, they do not build bomb shelters or stockpile supplies. Some have even suggested that the Chastisement may not happen in their own lifetimes (Laycock 2014).
The Baysiders continue to hold vigils in Flushing Meadows Park on all Catholic feast days. They also hold a “Sunday Morning HolyHour” every Sunday that is dedicated to prayer for the priesthood. These events are held around a monument built in Flushing Meadows Park as part of the Vatican Pavilion during the 1964 World’s Fair. The monument, known as The Excedra, is a simple curved bench resembling an unrolling scroll. During vigils, the monument is transformed into a shrine. A fiberglass statue of Mary is ensconced on top of the bench and surrounded with by candles, flags representing the United States and the Vatican, and other ritual objects. The grounds are also consecrated with holy water.
During these meetings, pilgrims pray a special version of the rosary that includes the Prayer to Saint Michael and the Fatima Prayer. They also recite Catholic litanies. As they pray, pilgrims are encouraged to kneel but may stand, sit, or pace. Many pilgrims bring their own chairs to the park or soft objects such as carpet samples to use as kneelers.
Vigils culminate in a ritual during which rosaries are held up to be blessed by Mary and Jesus. During this part of the ritual, Jesus and Mary are regarded as being physically present in the park. As such, everyone who is capable of kneeling is encouraged to do so. There is an awed silence as Baysiders hold out their rosaries to be blessed.
After this, everyone is given a candle and a long-stemmed rose. (Roses are donated by Baysiders before each vigil). The pilgrims raise their candle at arm’s length above their head and say, “Mary, light of the world, pray for us.” The candles are lowered until they are even with the face and the group says, “Our Lady of the Roses, pray for us.” Then the candles are lowered again until they are level with the heart and the group says, “Mary, Help of Mothers, pray for us.” This pattern is repeated several times. This ritual has continued since vigils were held at St. Robert Bellarmine’s (Laycock 2014).
After the vigils, the rosaries and roses are regarded as blessed. Blessed rose petals are often pressed and used for healing. Many Baysiders give them to friends who are sick or spiritually troubled. A few Baysiders have even eaten the rose petals following the ritual, which is regarded as a respectful way to dispose of a blessed object.
Typical attendance for a vigil may be only a dozen to three dozen people. However, some vigils, especially the anniversary vigil held every June 18, still attract hundreds of pilgrims, some of whom come from around the world. Priests are often present during larger vigils. These priests usually are traditionalists who have travelled to Flushing Meadows Park from another diocese. They will often set up folding chairs behind The Exedra where they take confession during the vigil.
In addition to vigils, another important aspect of Baysider culture concerns “miraculous photographs.” The formation of Lueken’s movement coincided with the development of Polaroid cameras. Many pilgrims took Polaroids during the vigils and found anomalies in the film. Most of these effects are easily attributable to user error or to ambient light sources like candles or car lights. Some, however, are more spectacular and difficult to explain. These anomalies were regarded as messages from heaven (Wojcik 1996, 2009). While Lueken was alive, people could bring her their “miraculous Polaroids” and she would interpret the streaks and blurs that appeared on the film, finding their symbolic significance (Chute and Simpson 1976). Today, ordinary Baysiders have developed codes to interpret the anomalies. During vigils, pilgrims take many photos and continue to find anomalies. While digital cameras are used, some Pilgrims prefer to use vintage Polaroid cameras like those used during the original vigils. Discovering a “message from heaven” in a photograph can be a source of great personal meaning for some Baysiders.
Since the schism of 1997, the Baysiders have been split between two rival factions who must share access to Flushing Meadows Park. Saint Michael’s World Apostolate is the larger group, which is led by Michael Mangan. Although a court awarded the name “Our Lady of the Roses Shrine” to Veronica Lueken’s widower, Mangan’s group had more support from pilgrims and acquired more infrastructure. When Our Lady of the Roses Shrine was unable to maintain their printing presses, Mangan’s group arranged to buy them. Saint Michael’s World Apostolate is headed by a group of men called the Lay Order of Saint Michael, who live together in a religious community. They are supported by numerous shrine workers who help to raise funds, disseminate the messages, and organize vigils.
The smaller group is run by Vivian Hanratty, who originally supported Lueken’s movement by producing videos for the New York UHF television channel. She became the leader of the group after Arthur Lueken’s death. Her leadership is somewhat surprising as most Baysiders advocate traditional gender roles and strongly oppose women leading religious services. Our Lady of the Roses Shrine believes that one day church authorities will realize they were mistaken about Lueken’s prophecies. At that point, the shrine will be handed over to the church and lay leadership will no longer be necessary (Laycock 2014).
Baysiders are politically active and join other conservative Catholics in such causes as picketing abortion clinics, picketing films that they regard as sacrilegious, and protesting the Affordable Care Act. They also continue to adapt a conspiratorial worldview. Recently, Saint Michael’s World Apostolate has organized a series of talks on the United Nations, which they regard as tool for creating a Satanic one world government.
The Baysiders still hope that one day they will be taken seriously by church authorities. They hope that a more detailed inquiry will be done into Veronica Lueken and her visions, as well as the conversions and miraculous healings that have allegedly occurred in connection to the apparitions at Bayside and in Flushing Meadows Park.
Caulfield, William. 1974. “The Vigils.” Bayside Hills Beacon, September, p. 3.
Chute, Suzann Weekly and Ellen Simpson. 1976. “Pilgrimage to Bayside: ‘Our Lady of the Roses’ Comes to Flushing Meadow.” Paper presented at the American Folklore Society Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA, November 11.
Cowley, Susan Cheever. 1975. “Our Lady of Bayside Hills.” Newsweek, June 2, p. 46.
Cuneo, Michael. 1997. The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Everett, Arthur. 1975. “Religious Street Vigils in N.Y. Ended.” St. Petersburg Times, May 24, p. 4-A.
Garvey, Mark. 2003. Waiting for Mary: America in Search of a Miracle. Cincinnati, OH: Emis Books.
Goldman, Ari L. 1987. “Bishop Rejects Apparition Claims.” New York Times, February 15. Accessed from http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/15/nyregion/religion-notes-for-cardinal-wiesel-visit-proved-a-calm-in-storm-over-trip.html on 11 April 2014.
Laycock, Joseph. 2014. The Seer of Bayside: Veronica Lueken and the Struggle for Catholicism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kilgannon, Corey. 2003. “Visions of Doom Endure in Queens; Prophecy, and a Rift, at a Shrine.” New York Times , October 9. Accessed from http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/09/nyregion/visions-of-doom-endure-in-queens-prophecy-and-a-rift-at-a-shrine.html on 11 April 2014.
Lueken, Veronica. 1998. Virgin Mary’s Bayside Prophecies: A Gift of Love, Volumes 1-6. Lowell, MI: These Last Days Ministries.
Martin, Daniel. 2011. Vatican II: A Historic Turning Point. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.
Price, Jo-Anne. 1973. “Church Removes Statue in Dispute Over Visions.” The New York Times, December 2, p. 158.
Thomas, Robert McG Jr. 1975. “Woman Agrees to Change Site of Virgin Mary Vigils.” The New York Times, May 23, p. 41.
Wojcik, Daniel. 1996. The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America. New York: New York University Press.
Wojcik, Daniel. 1996. “Polaroids from Heaven: Photography, Folk Religion, and the Miraculous Image Tradition at a Marian Apparition Site.” Journal of American Folklore , 109:129-48.
Wojcik, Daniel. 2000. “Bayside (Our Lady of the Roses).” Pp. 85-93 in Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements , edited by Richard A. Landes. New York: Routledge.
Wojcik, Daniel. 2009. “Spirits, Apparitions, and Traditions of Supernatural Photography.” Visual Resources: An International Journal of Documentation 25:109-36.
4 April 2014