Florence Houteff


1919 (May 7):  Florence Marcella Hermanson was born.

1935 (May 19):  The Hermanson family moved with Victor Houteff to Mount Carmel, near Waco, Texas.

1937 (January 1):  Florence and Victor Houteff married.

1955 (February 5):  Victor Houteff died and Florence became Vice-President of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.

1955 (November 9):  Florence announced the start of the period leading to the establishment of the Davidian Kingdom.

1959 (April):  Florence announced that a “solemn assembly” would take place later that month and that the faithful were to gather by April 16 to prepare for the great events that were to occur.

1959 (April 22):  A date set for the resurrection of Victor Houteff and war in the Middle East. About a thousand Davidians gathered at New Mount Carmel for Passover to witness the event.

1960 (December):  Florence declared that the message of the Shepherd’s Rod, a publication started by Victor in 1929, was to go to all Protestant Christians and not be restricted to Seventh-day Adventists.

1962 (March 1):  Florence Houteff formally resigned as Vice-President of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.

2008 (September 14):  Florence Marcella Hermanson Eakin died. Her grave is located at Evergreen Cemetery in Vancouver, Washington.


Relatively little is known regarding the life of Florence Houteff (née Hermanson) other than that which can be gleaned from sources that have her husband, Victor Houteff (1885–1955), founder of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, as their principal subject. [Image at right] This presents a problem of perspective. Nevertheless, there are some biographical details that are helpful to report here. Florence was born in 1919, the daughter of Eric and Sopha Hermanson and sister to Thomas Oliver Hermanson. Members of the Hermanson family were among the very earliest converts to the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, a group from which the later Branch Davidians were to emerge. According to a census return dated 1940, Sopha, Thomas Oliver and Florence Hermanson/Houteff were already residing at the Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas in 1935, with their earlier place of residence listed as Los Angeles. These details are in full accord with the wider reconstructed narrative of the beginnings of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists given in secondary sources. Newport, for example, provides evidence that Florence was among the very first group of Davidians to move from California to Texas, a trip that commenced on May 19, 1935 (Newport 2006a:57). Florence’s actual place of birth is listed as Wisconsin. This same census record lists Florence as being the wife of Victor, which makes the reported date of January 1, 1937 entirely plausible (Newport 2006a:58).

Florence Houteff is mentioned several times in what is undoubtedly one of the most important sources for the study of early Davidians, the memoirs of George Saether located at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a good insight into the life, thought, and times of Florence can be gained from a study of that material (Saether 1977). As first a Hermanson and then a Houteff, Florence assumed a central role during a period of around twenty years, that is, from her arrival at Mount Carmel to the death of Victor in 1955.

It was upon her husband’s death, however, that Florence Houteff really came to the fore when she became the leader of movement. Her ascendency in 1955 was not uncontested however; there were at least three other contenders, including the later founder of the Branch Davidians, Ben Roden (1902–1978) (Newport 2006a:96). Florence occupied the leadership position until her resignation in March 1962. That resignation, which was not Florence’s alone but that of the entire executive council, marked the breakup of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists into several splinter groups, one of which was to become the Branch Davidians (see further Newport 2006b). Little is known of Florence following this key event. However, it is clear that at some point she married Carl Levi Eakin (1910–1998), whose grave, like that of Florence Marcella Hermanson Eakin, is located at Evergreen Memorial Gardens in Vancouver, Washington. [Image at right] The date of Florence’s death is given as September 14, 2008.


As a core member of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, and indeed the wife of the movement’s founder and president, Florence’s conceptual and theological framework would have encompassed the broader, and complex, understanding of the world that marked out the Davidian movement as a whole. This ground has already been covered elsewhere in some considerable detail (Newport 2006a; Adair 1997 ). By far the most distinctive aspect of Florence’s thought came in response to the crisis within the movement that came about as a result of Victor Houteff’s death in 1955. The innovation was the now widely known prediction of Florence that Victor was to be raised from the dead, not at some indefinite point in the future but, rather, on April 22, 1959. As always there was concern to show that this expectation and date were rooted in the scriptures, and while the precise details of the interpretative process that was put in place to demonstrate the veracity of the claim are obscure, it seems fairly certain that the period of forty-two months or 1,260 days mentioned in the book of Revelation (11:3; 12:6; 13:5) was the bedrock (Newport 2006a:97–100).

Florence claimed that this period was very much on Victor Houteff’s mind during his last few days and that he had confirmed that the fulfilment of the prophecy was yet to occur, at least in what he called antitype. This use of type/antitype relates to a rather complex approach to prophetic interpretation of biblical texts, which was key to the Davidian movement, and, indeed, to the Seventh-day Adventist tradition as a whole. When this period was thought to have started is unclear, but it cannot have been on the day of Victor’s death, which would have yielded the date of July 19, 1958 for the fulfilment of the passing of 1,260 days. April 22, 1959 is itself important as it was Passover in that year, and the Jewish festivals had long been an important part of Davidian belief and practice. If the culmination of the period was to fall on that date, the prophetic stopwatch should have been started on November 9, 1955 (Victor had died in March of that year). In fact, it was on November 9 that Florence announced in the Davidian publication The Symbolic Code : “We’ve now entered these [1,260] days.” There is evidence to suggest that Florence had delayed the announcement until then so as to have the completion of the period fall during the Passover season (Newport 2006a:99). The end of this period would see the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel 2:15, which speaks of a “solemn assembly” that is to take place. Florence set this out in The Symbolic Code of April 1959. Davidians were to gather by April 16 for preliminary meetings and then to attend the solemn assembly in order to prepare themselves for the major events that were then to take place (Adair 1997:206–07).

The expectation of the resurrection of Victor Houteff was part of a much wider set of beliefs concerning the events that would occur at the appointed time. Helpfully these were set out in a press release some time shortly before April 22. Specific mention of Houteff’s resurrection is noticeable by its absence, though other sources make it reasonably certain that the Davidians were expecting such a resurrection to take place. What is outlined is fairly standard Davidian belief: there would be war in the Middle East that would render the land of Israel largely empty of inhabitants. Concurrent with this, the Seventh-day Adventist Church would be cleansed (this involved a literal slaughter of those who had not been true to their professed faith it seems), and any that remain, including the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, would be called by God to inhabit the land of Israel and set up the new Davidian Kingdom, that is, the new literal latter-day Kingdom of David. In fact, nothing much happened.

Failed prophecies punctuate the history of many such groups, of course. However, it is worthy of note that following the non-event of April 22, 1959, Florence eventually took a step that few others in her position have ever taken: she admitted that she had been wrong. The re-evalution of the prophecy was not instantaneous, but it eventually did come. The key date here is March 1, 1962 when Florence submitted her resignation as Vice-President of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. And it was not just Florence who resigned but rather the whole of the executive council. The details of the letter of resignation are particularly illuminating: there is a candid expression of fundamental doubt in the teachings of the movement and even of the much earlier prophetess of Seventh-day Adventism, Ellen Gould Harmon White (Newport 2006a:108-10). Florence’s days as a member of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists were over. She then largely disappeared from view and little is known about her activities over the next four decades leading up to her death in 2008.


The wider Seventh-day Adventist movement from which the Davidians arose retained two aspects of Judaism that are largely absent from the rest of the Christian tradition. These are the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, which is kept as a day of rest and not just the day upon which church is attended; and the abstaining from unclean meats. From the outset Victor Houteff established even stronger continuity between the beliefs and practices found in the Hebrew scriptures and those of the New Testament. The type/antitype framework was key to this continuity. Such a framework suggests something of a chiastic structure to the progress of God’s people whereby what was true at the beginning (the type) will be true at the end (the antitype). This framework was core to the Davidian tradition. Indeed, Houteff went so far as to say, “where there is no type there is no truth” (Newport 2006a:77). The most obvious example here is that just as there was a literal King David in “type” and that king ruled over a literal kingdom in Israel, so in antitype there will be a literal King David who again will rule over a kingdom in Israel. This belief supplies the name of this movement: the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. Consequently, practices such as the paying of the second tithe, restrictions regarding diet, observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, and other examples of the Davidians’ constant attempt to live out what many others in the Christian tradition take to be part of the “Old” Testament that was done away with in the New Testament form a regular part of the narrative that describes day-to-day life at the Davidians’ Mount Carmel Center under Florence Houteff.

It was aspects of this type/antitype framework that provided the group, including Florence, with a number of rituals and practices, the most obvious of which was the attempt to gather together the inhabitants of the new Endtime Davidian kingdom, an activity which dominated much of Davidian collective life. Again, Saether’s memoirs are well worth a careful read in this context. An additional very good insight is provided by Mary Power in a Master’s thesis submitted to Baylor University in 1940. The date of Power’s thesis and the work that it contains is obviously important in the context of seeking to understand the form, content, and nature of the beliefs and practices among the early Davidians, including Florence Houteff. What is particularly helpful is that Power’s work is based upon a number of visits she made to the community together with discussions that took place between Power and some members of the early Davidian community and a doctor, not a Davidian, who had a good first-hand knowledge of the Davidian group. Among the practices upon which Power reports are the precise nature of Sabbath observance, which included some preparatory fasting in order to clear the mind for focused Bible study. She also reports how group members were strict vegetarians, but not vegans, and always prepared food in the simplest possible manner. There was a dress code in place and women all had long hair as this was God’s will. The community developed its own system of currency. Dancing, “common literature,” attending the theater, using tobacco, wearing gold, or dressing in expensive clothing were all banned. Even married women wore no ring. Power also had a useful chapter on marriage and the family. One cannot say to what extent Florence was responsible for the development of such practices as those outlined by Power, but that she was one of the original members of the community and was compliant with them seems relatively certain.


Florence Houteff seems to have played an important role within the Davidian Seventh-day Adventist tradition almost from its outset. As such her name appears on a range of primary documents coming from this period of the group’s history, copies of most of which are held at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. She is, for example, named as an appointed trustee of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists in a document dated August 15, 1949.

As noted above, Florence took on the key leadership position within the group following the death of her husband. It was her
claim that on his deathbed Victor had specifically named her as the chosen successor, a claim that was reinforced by Florence’s brother Thomas Oliver Hermanson. There appear to have been no further witnesses to Victor’s words on this matter, and unsurprisingly it was challenged by some others within the movement, particularly by those who harbored ambition for the highest office themselves. In the end, however, since no one else was able to produce evidence either that Florence had not been so designated or that another claimant had a better case, Florence was appointed to the Vice-Presidency of the group. Victor Houteff’s actual post of President was not again filled as it was one to which only God could appoint.

Florence Houteff set about seeking to stabilize the group and there can be no doubt that the focus of the 1,260-day prophecy achieved this to some measure. By November 1955 the group had a very clear sense of destiny, and the clear and precise expectation regarding the importance of the date April 22, 1959. Even if the precise events of that day were not at first outlined in detail, they nevertheless provided a rallying call and sense of urgency. The task of calling the faithful to gather in preparation for the move to Israel had been central to Davidianism from its inception, but in the year or two before Victor’s death it had taken on very specific focus. Indeed, it was in order to support the work of unprecedented evangelism that the process of selling the original Mount Carmel property in Waco and moving to a much less favorable, and therefore less expensive, site close to Elk, Texas, some twelve miles out of Waco began. The sale was underway prior to Florence taking up the leadership (Adair 1997:175–77), and it was this “New Mount Carmel,” as it became known, that was the site of the Branch Davidians’ conflict with federal agents and resulting fire in 1993; though by then it had itself been reduced through sales to less than 10 percent of its original size.

Florence Houteff’s renewed emphasis on calling out of the Seventh-day Adventist Church all who would listen and encouraging them to gather at New Mount Carmel for April 22, 1959 evidently met with some considerable success. Various first-hand reports of the events surrounding the expected date give a sense of the excitement and scale of the gathering, with estimates reaching a thousand or more persons turning up to witness the resurrection of Victor Houteff and the coming about of the latter-day Davidian Kingdom. In the aftermath of the non-events of that date, Florence rather unwisely sought to widen the call to belief to any who would listen rather than limiting the call to existing members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church alone. The message was communicated to the community in a publication of The Symbolic Code during December 1960 (Adair 1997:222). This widening of the potential pool of recruits was probably a mistake in that it had the effect of introducing into the theological equation a previously unknown factor and, in reality, flew in the face of what Victor himself had always proclaimed, namely that the Davidian message was for Seventh-day Adventists only. Such a significant departure from the teachings of the founder whose life and message was still very much a live memory in the minds of many of the Davidians was a significant gamble (Adair 1997:222–23).


Ultimately Florence Houteff’s leadership of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists ended in failure. It was, however, perhaps an inevitable one. The unexpected death of Victor Houteff was the event that opened up the path to leadership, but with that opportunity there came the need to address both theological and practical challenges, and on neither count was Florence really able to deliver. The setting of the April 22, 1959 date bought her some time, but it was not a permanent solution. The story of what eventually came about during the troubled years of 1959–1962 has been told before (Adair 1997), and need not be repeated here in any detail. In essence, following the resignation of Florence and the whole Davidian executive council, the movement was wound up and its assets put into the hands of a receiver. Following a decade of legal wrangling, the New Mount Carmel property near Elk, Texas passed into the hands of Ben Roden, founder of the Branch Davidians, but this is only one part of the fragmentation. Even before the resignations of 1962, one sizeable group (about 100) had moved back to Riverside, California, where the substantial Seventh-day Adventist presence provided an opportunity for evangelism. The Riverside Davidian group was soon to split further and then, in 1978, to split again. Similarly, by 1961 Ben Roden had already had some success in establishing the “Branch” trajectory, based in Waco though not on the New Mount Carmel site to begin with. It is of course tempting to see the Branch Davidian group as the successors of the Houteffs, but geographical continuity masks major theological divergence. Another Davidian group existing still to this day in Waco, though returning there only after periods in Jamaica and New York, has a better claim to continuity with the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists of Victor and Florence Houteff. Remarkably, it has managed to gain ownership of some property located on the site of the original Mount Carmel, which Houteff’s early community had occupied in 1935. From 1962, however, Florence Houteff was to play no further part in the Davidian story.

Image #1: Photograph of Florence Houteff with Victor (date unknown).
Image #2: Photograph of Florence Marcella Hermanson Eakin’s grave.
Image #3: Photograph of Florence Houteff.


Adair, Don. 1997. A Davidian Testimony. Privately published.

Hibbert, A. Anthony. 2000. Before the Flames: Story of David Koresh and the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. New York: Seaburn Publishing.

Newport, Kenneth G. C. 2006a. The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Newport, Kenneth G. C. 2006b. “The Davidian Seventh-day Adventists and Millennial Expectation, 1959–2004.” Pp. 131-46 in Expecting the End: Millennialism in Social and Historical Context, edited by Kenneth G. C. Newport and Crawford Gribben. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.

Pitts, William. 1995. “Davidians and Branch Davidians: 1929-1987.” Pp. 20-42 in Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict, edited by Stuart A. Wright. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Saether, George William. 1977. “Oral Memoirs of George William Saether, July 12, 1973–June 30, 1975.” Religion and Culture Project. Baylor University Program for Oral History. Accessed from http://contentdm.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/buioh/id/1214 on 10 April 2017.

Power, Mary Elizabeth. 1940. “A Study of the Seventh-day Adventist Community, Mount Carmel Center, Waco, Texas.” M.A. Thesis, Baylor University.

Post Date:
15 April 2017



Marie-Paule Giguère


1921 (September 14):  Marie-Paule Giguère was born in Sainte-Germaine du Lac-Etchemin, Québec, Canada.

1944 (July 1):  Giguère married Georges Cliche.

1954:  Giguère heard supernatural voices telling her that she would lead a Catholic movement.

1957 (September):  Giguère separated from her husband.

1971 (August 28):  The Army of Mary was founded by Giguère.

1972:  Father Philippe Roy joined the Army of Mary.

1975 (March 10):  Cardinal Maurice Roy of Québec approved the Army of Mary as a legitimate Roman Catholic association.

1978:  The French writer Raoul Auclair moved to Québec to work full time for the Army of Mary.

1978:  Giguère started the publication of Vie d’Amour.

1981:  Giguère established the Community of the Sons and Daughters of Mary.

1984:  The Archbishop of Québec, Cardinal Louis-Albert Vachon, formed a commission to investigate the Army of Mary.

1986:  Giguère founded the Oblates-Patriots.

1987 (February 27):  The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith judged two books by Army of Mary’s lay leader Marc Bosquart as “seriously erroneous.”

1987 (May 4):  Cardinal Louis-Albert Vachon of Québec declared that the Army of Mary was no longer a Catholic organization.

1997:  Giguère joined the Daughters of Mary and was elected as their Superior General.

2000 (March 31):  A note by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith found theological errors in Vie d’Amour.

2001 (June 29):  A formal censure of the Army of Mary occurred, stating that its doctrines were not Catholic, by the Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference.

2006:  Under the authority of Giguère’s visions, and of a new “Church of John,” Father Pierre Mastropietro, a Son of Mary, ordained new deacons and priests, although he was not himself a bishop.

2007 (July 11):  The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith excommunicated those accepting and propagating the doctrines and practices of the Army of Mary.

2009 (May 31):  Although still alive, Giguère was canonized as a saint by her Church of John.

2015 (April 25):  Giguère died in Lac-Etchemin.


Marie-Paule Giguère was born on September 14, 1921 at Sainte-Germaine-du-Lac-Etchemin, a small rural town sixty miles from Québec City, Québec. Later, Lac-Etchemin (where a small Marian shrine was built in the 1950s) would acquire a peculiar significance in Giguère’s millennial worldview. A pious young girl, Marie-Paule considered religious life as a missionary in Africa, but her poor health was interpreted by her spiritual advisors as a sign that the Lord was calling her to marriage. In 1944, she married Georges Cliche (1917–1997), with whom she had five children between 1945 and 1952. [Image at right] But the marriage proved a nightmare, with Georges revealing himself to be prodigal, alcoholic, and adulterous. The Church, while opposed to divorce, accepted separation in extreme cases, and several priests suggested that Marie-Paule leave her husband. She did so, reluctantly, in 1957, and later attempts at reconciliation proved unsuccessful, although as an old man Georges would eventually join Marie-Paule’s movement.

Ever since her teenage years, Marie-Paule had heard the interior voices of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. These messages guided her through the trials of her life and eventually directed her to write a lengthy autobiography, Vie d’Amour (A Life of Love), of which thirteen volumes were published from 1979–1980. Five volumes of Appendices were added between 1992 and 1993 (Giguère 1992–1993). Volumes 4 and 6 (about some of Marie-Paule’s early companions) followed in 1993 and 1994, bringing the total to more than 6,000 pages (Giguère 1979–1994).

Marie-Paule became active in the Catholic Marian movement known as the Legion of Mary and worked for Catholic magazines and radio stations. In 1954, she supernaturally heard for the first time a reference to “the Army of Mary,” a “wonderful movement” she would later lead (Giguère 1979–1994, 1:174). [Image at right] Slowly, a small Marian group was formed, which included a couple of priests. On August 28, 1971, during a pilgrimage to the Lac-Etchemin shrine, Marie-Paule officially inaugurated the Army of Mary. A priest from the Catholic diocese of Rimouski (Québec), Father Philippe Roy (1916–1988), joined the movement in 1972, and eventually became its general director. Following a request by Bishop Jean-Pierre van Lierde (1907–1995), Vicar General of Vatican City and a supporter of Giguère, recognition of the Army of Mary as a “pious association” was obtained in 1975 from Cardinal Maurice Roy (1905–1985), Archbishop of Québec City (not a relative of Father Philippe Roy). In the meantime, the Army of Mary had met with considerable success, due largely to the charismatic personality of Marie-Paule herself. The Army of Mary also reflected the needs of a sizeable section of Québec’s Catholics. They were confused by post-Vatican II reforms in the Church and disoriented by Québec’s “silent revolution” that was transforming its Catholic, agrarian society to a more secular, urban one. Yet, a large majority still maintained loyalty to Rome and were unwilling to join schismatic groups. Marie-Paule’s popularity also guaranteed a steady flow of contributions, enabling her in 1983 to buy land in her native Lac-Etchemin where the Army of Mary’s headquarters would be eventually built.

From 1971, Marie-Paule had been in touch with a popular French author of texts on prophecy, Raoul Auclair (1906–1997). In 1978, he moved from France to Québec, where he became the editor of the movement’s magazine, L’Étoile (later replaced by Le Royaume). In the years that followed, the Army of Mary gathered thousands of followers in Canada and hundreds more in Europe. The Community of the Sons and Daughters of Mary, a religious order including both priests and nuns, was established in 1981, with Pope John Paul II (1920–2005) personally ordaining the first Son of Mary as a priest in 1986. Several other ordinations followed, and a number of Catholic dioceses throughout the world were happy to welcome both the Sons and the Daughters of Mary to help them in their pastoral work. After her husband’s death in 1997, Marie-Paule herself became a Daughter of Mary, and was subsequently elected Superior General of the congregation as Mère Marie-Paule, later Mère Paul-Marie. [Image at right] A larger “Family of the Sons and Daughters of Mary” also included auxiliary organizations, such as the Oblates-Patriots, established by Marie-Paule in 1986 with the aim of spreading conservative Catholic social teachings, and the Marialys Institute, created in 1992, which gathered together Catholic priests who were not members of the Sons of Mary but shared their general aims.

The Army of Mary’s success was always accompanied by conflicts with members of the Catholic hierarchy. What created substantial controversy were the firm roots of the Army of Mary in a Catholic millennialist tradition at a time when the Québec Catholic hierarchy had little patience with it. A campaign against Marie-Paule gathered momentum in Québec from at least the early 1980s, and in 1984 the Archbishop of Québec City, Louis-Albert Vachon (1912–2006), appointed a commission to investigate the Army of Mary. Vachon would become a cardinal in 1985.

The commission focused on certain writings by Raoul Auclair, according to which the “Immaculate” existed as a spiritual being since before the creation, later to descend into the Virgin Mary; and on other writings by a Belgian member, Marc Bosquart (b. 1955), who had moved to Québec and had written two books claiming that the Immaculate was now mystically inhabiting Marie-Paule (Bosquart 1985, 1986). Although the Army of Mary maintained that these were Bosquart’s personal opinions, rather than teachings of the movement itself, Vachon’s commission regarded the organization as potentially heretical. The case went to Rome, and in 1987 the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith judged Bosquart’s opinions as “seriously erroneous,” opening the way for a declaration by Cardinal Vachon that the Army of Mary was no longer recognized as a Catholic organization. Appeals to the Vatican protesting Vachon’s decision failed. Although the Army of Mary at that time withdrew Bosquart’s books from circulation, the controversy with Catholic bishops in Québec continued, while some English-speaking Canadian bishops, and certain bishops in Italy, were still prepared to accept both the Sons and Daughters of Mary and the Army of Mary itself into their dioceses. Finally, on March 31, 2000, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith sent a note to all Canadian bishops stating that Marie-Paule’s Vie d’Amour contained doctrinal errors, and that further action needed to be taken. On June 29, 2001, the Canadian Conference of Canadian Bishops published a statement saying that the Army of Mary should no longer be regarded as a Roman Catholic organization.

Perhaps because an agreement with Rome now seemed more difficult, Marie-Paule authorized the publication in 2001 and 2002 of new writings by Marc Bosquart, again proposing doctrines similar to those criticized by the Vatican in 1987 (Bosquart 2001a, 2001b, 2002). This was one of the factors leading to further censures of the Army of Mary by the new Archbishop of Québec, Cardinal Marc Ouellet (b. 1944), in 2005 and 2007.

In 2006, fresh revelations to Marie-Paule led to a complete rupture with the Vatican. These visions distinguished between a Church of Peter and a mystical and esoteric Church of John. Marie-Paule claimed that the Pope in Rome was still leading the “Church of Peter,” but appointed one of the priests in the Sons of Mary, Pierre Mastropietro (whose French-Italian name, translated “Peter Master-Peter,” was regarded as a prophetic omen), as Universal Father of the higher Church of John. In this role, Mastropietro proceeded to ordain first deacons and then priests, to canonize new saints, including Raoul Auclair, and even to proclaim new dogmas, moving from the Christian Trinity to a Quinternity, which added the Virgin Mary and Marie-Paule herself to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On May 31, 2009 Marie-Paule was canonized in the Church of John; this occurred before her death, something theologically and canonically impossible in the Roman Catholic Church. On July 11, 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith excommunicated those advocating and propagating the doctrines of the Army of Mary.

In the last years of her life, Marie-Paule was seriously ill and not able to participate in the daily life of the movement, now led by Marc Bosquart as Universal King and by Father Mastropietro as Holy Father of the Church of John. She died in Lac-Etchemin on April 25, 2015. [Image at right]


To understand Marie-Paule’s mystical teachings, it is necessary to start with the Marian apparitions of Amsterdam, Holland, in 1945–1959, whose existence Marie-Paule discovered through Raoul Auclair in 1971. Ida Peerdeman (1905–1996), born in Alkmaar, The Netherlands, reported an encounter with the Virgin Mary at the age of twelve, followed by miraculous visions of battles in Europe during World War II. From 1945 to 1959, she received fifty-five messages from the Virgin Mary. Although the first verdict of the local Catholic diocese was negative, a chapel was quietly built in the 1970s at the site of the Amsterdam apparition and dedicated to the “Lady of All Peoples.” Peerdeman’s prayer to the “Lady of All Peoples, who was once Mary,” and the messages she received gained widespread popularity throughout much of the Catholic world. They were interpreted as predicting three different events: a crisis in the Church, Vatican II (seen as a rather positive development and as an antidote to the crisis), and a future millennial Kingdom of the Holy Spirit and Mary.

To usher in that Kingdom, Peerdeman called upon the Church to proclaim officially a new Marian dogma emphasizing Mary’s role as “Co-Redeemer.” The title had a long tradition in Catholic Marian theology but was never officially approved by the Vatican. On May 31, 1996, less than three months before Peerdeman’s death, Bishop Henrik Bomers (1936–1998) of the Dutch diocese of Haarlem published a notification approving “the prayer and the public cult of Mary under the title of Lady of All Peoples,” while stating that “the Church cannot, for the moment, make a pronouncement on the supernatural character of the apparitions.” The bishop’s notification downplayed the millennial element of Peerdeman’s experience, emphasizing instead that the title Lady of All Peoples cast a “clear light on the universal motherhood of Mary” and on her “unique and feminine role in the Lord’s plan of salvation” (Bomers and Punt 1996).

In 2002, Bomers’ successor as bishop of Haarlem, Jozef Marianus Punt (b. 1946), finally recognized “that the apparitions of the Lady of All Nations in Amsterdam consist of a supernatural origin.” Although Marian apparitions are recognized by local bishops rather than the Vatican, bishops are nonetheless supervised by the Vatican in this activity. Punt acknowledged that “naturally, the influence of the human element still exists” (Punt 2002), as in all apparitions, quoting on this point Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927), at that time Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and later to become Pope Benedict XVI. This was a reference to the words “who was once Mary” included in the prayer revealed in the apparitions and referred to the Lady of All Peoples; this language became an object of concern precisely because of its interpretation by Marie-Paule and was finally dropped in the version of the prayer used in Amsterdam.

Raoul Auclair was the link between the world of European apparitions and Marie-Paule in Québec. He regarded as a prophetic sign the fact that he received his First Communion on May 13, 1917, the day of the first apparition at Fátima, Portugal. A promising student, he abandoned his academic career to complete his military service in Morocco, and then worked as a surgical materials salesman before finding more satisfactory employment in 1941 with French national radio. In the same year, he had a mystical experience in Marseilles, and was “transported outside time, as if plummeted into the Divine Intelligence” (Péloquin 1997:10–11). Besides working as a playwright for the radio, he became an increasingly successful author of books on Catholic prophecy and eschatology as well as Marian apparitions. By the 1960s he had at his disposal a rich collection of materials on all sorts of supernatural phenomena (Auclair 1981).

American scholar Sandra Zimdars-Swartz noted the importance of Auclair as a representative of a Catholic millennialism, which, unlike other forms, eventually placed the “Second Vatican Council in a positive light.” In fact, Auclair tried to walk a middle course in the struggle over Vatican II reforms. He saw the Roman Catholic Church as being menaced both by those who were frenetic for reform, who he described as motivated by a “bad spirit,” and by the overly narrow traditionalists who were unwilling to allow the Holy Spirit to change the structures of the Church (Zimdars-Swartz 1991:256–57).

Eventually, Auclair became the main apologist for Ida Peerdeman’s vision and was instrumental in organizing three meetings of the Amsterdam visionary with Marie-Paule. After the death of his wife in 1976, as mentioned above, he moved permanently to Québec in 1978, taking the habit of the related religious order, the Sons of Mary, in 1987. Originally, “fidelity to Rome and the Pope” was a key teaching and the motto of the Army of Mary; and Marie-Paule’s followers, the Knights of Mary, centered their religious life on the Triple White: the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary, and the Pope. Marie-Paule also proposed a traditional Marian devotion along the lines of Auclair and Peerdeman. But when the Army of Mary became controversial the advisory circle around Peerdeman advised the Dutch visionary to keep her distance from the organization.

In the 1980s, both Marie-Paule and her main advisors started proposing doctrines increasingly at odds with Roman Catholic orthodoxy. According to Auclair (1985), a mysterious being known as CELLE (SHE, in all capitals) existed before entering the person of the Virgin Mary, and still exists, having “once been Mary,” according to Auclair’s interpretation of the Amsterdam prayer (an interpretation not reflected in the literature officially approved by the Amsterdam shrine). It was not an inconceivable step for Auclair’s friends in the Army of Mary to conclude that, as she had already inhabited Mary once before, CELLE now mystically inhabited Marie-Paule, who was elevated to a sort of new incarnation of the Virgin Mary. Marc Bosquart’s books presented this conclusion, based also on the word “reincarnation” mysteriously mentioned in Vie d’Amour (Bosquart 1985; see Introvigne 2001).

It is unclear how much in the subsequent developments (the distinction between the Church of Peter and the Church of John and the divine role of Marie-Paule herself as part of the newly recognized Quinternity) was promoted by Marie-Paule and based on her visions, as opposed to being the fruit of the religious creativity of Marc Bosquart. In the last years of her life, Marie-Paule was increasingly frail and largely limited her activities to approving Bosquart’s decisions. Regardless of the source, these new doctrines completed the transformation of the Army of Mary from a conservative Catholic group to a full-fledged new religious movement.


Until the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the rituals and practices promoted by Marie-Paule were those of the Roman Catholic Church, including the Mass and the sacraments administered by priests in communion with the Vatican, and the traditional Catholic pious practices, including the Rosary. In addition, there were colorful ceremonies honoring the Army of Mary and Marie-Paule, but these remained within the framework of a Catholic movement’s activities.

It was only with the proclamation of the Church of John that new ceremonies were introduced, although during Marie-Paule’s lifetime the basic structure of the Catholic Mass was not altered. It was more a matter of new interpretations, such as the one suggesting that during the communion not only the body of Jesus Christ, but also the body of the Virgin Mary and the mystical body of Marie-Paule were offered to the faithful. Similarly, devotional objects with the number five and references to the Quinternity were introduced, but they accompanied familiar Catholic tools such as rosaries. Only after Marie-Paule’s death in 2015, did Marc Bosquart and others suggest that the Church of John, as a new church, should also have a new liturgy, and a deeper reformation was started.


Marie-Paule was a strong and charismatic leader, despite recurring issues with her health. She was, however, a woman in a church where priesthood was reserved to men; moreover, she was a layperson with a limited theological education. She always had to rely on duly ordained priests for the sacramental life and on theologians for advice. She believed, however, that laymen who had read more theological books than she did, but were not technically theologians, would be able to lead the movement with her, and might be able to understand her visions better than professional theologians. She relied on Raoul Auclair, and much more, in a later period, on Marc Bosquart, who became the authorized interpreter of Vie d’Amour (see Bosquart 2006–2009). Her prophetic visions indicated Bosquart as destined to a leadership role in the movement and, as “king,” in the world at large.

Scholars and critics repeatedly asked the question whether Marie-Paule was the “real” leader of the Army of Mary, or if she was ultimately controlled by someone else. For her followers, she was undoubtedly controlled by God through her visions and the internal words she was able to hear, although in her later years it was suggested she might be part of the Godhead herself. Those outside the movement speculated that Bosquart and others might have tried to impose their own views on Marie-Paule, and that without their influence she might perhaps have submitted to the Roman Catholic Church. Having conducted several interviews with Marie-Paule between 1996 and 1998, I personally believe that she was a strong and intelligent woman, and that she never accepted from others theories she did not regard as supernaturally confirmed by her revelations and inner voices.


The confrontation between Marie-Paule and the Catholic authorities has been described in the biographical section above. At stake was not only the mystical character of her revelations but a new theology, mostly created by Bosquart, which was gradually taking shape. The Belgian leader’s ideas were clearly unacceptable to the Roman Catholic bishops, as they in fact generated a new church, with a new hierarchy and new theology. Although Bosquart and Marie-Paule would have been happy to leave the leadership of the Church of Peter to the Pope in Rome, the Vatican could obviously not accept that in Québec there was an alternative Church of John, believed by its adherents to be superior to the church headquartered in Rome.

When all this became clear, Marie-Paule was faced with a new challenge. A certain number of priests, including some of the most active and well-educated, nuns and laypersons abandoned the Army of Mary/Church of John movement. They were prepared to challenge the Canadian bishops on Marie-Paule’s revelations, originally approved by Cardinal Roy, but joining a new church and adopting a new theology, and exchanging the Trinity for a newly revealed Quinternity, was a different matter altogether. Some of Marie-Paule’s longtime companions stayed, trusting her notwithstanding the Vatican excommunication in 2007 of persons accepting and propagating the movement’s doctrines and practices. Socializing younger generations into the radically alternative subculture of the Church of John, and attracting new members accepting of a rupture with the Roman Catholic Church was a difficult challenge for Marie-Paule in her last years of activity, and continues to be a problem for her successors.


Image #1: Marie-Paule and her children, 1966. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.
Image #2: Marie-Paule, 1959. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.
Image #3: Marie-Paule as Mother Paul-Marie. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.
Image #4: Funeral of Marie-Paule, 2015. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.


Auclair, Raoul. 1985. L’Homme total dans la Terre totale. Limoilou, Québec: Éditions Stella.

Auclair, Raoul. 1981. Le Secret de La Salette. Limoilou, Québec: Éditions Stella.

Bomers, Henrik, and Jozef Marianus Punt. 1996. “Notification for the Catholic Faithful of the Diocese of Haarlem.” English translation. Haarlem, The Netherlands: Diocese of Haarlem.

Bosquart, Marc. 2006–2009. Trésors de “Vie d’Amour.” 5 Volumes. Lac-Etchemin, Québec: Les Éditions du Nouveau Monde.

Bosquart, Marc 2002. Marie-Paule et la Co-rédemption. Lac-Etchemin, Québec: Les Éditions du Nouveau Monde.

Bosquart, Marc. 2001a. Terre nouvelle, homme nouveau. Lac-Etchemin, Québec: Les Éditions du Nouveau Monde.

Bosquart, Marc 2001b. L’Immaculée, la divine Épouse de Dieu. Lac-Etchemin, Québec: Les Éditions du Nouveau Monde.

Bosquart, Marc. 1986. Le Rédempteur et la Co-Rédemptrice. Éléments pour servir à la Contemplation d’un mystère – II. Limoilou, Québec: La Famille des Fils et Filles de Marie.

Bosquart, Marc. 1985. De la Trinité Divine à l’Immaculée-Trinité. Éléments pour servir à la Contemplation d’un mystère – I. Limoilou, Québec: La Famille de Fils et Filles de Marie.

Giguère, Marie-Paule. 1992–1993. Vie d’Amour—Appendice. 5 Volumes. Limoilou, Québec: Marie-Paule Vie d’Amour.

Giguère, Marie-Paule. 1979–1994. Vie d’Amour. 15 Volumes. Limoilou, Québec: Vie d’Amour.

Introvigne, Massimo. 2001. “En Route to the Marian Kingdom: Catholic Apocalypticism and the Army of Mary.” Pp. 149-65 in Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, edited by Stephen Hunt. London: Hurst & Company.

Péloquin, Maurice. 1997. “La vie familiale de Raoul Auclair.” Le Royaume 115:10–11.

Punt, Jozef Marianus. 2002. “In Response to Inquiries Concerning the Lady of All Nations Apparitions.” Declaration of 31 May 2002. English translation accessed from http://www.cesnur.org/2002/punt.htm on 1 March 2017.

Zimdars-Swartz, Sandra L. 1991. Encountering Mary: From La Salette to Medjugorje. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Post Date:
20 March 2017


Katherine Augusta (Westcott) Tingley


1847 (July 6):  Katherine Tingley was born Catherine Augusta Westcott in Newbury, Massachusetts.

1850s:  As a child Tingley was greatly influenced by nature, New England Transcendentalism and the Masonic background of her grandfather Nathan Chase.

1861:  Tingley attended to those wounded in the Civil War while her family was in Virginia

1862–1865:  Horrified at her response to the suffering soldiers, Tingley’s father sent her to Villa Marie Convent in Montreal, Quebec, over objections from her grandfather.

1867:  Tingley briefly married Richard Henry Cook, a printer.

1866–1887:  There is little or no documentation for this period, but Tingley had two unsuccessful, childless marriages. During part of this time, she was in Europe working in a travelling stage/drama group.

1880:  Tingley married George W. Parent, an investigator for New York Elevated. The marriage ended by 1886.

1880s:  Tingley adopted and raised two children, from her former husband, Richard Henry Cook’s, second marriage.

1887:  Tingley formed the Ladies Society of Mercy to visit hospitals and prisons.

1888:  Tingley married Philo B. Tingley in the spring. Philo B. Tingley joined the Manhattan, New York City Masonic group that year, where William Q. Judge was the almoner.

1888–1889:  Katherine Tingley met William Q. Judge during a cloakmakers strike, somewhere between fall of 1888 and winter of 1889. Judge investigated her work for the Manhattan Masonic Lodge. The Lodge provided funding for some of Tingley’s Do Good Mission efforts.

1890 (April):  W. Q. Judge was ill with gradually progressing tuberculosis and Chagres fever. He sent Tingley to Sweden on secret mission to meet King Oscar II, arranged through Masonic connections.

1888–1891:  Tingley established various social work outreach projects, which included the Do Good Mission and the Women’s Emergency Relief Association, which arranged and provided a soup kitchen, clothing and medical needs in New York City for the Upper Eastside and for striking immigrant garment workers.

March 1896:  William Q. Judge died.

April 1896:  At the second annual convention of the Theosophical Society in America an announcement was made of the prospective founding by Tingley of the School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity (SLRMA), generally referred to later as the School of Antiquity. Tingley was elected as head for life of Theosophical Society in America.

1896 (June 7):  A ten-month World Theosophical Crusade was inaugurated to visit Theosophical centers, form new branches, and hold Brotherhood Suppers for the poor.

1896 (June 13):  World Theosophical Crusade sailed from New York City, landed in England and then went to Ireland, Continental Europe, Greece (stopping to feed hundreds of Armenian refugees), then to Egypt (October), India (November/December), Australia (January 1897), New Zealand and Samoa. While on board the ship Tingley gave Theosophical talks for the steerage underclass passengers; while at various stops in Great Britain and Europe she held Brotherhood Suppers for the poor,

1896 (September):  While in Switzerland, Tingley received information that the Point Loma, California location, which appeared to her in a vision, was available. She met Gottfried de Purucker (who would become her successor) who drew a map of Point Loma. Tingley sent the cable to purchase the land at Point Loma.

1896 (October/November):  Tingley described her meeting with Helena P. Blavatsky’s young Tibetan “Teacher” in Darjeeling.

1897 (January):  Tingley purchased 132 acres on Point Loma in San Diego, with option to buy an additional forty acres.

1897 (February 13):  Tingley arrived at Point Loma.

1897 (February 23):  Tingley officially laid the cornerstone for the future School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity. More than 1,000 people attended the ceremony.

1898:  Tingley formally changed the name of her group from The Theosophical Society to The Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society.

1898 (November 19):  Tingley produced a benefit performance in New York City of the Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, The Eumenides, for American soldiers and Spanish and Cuban sufferers in the Spanish American War. The New York Tribune reviewed the performance favorably.

1899 (February):  Tingley met with large group from all over Cuba upon her arrival in Santiago, Cuba. She encountered Emilio Bacardi Moreau, the mayor of Santiago, Cuba and grandmaster of Masonic lodges in Cuba.

1899 (April 13):  The first Universal Brotherhood Congress convened at Point Loma, with two performances of the Eumenides featuring a cast of two hundred.

1899 (September 13):  The second Universal Brotherhood Congress convened in Stockholm, Sweden, with a reception attended by King Oscar II. There was another large gathering in Brighton, England, on October 6.

1899–1900:  Extensive remodeling of the preexisting large sanatorium building into the Academy and Temple of Peace, along with extensive development of the Point Loma site, began.

1900:  Raja Yoga school founded at Point Loma with first five students at Point Loma, including Iverson Harris Jr. and four daughters of Walter T. Hanson from Georgia: Coralee, Margaret, Estelle, and Kate.

1900:  Tingley held a debate with Christians at the Fisher Opera House in San Diego. The Christians, who verbally attacked her and the Theosophists, declined to participate, and so Tingley presented both sides at the debate. She then purchased the Fisher Opera House and renamed it the Isis Theater after the Egyptian goddess.

1901:  Tingley built the first Greek-style theater in America at Point Loma.

1901:  Tingley produced a Greek symposium, The Wisdom of Hypatia, performed at the renamed Isis Theater. That same year saw dramatic productions of The Conquest of Death and a children’s drama Rainbow Fairy Play.

1901 (October 28):  The Los Angeles Times headlined a sensationalized column: “Outrages at Point Loma: Women and Children Starved and Treated like Convicts. Thrilling Rescue.” Tingley’s subsequent suit for libel against the publisher Otis Gray, one of the most powerful people in California at that time, was successful and she was awarded $7,500.

1902:  One hundred students were now enrolled at the Raja Yoga school. Two-thirds were Cuban, including children of Emilio Bacardi Moreau.

1903:  Twenty-five Raja Yoga students were sent to Cuba to help launch schools there. Three schools were established. Nan Ino Herbert was the principal.

1903:  Tingley journeyed to Japan with Gottfried de Purucker. She was impressed with Japanese discipline and ethic and invited Japanese educators to visit Point Loma.

1907:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream was produced at Point Loma and performed in the Greek Theater, featuring original music, costumes, and set. Dozens of plays, mostly from Shakespeare and Aeschylus were produced at Point Loma over the next thirty years.

1907:  Tingley had a private visit and meeting with King Oscar II of Sweden, who died a few weeks later. She purchased government land to establish a Raja Yoga school on Visingso Island in Sweden.

1909:  The Raja Yoga schools were closed in Cuba due to financial strain. Tingley had been diverting Point Loma funds there, which was not sustainable.

1909:  Kenneth Morris, Welsh poet and fantasist, moved to Point Loma.

1911:  The first issue of The Theosophical Path appeared, with Gottfried de Purucker as acting editor. This journal was issued monthly in the same format from 1911 until 1929.

1911:  Pageant and symposium, The Aroma of Athens, was written and performed by the Theosophists as a dramatic production at Isis Theater.

1911 (November):  After a very moving visit to San Quentin, Tingley began to publish The New Way, an eight-page newsletter directed at prisoners and edited by Herbert Coryn. The newsletter stated that it was published by “The International Theosophical League of Humanity for Gratuitous Distribution in Prisons.”

1913 (Midsummer):  1913 (Midsummer): Tingley organized, with Swedish members, and attended with a group of Raja Yoga students from Point Loma, the Theosophical Peace Congress at Visingso Island.

1913–1920s:  Tingley’s anti-war peace activities were pervasive from this time through the 1920s with many events and activities organized in San Diego and in Europe.

1914:  Tingley inaugurated the Peace Day of Nations. Telegrams peace and anti-war messages were sent to President Woodrow Wilson.

1914–1915:  Tingley lost part of an inheritance from A. B. Spaulding in a lawsuit brought by his heirs.

1915:  Tingley suggested to plein air impressionist artist Maurice Braun, who had come to join the Theosophists in 1909, that he establish his art focus in San Diego, rather than at Point Loma. Braun became one of the founders of the San Diego Art Guild, which later became the San Diego Art Institute.

1914–1917:  Tingley successfully campaigned against capital punishment in Arizona, supporting and collaborating with then-Governor George W. P. Hunt.

1917–1920:  Tingley headed anti-vivisection animal rights efforts.

1919 (January):  The Spanish Influenza, which raged throughout the nation, saw only a single case at Point Loma.

1920:  Through a large publicity campaign Tingley successfully influenced the California governor to commute the sentence of Roy Wolff, who was seventeen at the time he killed a taxi driver.

1920s:  At its height, Point Loma had residents from twenty-six nations.

1922:  Katherine Tingley’s talk on Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic was printed and published at Point Loma.

1923:  Adventure novelist Talbot Mundy took up residence at Point Loma, and there wrote his most mystical adventure story, Om the Secret of Ahbor Valley, in which the Lama protagonist is patterned after Tingley.

1923:  Tingley met Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical Society, in Germany and proposed that the two groups merge. Tingley’s stroke later that year and Steiner’s death precluded this potential merger.

1923:  Tingley lost a lawsuit that relatives brought in the Mohn family inheritance.

1925:  Katherine Tingley’s talk on The Wine of Life, which outlined the ideal of the Theosophical home life, was printed and published at Point Loma.

1926:  Katherine Tingley’s talk on The Gods Await was printed and published at Point Loma.

1927:  Katherine Tingley’s talk on The Travail of the Soul was printed and published at Point Loma.

1929:  Tingley had premonitions of her impending death, described by Elsie Savage Benjamin.

1929 (July 11):  Katherine Tingley died in Sweden while on a European tour, following an auto accident in Germany.


Katherine Augusta Westcott was born in Newbury, Massachusetts on 6 July 1847. She grew up in New England, her childhood spent wandering along the banks of the Merrimac River near Newbury. The first years through her mid-teens appear to have been idyllic. She found the companionship of her grandfather, Nathan Chase, to be inspiring. She observed that she was drawn to the outdoors and described a nature-loving, interior, and more spiritualized orientation from early childhood. She portrayed her childhood experience and wonderment with the natural world, writing that “in my love of Nature and in my love of the true and the beautiful, in my love of this Eternal Supreme Power, my views broadened and I felt there is still greater knowledge and more wonderful meaning to human life” (Tingley 1925:286). Additionally, she was also drawn to the visitors and friends of her family, who were participants in the New England Transcendentalist movement. She wrote that she tried many philosophies, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and though they stirred her, they “did not quite satisfy.”

The first major transition in her life came in 1861 during the American Civil War. Her father was a regiment captain, stationed with the Union Army in Virginia, and there she witnessed the suffering and wounded soldiers. After the second battle of Bull Run, she saw “the ambulances returning with the dead and dying, followed by the files of Confederate soldiers, ragged and half starving” (Tingley 1926:36–37). Unable to bear the sight, Tingley and her African American servant went out among the soldiers and tended their wounds late into the night. However, her father’s reaction to Katherine’s impulse to aid the suffering and wounded was not a positive one. Out of concern for Katherine’s well-being he quickly sent her off, over the protests of her grandfather, a member of the Masons, to a Catholic boarding school administered by nuns at Villa Marie Convent in Montreal, Quebec. This was a highly regimented and structured environment, a drastic change from the free-spirited life in New England. She appears to have lived there until she was eighteen, and upon completing school, for reasons not clear, she did not return to her parents’ home.

From 1865 until 1880, there is almost no information on Tingley’s life, although she was briefly married to Richard Henry Cook, a printer, in 1867. From 1880 to 1888 all that is known is that she married a second time: George W. Parent was an investigator for New York Elevated. The marriage ended by 1886. By the mid-1880s, for a short time, she adopted and raised two children who were from her first husband’s second marriage. Tingley gave little information about these marriages other than that they were times of great suffering for her.

Living in New York City brought her into contact with the horrible conditions of those living on the East Side, and in 1887 she established a women’s group to visit prisons and hospitals, called the Ladies Society of Mercy. In 1888, she married Philo B. Tingley, a steamship employee and inventor, who would be Katherine’s connection to what would become the most world-changing event in her life, namely meeting William Q. Judge (1851–1896), president of the American Section of the Theosophical Society. The same year he married Katherine, Philo Tingley had joined the Manhattan Masonic Lodge, where Judge was the bursar. Katherine’s work with the poor and particularly with the plight of striking garment workers and their working conditions was suggested as a charitable project. Judge, as the Masonic Lodge treasurer, was sent to check on it, view the project in action and determine if it was worth supporting. Historical documents discovered in 2015 clearly indicate that Judge first saw Katherine in late 1888 at her “Do Good” outreach mission, when, as she would describe later, she saw an unusual gentleman within the crowd of the downtrodden, “strikingly noble of expression, with a look of grave sadness and of sickness too” (Tingley 1926:79). They met in person for the first time in early 1889. “It was then, when I came to know him, that I realized that I had found my place. I was face to face with a new type of human nature: with something akin to that which my inner consciousness had told me a perfect human being might be” (Tingley 1926:79–80). It is remarkable that both Judge and Tingley kept her connection with him and the Theosophical Society totally secret until 1894, even though revealing it would have greatly benefited her position with those Theosophists who were critical of her.

During 1894 and possibly earlier, Katherine took Judge to warmer weather and hot springs in Texas and Arkansas for rest and recuperation from his progressing tuberculosis and Chagres fever. At the same time, she formally joined the Theosophical Society and a month later Judge admitted her to the private Esoteric Section. As it became clearer that Judge’s chronic illness was more serious, Tingley [Image at right] was introduced to a few Theosophists in 1895. Tensions and differences had been building between William Q. Judge and both Annie Besant (1847–1933) and Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), who had remained with the parent Theosophical Society headquartered in Adyar, India. There were a complex and contentious series of events, which turned acrimonious at times. This finally came to a head when Judge led the American Section to secede from the Theosophical Society in 1895. Declaring autonomy, the Theosophical Society in America was established and William Q. Judge was elected president for life (Ryan 1975). At that time, Katherine Tingley rapidly moved to the center of governance as Judge’s health declined further.

Upon Judge’s death in 1896, Tingley was elected president for life. Conflicts and schisms followed, but Tingley forged ahead. She quickly shifted the direction of the Theosophical Society in America to create an educational and living community where Theosophy could be practiced in daily life and not only for abstract study of metaphysics or the exploring of visionary realms. It was her aim to make Theosophy “intensely practical” and rooted in a deep altruistic ethic. At the January 13, 1898 convention, she would rename it the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society (UBTS). For the direct application of her philanthropic work she also established the International Brotherhood League, which carried on a very large relief effort in Cuba in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, and also served the sick and wounded soldiers returning from the war. President William McKinley authorized the use of U.S. Government transport to take Tingley, her physicians and other workers to Cuba with large supplies of food, clothing, and medicines (Ryan 1975:348).

In 1896, she gathered together a few supporters for a Theosophical Crusade and headed off around the world, beginning in Europe. In Switzerland she met a young Theosophical Society member, Gottfried de Purucker (1874–1942) for the first time. He had joined the Theosophical Society and met Judge who admitted him to the Esoteric Section without the usual probationary period. De Purucker had been to California a few years before and lived in San Diego in 1893, working on a ranch and leading study groups in the Secret Doctrine by the co-founder of the original Theosophical Society, Helena P. Blavatsky (1831–1891). De Purucker helped Tingley identify the land at Point Loma in San Diego for purchase for the UBTS project (PLST Archive). Meanwhile, the Theosophical “crusaders” traveled through the Middle East and sailed on to India. [Image at right] Early one morning near Darjeeling, Tingley evaded her companions and slipped off up into the foothills. She would return a day or so later, stating she had visited one of Blavatsky’s “Teachers” referring to the encounter as “life transforming” (Tingley 1926:155–162; and Tingley 1928). Some years later Tingley would reflect that her encounter with Blavatsky’s young Tibetan “Teacher” in India had given her the courage to continue with establishing and developing the Point Loma community and the gradual alleviation and reversal of symptoms of her chronic Addison’s kidney/adrenal disease. For Katherine Tingley this was a much needed and spiritually life-changing experience, that brought her the energy and motivation to bring her vision of a “White City in the West” into manifestation.

The Point Loma community began in 1897 with Tingley’s arrival. Great enthusiasm and energy accompanied construction and transformation of the grounds, which were called Lomaland. By 1899, the first five students were enrolled in the Raja Yoga school, and by 1902 there were a hundred, of whom about seventy-five were from Cuba. Collaborating with Emilio Bacardi Moreau (1844–1923), mayor of Santiago, Cuba, she began a mission to build schools in Cuba and to bring Cuban students to the Raja Yoga School at Point Loma. By 1915, the school in San Diego reached its peak with 500 students (Greenwalt 1978). The Raja Yoga curriculum evolved quickly, with its emphasis on the creative arts: the classics, music, drama, art, and literature, as well as science, sports and agriculture. The overarching view that the Point Loma community manifested was what Tingley called the School of Antiquity. According to Tingley’s secretary, Joseph H. Fussell, the purpose of the School of Antiquity was to revive a knowledge of the Sacred Mysteries of Antiquity by promoting the physical, mental, moral and spiritual education and welfare of the people of all countries, irrespective of creed, sex, caste or color; by instructing them in an understanding of the laws of universal nature and justice and particularly the laws governing their own being: the teaching them the wisdom of mutual helpfulness, such being the science of Raja Yoga. (qtg Tingley, Fussell 1917:12).

The School of Antiquity and the entire vision and form of the Point Loma community was patterned after Tingley’s conception of an ancient mystery school, drawing a great deal of her inspiration from Plato and Pythagorean ideas. Elsie Benjamin described the mission as being to replicate an ancient Mystery-School:

In the ancient Mystery-Schools, the pupils were more like children: they have instinct, they have intuition, but they didn’t have full self-consciousness. . . . Because Judge had told K.T., that it is not your mission to teach them technical Theosophy. Your mission is to teach them morals, ethics, universal brotherhood, humanity and self-discipline (Benjamin).

Tingley’s vision of “practical Theosophy” encompassed all of the arts, and much more. For her, the architecture of Lomaland needed to express the sacredness of home and place, as both receptacle and expression of a higher divine source. Her inspiration culturally was, at least in part, Greek and Pythagorean harmonics. Of the unique buildings designed and built at Lomaland, the Greek Theater remains as the single purely classically Greek structure. Other structures, such as the Temple of Peace or the home of Elizabeth Mayer Spaulding, wife of sporting goods magnate Albert G. Spaulding, reflected influences from India and Persia.

Drama played a significant role, not only to develop community esprit d’corps, but for the individual transformational elements involved. From 1903 into the 1930s, the Point Loma Theosophical community produced scores of plays. Tingley chose Greek tragedy and Shakespeare’s dramas for what she viewed as their philosophical perennialism and universal Theosophic ideas, combined with the participatory opportunity that drama has for inner psychological and spiritual development. There were also productions of their own plays, including one based on Socrates’ dialogues in Plato, called The Aroma of Athens. Another, based on the life of the fourth-century Alexandrian neo-Platonist woman philosopher Hypatia, featured Katherine Tingley in the lead role. Reviews in the San Diego Union reflected the central role that the Theosophical productions played in San Diego’s cultural life.

Well-known artists from the U.S. and abroad came to live and work at Lomaland and there developed a unique mystical style. The late 1890s view of art held by Reginald Willoughby Machell (1854–1927), presaged a later twentieth-century phenomenological view found in philosophers like Kitaro Nishida, Maurice Merleau-Ponty or Ananda Coomaraswamy, where an understanding of how the awareness of observer and object are experienced as highly interdependent with the art object and its creation. Said Machell:

Beauty is really a state of mind. The senses only register vibrations, which are translated by the mind into colour, form, sound. . . . It would be more true perhaps to say that beauty is in both observer and observed, but not in one apart from the other (Machell 1892:4).

Another artist who developed a Theosophical style was Maurice Braun (1877–1941). According to Emmett Greenwalt, “Braun was not hesitant in crediting Theosophy with sharpening his insight into nature. To him art was for ‘the service of the divine powers in man,’ or as he otherwise phrased it, ‘art for humanities sake,’ and he saw in Theosophy ‘the champion and inspirer or all that is noble and true and genuine in art’” (Greenwalt 1978: 129–31).

In addition to her devotion to the arts, Katherine Tingley worked for social justice and peace throughout her life. She had been involved in a prison ministry project which involved corresponding with prisoners. She was engaged in movements to abolish capital punishment in California and Arizona. She also organized an anti-vivisection program to protect animal welfare.

In 1922 or 1923, Tingley, around age seventy-six, [Image at right] suffered a minor stroke. It did not cause any noticeable physical debility, but from then until her death, she suffered a kind of emotional agitation at times when under stress. When it became severe, her office staff would call for Gottfried de Purucker to come, given his very calming influence on her in general, and his presence would usually resolve Tingley’s anxieties.

The last seven years of her life can be seen as a gradual decline of the Point Loma experiment, after the dynamic growth and successes of the 1910–1922 period. Her important financial backers of the earlier period had almost all died, and the expenses for maintaining Lomaland had stayed the same. Over this time, significant debt was incurred, even to mortgaging part of the property to maintain the community. The drama, art, music and Raja Yoga school continued, but the income was less. Some long-time residents also left Point Loma at this time, including Hildor and Margueite Barton, Montegue Machell and his wife Coralee (one of the Hanson sisters), and E. August Neresheimer and his wife Emily Lemke. Tingley expressed her dismay and felt that she had not lived up to supporting her committed residents and partisans, especially Reginald Machell.

By late spring of 1929, and approaching the age of eighty-two, Tingley was ready to travel to Europe yet again. Elsie Savage Benjamin, then her secretary, was helping with preparations and sharing her concerns with Tingley about the European trip. She was especially concerned about driving with an inexperienced young man whom Tingley had chosen to be her chauffeur for the tour. Tingley, with her darting, penetrating eyes rapidly responded to Elsie with extraordinary prescience: “Don’t you know, he’s going to be in a car crash and kill someone” (Benjamin n.d.). On May 31, 1929, driving in the fog near dawn on a winding road in Germany about fifty miles from the Dutch border, the chauffeur crashed the car into a concrete bridge pier (Greenwalt 1955:192). Tingley had a double fracture of her right leg and much bruising. Others in the car were also injured. Tingley insisted on being taken to Visingso Island in Sweden rather than to a hospital. Staying in command until the last, and in considerable pain, she even dismissed her doctor rather than be moved to where she could receive better medical care. Katherine Tingley died on Visingso Island, what she considered sacred land, July 11, 1929.


Tingley saw Theosophy, not so much as a body of philosophic or other teaching, but as the highest law of conduct, which is the enacted expression of divine love or compassion” (Tingley The Theosophical Path :3). This divine love could be realized only in a communal setting in which people lived and worked together to express their best selves.

For Tingley, educating children’s minds so that they recognized the Immortal Self was “the truest and grandest thing of all as regards education” (Tingley The Theosophical Path:175). Toward this end she founded the Raja Yoga system in order to develop children’s character so that their true nature would emerge from within. “The real secret of the Raja Yoga system is rather to evolve the child’s character than to overtax the child’s mind; it is to bring out rather than to bring to the faculties of the child. The grander part is from within” (Tingley The Theosophical Path:174). The essential divinity of humanity served as the foundation for this kind of education, with a curriculum integrating body, mind, and spirit, in which all participated. Physical cultivation along with intellectual training were required, so that the intellect would be “the servant, not the master.” Thus, the Raja Yoga system, which Tingley called a “science of the soul,” would pervade all life and activity, becoming “the true expression of soul-ideals” so that art would no longer be extraneous to life, but rather an integral part of the environment (Tingley The Theosophical Path: 159–75). This view toward the arts as the means to develop the whole person helps explain Tingley’s passion for theater, since drama, in her view, reached the heart of everyone.

Clearly influenced by Blavatsky’s writings on education, Tingley nevertheless created a practical program not envisaged by her predecessor. She outlined it as follows:

The basis of this education is the essential divinity of man, and the necessity for transmuting everything in his nature which is not divine. To do this no part must be neglected, and the physical nature must share to the full in the care and attention which are required. Neither can the most assiduous training of the intellect be passed over; it must be made subservient to the forces of the heart. The intellect must be the servant, not the master, if order and equilibrium are to be attained (Emmett W. Small n.d.:93–94).


While there was no group liturgy at Lomaland, there were daily community practices. Tingley spoke of “the sacredness of the moment and the day” and sought to make Theosophy intensely practical as “the enacted expression of divine love or compassion” (Tingley 1922:3) According to her, “The ideal must no longer be left remote from life, but made divinely human, close and intimate, as of old. NOW is the day of resurrection” (Tingley 1922:94). The daily life practice at Lomaland could be compared to the group spiritual practice in the monastic traditions of east and west, yet with unique differences. The Lomaland practice was based on the creative arts within the context of the wisdom traditions of East and West. Daily group activity was ritualized in common endeavors that were creative, contemplative and inspirational, encapsulated within an altruistic ethic. As she expressed it, “Intellectualism has no lasting power without the practice of the highest morality” (Tingley 1922:98). It was a community, the center of which was the education of children.

The entire community gathered together daily at sunrise at the Greek Theater or in the Temple of Peace. Inspirational phrases were read from literature such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Buddha’s life story in Edwin Arnold’s poetic rendition in The Light of Asia, from Theosophical sources, including Light on the Path by Mabel Collins (1885) and the Voice of the Silence by Blavatsky (1889). This was followed by silent contemplation. Meals were eaten in a group setting and in silence, with a brief recitation before each meal and upon entering the refectory eating area; men and women were grouped together. Idle talk was discouraged and the overall quality of the community was to “do well the smallest duty . . . then joy will come” (Tingley 1927:274–75).

The following invocation, given to the students by Katherine Tingley, was recited in unison primarily at meetings held in the Temple, but also on many occasions elsewhere.

Oh my Divinity! Thou dost blend with the
earth and fashion for thyself Temples of mighty power.

Oh my Divinity! thou livest in the heart-life
of all things and dost radiate a Golden Light
that shineth forever and doth illumine even the
darkest comers of the earth.

Oh my Divinity! blend thou with me that
from the corruptible I may become Incorruptible;
that from imperfection I may become Perfection;
that from darkness I may go forth in

In addition to the morning gatherings in silence and meditation with devotional readings, there was also community music, both instrumental and choral. Everyone sang in the chorus and played a musical instrument. Tingley considered music to be of central value for inner transformation and life harmony: “The soul power which is called forth by a harmony well delivered and well received does not die away with the conclusion of the piece” (Tingley 1922:178). She would attract to Point Loma the renowned director of the Amsterdam Conservatory of music, Daniël de Lange (de Lange 2003), from 1910 to 1915, who transformed the Raja Yoga orchestra into a symphonic quality musical group.

There were frequent gatherings on cultural and Theosophical subjects for presentations in the Temple of Peace. Regular Point Loma visitors, like art historian Osvald Siren (1879–1966), would give lectures in the Temple illustrated by lantern slides of photos from his recent journeys in China or Asian or European art history (Carmen Small n.d.). Lomaland was an oasis of sophistication in the cultural wasteland that was San Diego at the turn of the twentieth century.


Katherine Tingley’s leadership began in 1896, when she was elected amidst some controversy to succeed William Q. Judge as leader for life of the Theosophical Society in America. This resulted in a number of outer changes, including the change of name to the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society and also the shift of primary focus from lodges to the establishment of the community at Lomaland. These alterations also provided a shift in the internal culture within Tingley’s Theosophical movement at the time, which could be described as a shift from discursive metaphysics to Theosophy in daily activity. There was the practical work for Universal Brotherhood, e.g. promoting global peace, prison outreach, capital punishment abolition and so on, but there was also a new modality, where cultivating an inner ethic of altruistic motivation and awareness was primary. This change opened the door, to what could be described as contemplative Theosophy. As Tingley declared:

Wisdom comes not from the multiplication of spoken or written instructions; what you have is enough to last you a thousand years. Wisdom comes from the performance of duty, and in the silence, and only the silence expresses it (Tingley 1925:343).

As a self-proclaimed dictator, Tingley appeared to wield the primary power in the organization, but as the Point Loma community developed, that control was progressively counterbalanced by her delegating responsibilities to others. There was a complex of interconnected departments and committees at Lomaland, which managed everything from maintaining the extensive agricultural gardens with fruit orchards, to supervising school curriculum, Theosophical programs and running a large communal endeavor. The one area in which Tingley immersed herself was her personal direction and management of the dramatic productions in the Greek Theater at Lomaland and at the Isis Theater in San Diego. She felt most at home in the role of guide to the students’ inner development of character and spirituality when she was absorbed in the dramatic productions. In this context, she would exclaim to one student, “I work best in utter chaos” (Harris n.d.).

Tingley was definitely not a micromanager. This is evidenced, for example, by her giving a free hand to Gottfried de Purucker in 1911 in the editorship of The Theosophical Path. She never read or indicated what or what not to print in it and would read the issues, as time permitted, only after they were published (Emmett W. Small n.d.). When she requested a couple of the resident artists to make some Christmas cards by hand for her, it was left to their creativity to work out the design and quotes used (Lester n.d.). Clearly the rapid development and success in establishing the Point Loma community and Raja Yoga school with all its activities of art, music, drama etc., was the result of her delegating and giving others the reins. In addition, she was away travelling almost every summer for a few months, though she made use of letters, cards and telegrams daily while away, keeping a close connection with everyone, including young students and administrators.


Throughout the Lomaland period of her life, Tingley faced several lawsuits and filed one of her own against the Los Angeles Times for libel, which she won. There was more than one attempt on her life. On one occasion, a man with a loaded pistol attempted to reach where she was seated at the Isis Theater, but was stopped by a quick acting police guard (Harris n.d.). In the later 1920s, Tingley mortgaged part of the Lomaland property, over de Purucker’s pleas not to do so (Emmett W. Small n.d.; Harris n.d.). Most of the long-term residents had given everything they had when arriving at Lomaland in exchange for lifetime residency. Yet their contributions were spent on either maintaining the community or on Raja Yoga School projects in Cuba and Europe, especially since the income from the Raja Yoga School was insufficient to maintain expenses.

After Tingley’s death, the financial condition of Lomaland was precarious, but under the leadership of her successor, Gottfried de Purucker, and thanks to frugal cutbacks and voluntary reduction of residents to around 125, the overwhelming debt had been paid off by the mid-1930s. From 1929 through the 1930s, more than half of the donations received to support Lomaland were coming from Europe. By 1938, while the political conditions in Germany were rapidly deteriorating, donations from European members dried up. De Purucker sent out an urgent letter asking everyone to eliminate any expense possible to save on the monthly outlay (PLST Archive).

During de Purucker’s period, dramatic productions had continued with creative success under the direction of Florence Collison, though the dramas were reduced in pageantry compared to the Tingley era. Also, the Raja Yoga School still had significant numbers of children from San Diego residents, but the entire scope of both community activities and outreach, compared to the peak around 1920, was greatly diminished. There was insufficient income without the outside donations.

By the end of 1941, the community was hard pressed financially, with additional stress nearby when the U.S. government placed large military bunkers with artillery both north and south of the property and out on Point Loma itself. Tension was heightened with the U.S. declaration of war with Japan over the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. De Purucker had already sent out individuals scouting California for a smaller less encumbered property and developed a plan to shrink the number of residents yet again. He had found a property in Cupertino that he preferred, but it could only accommodate a small staff of fifteen or so. In January 1942, the decision was made to sell the property and move to Covina, east of Los Angeles, where a boys’ school facility was purchased. The move in spring of 1942 was followed by de Purucker’s sudden death from a heart attack at Covina on September 27. De Purucker left no indications of a designated heir, but he did write out a letter giving advice and direction for interim governance and recommendations for the cabinet to follow for electing a president for the society (PLST Archive).

Internal conflict within the group amidst questions and assertions of spiritual authoritative power would break out in 1945 over the cabinet’s election of a new leader. As Yeats expressed it poetically, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” and amidst dissension the magic of Point Loma had ceased and withdrawn, leaving antagonists with varying assertions and claims to inheriting the earlier holy grail. Despite the hopeful move to Covina, the qualities nurtured and grown at Point Loma could not endure. The sacred architecture was gone, music and the arts had faded, and the daily community group activities were radically reduced.

Image #1: Photograph of Katherine Tingley in the in the early 1900s.
Image #2: Photograph of Katherine Tingley on the way to meeting with one of Helena P. Blavatsky’s teachers in India.
Image #3: Photograph of Katherine Tingley in the mid-1920s.


De Lange, Daniël. 2003. Thoughts on Music: Musical Art as Explained as One of the Most Important Means of Building up Man’s Character. The Hague: International Study Centre for Independent Search for Truth; reprinted from The Theosophical Path where it was published in ten installments between November 1916 and May 1918.

Fussell, Joseph H. 1917. The School of Antiquity: Its Meaning, Purpose and Scope. Point Loma, CA: Aryan Philosophical Press.

Greenwalt, Emmett. 1955, revised 1978. California Utopia: The Point Loma Community in California, 1897–1942. San Diego: Point Loma Publications.

Machell, Reginald. 1892. Theosophical Siftings. Volume 5.

Ryan, Charles. 1937, revised 1975. H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement. Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press.


Writings by Katherine Tingley

1922. Theosophy. The Path of the Mystic. With Grace Frances Knoche. Point Loma, CA: Woman’s International Theosophical League.

1925. The Wine of Life. With preface by Talbot Mundy. Point Loma, CA: Woman’s International Theosophical League.

1926. The Gods Await. Point Loma, CA: Woman’s International Theosophical League.

1928. The Voice of the Soul. Point Loma, CA: Woman’s International Theosophical League.

1978. The Wisdom of the Heart: Katherine Tingley Speaks. Edited by W. Emmett Small. San Diego: Point Loma Publications.

Tingley, Katherine, ed. 1911–1929. The Theosophical Path [Theosophy periodical].

Primary Archival References

Point Loma School of Theosophy Archive. Accessed from http://www.pointlomaschool.com on 5 March 2017. (PLST Archive in text).

Recorded Interviews, Oral Histories, and Personal Writings.

Benjamin, Elsie Savage. n.d. Recorded Interviews. [Secretary to Katherine Tingley].

Harris, Helen. n.d. Notebooks. [Lomaland Resident].

Harris, Iverson L., Jr. n.d. Oral History. [Lomaland Resident].

Lester, Marian Plummer. n.d. Oral History. [Lomaland Resident].

Small, Carmen H. n.d. Oral history. [Lomaland Resident].

Small, W. Emmett. n.d. Oral History. [Lomaland Resident].

Post Date:
8 March 2017


Gurumayi (Swami Chidvilasananda)


1955 (June 24):  Gurumayi was born as Malti Shetty in Bombay (Mumbai), India.

1982 (April 26):  She was formally initiated by the then-guru of Siddha Yoga, Swami Muktananda, as an ascetic in the tradition and renamed Swami Chidvilasananda (the Sanskrit title translates to “the religious teacher [swami] who is the bliss of the play of consciousness”); Gurumayi, “immersed in the guru,” is an honorific that is used less formally.

1982 (May 3):  She was co-consecrated with her brother Swami Nityananada by Swami Muktananda to be his successors as gurus of Siddha Yoga.

1982 (October 2):  Swami Muktananda died and Swami Chidvilasananda and her brother became the gurus of Siddha Yoga

1985 (November 10):  Swami Chidvilasananda was installed as the sole guru of Siddha Yoga; she has held this status continuously to the present day.


Malti Shetty, born June 24, 1955, was the oldest child of a Bombay restaurateur and his wife. The very next year, Swami Muktananda (1908–1982), whose Sanskrit name means “the bliss of liberation,” in the culmination of decades of spiritual practice (sadhana), received permission to establish an ashram at Ganeshpuri, near Bombay (Mumbai) and to teach from his guru, Bhagavan Nityananda (“the venerable one who is eternally joyful”). The charismatic Swami Muktananda named his teaching “Siddha Yoga” and instituted weekend programs for the transmission of spiritual energy from guru to disciple, shaktipat or shaktipat-diksha (shaktipat initiation), a format that was distinctive from the classical full-time residence model of guru-disciple and that allowed for the participation of diverse devotees in ashram events. Shetty’s parents became disciples, and by 1960 they were bringing her, her sister and two brothers to the ashram on weekends.

The guru bestowed formal shaktipat initiation on Malti in 1969, when she was fourteen years old (Durgananda 1997:64), and she began to reside at the ashram by the time she was eighteen. Swami Muktananda “concerned himself with every detail of Malti’s diet and schedule, making sure that she ate food that fostered meditation” (Durgananda 1997:65). Malti was both like and unlike other devotees: Along with other devotees, she furthered her spiritual progress by her own devotional commitment to the guru as well as her engagement in intensive spiritual practices (sadhana) such as meditation. Yet to Swami Muktananda she stood out as special, as in his 1969 prediction that one day she would serve as a global beacon: “‘You know,’ he said, ‘that girl Malti is a blazing fire. One day she will light up the entire world’” (Durgananda 1997:65).

Swami Muktananda instituted world tours to spread the teachings of Siddha Yoga in what he envisioned to be a worldwide “meditation revolution.” In 1975, he appointed Malti as his translator during his second world tour in Oakland, California. During the years 1974–1975, Muktananda established many of the features of Siddha Yoga practice that were to remain core elements of the path for the next quarter century, including the guru personally bestowing shaktipat on devotees at weekend Intensive programs, establishing ashrams globally, and creating guidelines for teaching courses on aspects of Siddha Yoga practice and theology. Grooming Malti as a leader was part of these developments. In 1980, Muktananda decreed that Malti would deliver the public talks at the ashram on Sunday nights, and in 1981 she was made executive vice-president of SYDA Foundation, the non-profit organizational structure supporting the teaching program (Pechilis 2004b:224–29).

In April 1982, at the age of twenty-six, Malti was formally initiated into the ascetic lifestyle (sannyasa) by her guru and given the formal name of Swami Chidvilasananda (“the bliss of the play of consciousness”). Ten years later, she wrote of her transformative experience of identity with the universal divinity (expressed as He and as Brahman in the passage) during that ceremony:

At one point during the pattābhisheka, the ceremony during which Baba Muktananda passed on to me the power of his lineage, he whispered So’ham [I am He] and aham Brahmāsmi [I am of Brahman] in my ear. I experienced the mantra as an immensely powerful force which rocketed at lightning speed throughout my bloodstream and created an upheaval in my entire system. I instantly transcended body-consciousness and became aware that all distinctions such as inner and outer were false and artificial. Everything was the same; what was within me was also without. My mind became completely blank. There was only the pulsating awareness “I am That,” accompanied by great bliss and light.

When my mind again began to function, all I could think was, “What is Baba? Who is this being who looks so ordinary, yet has the capacity to transmit such an experience at will?”

I knew beyond a doubt that the mantra was God. I had never experienced a force so mighty, yet at the same time so soothing (Swami Chidvilasananda 1992:xxiii).

Two weeks later, Swami Muktananda consecrated as his successors both Swami Chidvilasananda and her brother Swami Nityananda (b. 1962). Formerly Subash Shetty, Nityananda had been resident at the ashram and initiated into sannyasa in 1980. This consecration of the two siblings surprised people because of their youthfulness, their familiarity to devotees since they had grown up at the ashram, and the fact that Siddha Yoga taught that one should devote oneself to a single guru (Williamson 2010:119). Five months later, the two actually became the gurus of Siddha Yoga, at Muktananda’s samadhi (“immersion in enlightened consciousness,” often used as in this case to indicate the death of a spiritual leader) on October 2, 1982.

Swami Chidvilasananda, who is more commonly referred to as Gurumayi (“immersed in the guru”), which expresses her continuing dedication to Muktananda, became the sole guru of Siddha Yoga on November 10, 1985. Gurumayi led the Siddha Yoga movement through a number of scandals, including that of her brother Nityananda leaving and then wanting to reassume the co-guruship ( “Former SYDA Co-guru Explains” 1986; Thursby 1991; Harris 1994:93–94, 101–04; Durgananda 1997:126–34; Healy 2010; Williamson 2010:118–21); and through allegations which emerged shortly after the guru’s death and have intensified over the years that Muktananda had sexually abused female devotees (Rodarmor 1983; Caldwell 2001; Radha 2002; Shah 2010; Salon Staff 2010; Williamson 2010:114–17).

Gurumayi persevered in her leadership of Siddha Yoga through her close following of traditions and practices that her guru Muktananda had put in place (ashrams, shaktipat, weekend Intensive programs, also known as Intensives), as well as her own star power, with disciples eager to catch a glimpse of her at the ashram and vying for seats close to her at official programs or Intensives (Williamson 2010:124). Gurumayi also established innovative programs, for instance a talk on New Year’s Eve that revealed the Yearly Message for contemplation throughout the coming year; such annual messages consist of short phrases that emphasize purity of mind, belief in love, and knowledge of the truth (“Gurumayi’s Messages and Message Artwork” 1991–2017). During the late 1980s, the ashram in South Fallsburg, New York more than tripled in size, and this period into the early 1990s has been called the Golden Era of the Siddha Yoga Movement (Williamson 2010:121). (For more about Siddha Yoga ashrams see below.) In 1997, Gurumayi established the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute (“About Muktabodha” 2017) in New Delhi, India, for the study and preservation of classical scriptures of India. There are many publications by the gurus, swamis, and scholars of Siddha Yoga on spiritual teachings and theology.


 The teachings that Swami Muktananda designated as Siddha Yoga are understood by the organization to have deep roots in Hindu theology. The term “siddha” has been used for many centuries in Indian religions to refer to a “perfected being,” and it is often associated with secret teachings. South Indian Tamil tradition recognizes a remote lineage of siddhas (siddhars) who are distinguished by their achievement of powers of immortality and healing (Weiss 2009). The first guru in the Siddha Yoga lineage, Bhagavan Nityananda (1900–1961), is remembered as a great yogi who possessed miraculous powers of healing, and who had no need of ceremonial events because he could transmit shaktipat to a worthy disciple through the light of his gaze (Durgananda 1997:11–22, esp. 19). Drawing in part on formulations in the classical Hindu philosophical treatises, the Upanishads, Swami Muktananda’s understanding of the term “siddha” emphasized the power of meditation to effect the realization of the identity between the human spirit and the divine.

The true Siddha has realized his own true nature through meditation and knowledge and has obliterated his ego and become one with the Universal Spirit. He unites with Shiva and becomes Shiva Himself. He is a true Siddha, a genuine Siddha. Such a Siddha was Ramakrishna, such a one was Sai Baba of Shirdi, and such a Siddha was Nityananda Baba [Bhagavan Nityananda]; they all became one with Shiva and became Shiva (Muktananda 1974:173, cited in Muller-Ortega 1997:169).

In Siddha Yoga, there is a lineage of three gurus: Bhagavan Nityananda, Swami Muktananda, and Swami Chidvilasananda, and each are understood to be perfectly self-realized beings.

Inherent to the definition of “guru” is that she or he transmits the power of true self-realization to the disciple. This transmission is effected in multilayered ways, including: the transmission of shaktipat from guru to disciple, which is an expression of the guru’s intention (sankalpa) that often serves as an initial awakening; the guru’s bestowal of a mantra or sacred oral formula; the guru’s grace; the guru’s oral and written teachings; and the guru’s visual presence as beheld (darshan) by the disciple (Mahoney 1997). Through these practices, the disciple comes to recognize through the example of the guru that the divine is actually within him or herself.

The guru serves as a funnel for the disciple to encounter and understand teachings from the voluminous Hindu scriptures that point to the divine within—from revealed texts such as the Vedas (of which the Upanishads are part) to remembered texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, to treatises from the philosophical schools of Advaita Vedanta and Kashmiri Shaivism, to songs and oral teachings (Brooks 1997). In their publications and talks, Swami Muktananda and Gurumayi freely draw from this vast spiritual heritage: “Since the Siddha Yoga gurus are not proponents of any one form of doctrinal worship (siddhānta), they are not committed to traditionalist ‘schools’ of thought or particular philosophical identities” (Brooks 1997:291). Siddha Yoga devotees access the texts in several ways, including talks by the guru, study at retreats, and the Siddha Yoga Home Study Course.

One text in particular, the Guru Gita (“Song of the Guru”), features centrally since it is the text that Siddha Yoga practitioners recite daily. As described by Muktananda:

If anyone were to ask me which is the one indispensable text, I would answer, “The Guru Gītā.” This is so supremely holy that it makes the ignorant learned, the destitute wealthy and the scholarly fully realized. The Guru Gītā is a supreme song of Shiva, of salvation. It is a veritable ocean of bliss in this world. It encompasses the science of the absolute, the yoga of the Self. It gives vitality to life. It is a harmonious composition; its 182 stanzas in varied verse patterns beautifully describe the importance of devotion to the Guru, his role, his nature and his distinguishing characteristics. If a person who is devoted to the Guru sings this song, he easily attains all powers, realizations and knowledge, fulfilling the aim of yoga (Muktananda 1983:xiv).

The Guru Gita text as printed in The Nectar of Chanting may be eclectic itself; the origin of its 182 verses is to date unknown: “Said to be within either the Skanda Purāṇa, or, more rarely, the Padma Purāṇa. . .certain verses appear also in the Kulārṇava Tantra and other Tantric sources. . . .This status is similarly not unusual for sources belonging to traditions of mystical yoga. . .” (Brooks 1997:291). This key text that is the basis of daily practice in Siddha Yoga may have been compiled in this form by Muktananda himself.

Swami Muktananda influentially fashioned lasting features of the Siddha Yoga path. Motivated by a global vision, he established institutions and instructional procedures to effect the processes of transmission from guru to disciple in a “radical” making of shaktipat initiation accessible to a global audience (Jain 2014:199); his successor, Gurumayi, has maintained and enhanced these institutions and methods of spiritual instruction. The most prominent Siddha Yoga ashrams are large physical campuses founded by Swami Muktananda, including the first Siddha Yoga ashram, Gurudev Siddha Peeth, near the town of Ganeshpuri in the state of Maharashtra, India (est. 1956); the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland, California (est. April 28, 1975); and the Shree Muktananda Ashram in South Fallsburg, New York (est. 1978–1979). He also created the weekend Intensive program, in which devotees gather in residence at an ashram to perform collective chanting, listen to teachings by the guru or credentialed Siddha Yoga teachers, hear testimonials by other devotees, engage in service (seva), and participate in workshops on the teachings; depending on the participant, these activities may inspire an experience of shaktipat. Although clearly rooted in Hindu tradition and actively deploying Hindu sources (for example, the Guru Gita is chanted in Sanskrit) Muktananda envisioned Siddha Yoga to be a universal path and Gurumayi has continued that approach. The Siddha Yoga vision statement describes the path as:

For everyone, everywhere,
to realize the presence of divinity
in themselves and creation,
the cessation of all miseries and suffering,
and the attainment of supreme bliss
(“Siddha Yoga Vision Statement” 2016).

In Siddha Yoga, the universality of accessibility frames the specificity of tradition: “Hindu-inspired” is thus a more apt characterization of the Siddha Yoga path than “Hinduism.”

Gurumayi has maintained the teachings and practices of Muktananda, including the centerpiece that is now known as the Shaktipat Intensive (“Questions and Answers” 2016). However, she has brought her own emphases and personal style to the established framework. Scholarly observers have suggested several ways to characterize her teachings; for example, service through unselfish action: “If one overall ethical teaching could be said to characterize her ministry, it is the teaching of unselfish action. The years since 1982 have seen an increasingly conscious attempt to mold the Siddha Yoga movement into a fusion of individuals and institutions that embody that message.” Gurumayi herself has said, “My message is ‘do it!’” (Durgananda 1997:136, 138). She has put increased emphasis on disciples performing practices (sadhana) on a daily basis on their own as guided by the teachings, as well as outreach services (“PRASAD Project” 2016; “The Prison Project” 2016).

Gurumayi’s focus can be contrasted with that of her guru Muktananda, drawing on a distinction made by Richard Gombrich: Muktananda was “soteriological” in focus while Gurumayi is “communal”:

Soteriological religions emphasize the practices and beliefs that are necessary for attaining salvation—and attaining it quickly. Communal religions emphasize practices and beliefs that ensure the continuity of social life. . . . Much of [Gurumayi’s] teaching is directed toward practical, everyday matters of living in the world. . . . Although the Hindu-based practices of chanting Sanskrit texts and performing worship (puja) still occur in Siddha Yoga, Gurumayi’s emphasis is discovering one’s own inner wisdom through contemplating ordinary daily experiences within the context of scriptural texts or Gurumayi’s or Muktananda’s words (Williamson 2005:154, 155, 156).

The practical, “communal” nature of the Siddha Yoga path today brings together spiritual knowledge and personal experience in the world, grounding the former and enhancing the meaning of the latter. One aspect of this emphasis on applying the teachings to practical, everyday living in the world is the Siddha Yoga Home Study Course program, which is “four courses designed to invigorate and support your sadhana” to “engage in active study and application of Siddha Yoga teachings” (“SIDDHA YOGA® Home Study Course” 2017).

What makes the Home Study Course possible is Gurumayi’s expansive use of technology (Pechilis 2004b: 233–36). Today it is a given that gurus have a website through which to explain and promote their teachings, but Gurumayi was a pioneer in the use of technology as a global medium, beginning in 1989, “when the first ‘satellite’ Intensives were broadcast around the world, [and] the term ‘global shaktipat’ began to take on literal meaning” (Durgananda 1997:150). As Swami Durgananda explains:

In 1994, an Intensive was broadcast by audio hookup to the tiny Siddha Yoga center in St. Petersburg, Russia. The next year, a French student took a trip to Russia and, toward the end of his trip, spent some time in a Russian Orthodox monastery there. The abbot there noticed the student’s photograph of Gurumayi. “Oh, you’re with Gurumayi,” the abbott said. Surprised, the student asked, “How do you know Gurumayi?” “Everyone knows Gurumayi,” replied the abbot, explaining that her name and photograph were widely circulated in the Russian spiritual community—no doubt by students who had taken that Intensive (Durgananda 1997:150–51).

By 2002, a visually-based global satellite broadcast was used for Intensives, the unveiling of the Siddha Yoga Yearly Message and the “first ever year-long global curriculum focused on the Siddha Yoga Message,” the Siddha Yoga Message Course. These were described as opportunities to “participate together as a global sangham [community]” (Pechilis 2004b:236). Through the satellite, the guru can be both in one place and in many places at the same time. It was and is a postmodern enactment of the simultaneity of the universal and the particular that pervades Siddha Yoga: The path as both Hindu and universally accessible; the guru as both personal and universal consciousness; the guru as both present and absent. The context is the very large role that images of the guru play in Siddha Yoga’s representation of access to the guru. “At South Fallsburg [ashram], photographs of the guru—with her thousand-watt smile, wide eyes, and elegantly chiselled cheekbones—adorn nearly every wall, cash register, shop counter, and shelf, as well as her devotees’ private meditation altars and many of their car dashboards” (Harris 1994:92). They saturate the ashram walls, they are for sale in the ashram’s physical and online bookshops, and they are tightly controlled as vehicles of contact with the guru. Live images of the guru during an Intensive or the unveiling of the Yearly Message, as situated in this larger context of the importance of the guru’s image, constitute an assertion of technological connection as intimacy (Pechilis 2004b). That images are increasingly tightly controlled is demonstrated by the discontinuation in 2013 of public access online to Gurumayi’s Yearly Message with accompanying artwork (“Gurumayi’s Messages and Message Artwork” 1991–2017). Now a devotee must log in to be able to view (“to have darshan ”) of Gurumayi’s Message Artwork (“Darshan of Gurumayi’s Message Artwork for 2016” 2016).


Currently, Siddha Yoga recognizes six ashrams and a host of meditation and chanting groups worldwide (“Siddha Yoga Ashrams” 2016). The ashrams have a special status, since they are a powerful “body” of the guru (Gold 1995), and they are expansive, often architecturally specific spaces for practice of the path; some of the ashrams have been constructed according to the norms of Hindu science of architecture (vastu shastra or vāstu śāstra). The six ashrams are in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia; Ganeshpuri, India; Oakland, California; Boston, Massachusetts; and South Fallsburg, New York. Meditation centers are designated organizational spaces, often in major cities. Chanting and meditation groups are held within a Siddha Yoga student’s home.

Online information from the Siddha Yoga website about the ashrams reveals several different models of ongoing practice apart from holidays. The Australian ashrams in Sydney and Melbourne routinely have community gatherings (satsang, enlightened company) and recitation of the Guru Gita on Saturdays and Sundays, seemingly an accommodation to the devotees’ work week. Also prioritizing weekends, the schedule at the Oakland, California ashram has a more elaborate ongoing program of chanting, welcome orientations for people new to the Siddha Yoga path, meditation and study gatherings. The Ganeshpuri ashram and the South Fallsburg ashram are both accessible only to committed members of Siddha Yoga, by application, for long-term daily service activities; and the Boston ashram is a retreat center. Long-term seva (devotional service) practitioners who reside at the ashrams would typically follow a daily schedule such as: Early morning meditation and chanting session at 3:00 in the morning, followed by another session at 4:30 in the morning, in which the Guru Gita is chanted; then breakfast; followed by a morning session of seva, during which one might help clean the ashram or perform outdoor work; noontime chanting; afternoon seva; and finally dinner, evening chanting, and lights out by 10:00 in the evening. Vegetarian meals are taken by sevites, and there is segregation between male and female staff in terms of accommodation and seating for chanting and meditation.

Such long-term residents are joined by residential participants in the Siddha Yoga Intensive, during which the guru bestows shakti (spiritual power or energy) on the devotees. Baba Muktananda held many one- or two-day Intensives during a given calendar year, and until 2005, Gurumayi did so as well. In 2006, she declared that there would be one Global Siddha Yoga Shaktipat Intensive per year, in October, to coincide with Baba Muktananda’s mahasamadhi or act of consciously and intentionally leaving his body (resulting in death). As explained by Siddha Yoga: “After mahasamadhi, the shakti of an enlightened being continues to be ever-present and all-pervasive, uplifting the world illuminating the lives of devotees. . . . [A] sacred occasion enhances the power of one’s practices” (“Questions and Answers” 2016).

The yearly calendar of holidays, when members of the community are expected to gather in large numbers, is constituted by such days of “sacred occasion,” the majority focused on the Siddha Yoga gurus, which provide an enhanced context for practice. The dates in 2017 were:

January 1: New Year’s Day (when Gurumayi releases her Yearly Message).

February 24: Mahashivaratri (the Great Night of Shiva, occurring in February/March).

May 10 :Baba Muktananda’s Lunar Birthday.

June 24: Gurumayi Chidvilasananda’s Birthday.

July 8 :Gurupurnima (the full moon day in the month of Ashadha (July-August); day to honor one’s guru).

August 8: Bhagavan Nityananda’s Solar Punyatithi (death anniversary).

August 15: Baba Muktananda’s Divya Diksha (the day Baba received divine initiation from his Guru, Bhagavan Nityananda).

October 5: Baba Muktananda’s Lunar Mahasamadhi (act of consciously and intentionally leaving one’s body).

“In addition to these holidays, Pitru Paksha is a Siddha Yoga observance. This sacred time from the Indian tradition is devoted to remembrance of one’s ancestors. In 2017, Pitru Paksha is September 6–19” (“Siddha Yoga Holidays and Celebrations 2017” 2017).


Discussion of whether female gurus today, and specifically Gurumayi, may be considered feminist has yielded different assessments for and against (Wessinger 1993; Sered 1994; Puttick 1997; Pechilis 2011). Much recent scholarship has illuminated the specific ways in which female Hindu or Hindu-inspired leaders change the historically male-defined categories of guru and sannyasin (ascetic), which may provide more concrete information for such assessments. A major issue is the ways in which the guru is set apart from ordinary social life. Traditionally, a significant element in women’s rise to religious authority has been their renunciation of marriage. Renunciation of marriage was a factor in the construction of male spiritual authority, which was based on renunciation of ordinary social occupations and concerns; however, male gurus were often married and a male renouncer could live with his wife in the forest, although the category of sannyasin was defined as an unmarried male wandering ascetic. For women, in particular, the expectation of marriage and child-bearing has been pronounced in the Indian context. As Meena Khandelwal explains, for a variety of cultural reasons the pressures on women are greater:

Given the importance of heterosexual marriage and procreation in South Asian cultures generally, a man’s decision to renounce householder life is likely to be met by opposition from family and society; this is especially true if he is either young and unmarried or married with dependents at home. Even so, there are scriptural, historical, and contemporary precedents for male renunciation at any age, and so it is considered a legitimate path for men even if discouraged by kin. Marriage is even more compulsory for women, and for this reason most research on South Asian women has focused on their domestic lives. While most women in South Asia aspire to obtain a good husband, kind in-laws, and healthy children, those who do not are likely to face intense pressure to conform” (Khandelwal 2009:1005).

What Sondra Hausner and Meena Khandelwal say about female ascetics applies to female gurus as well: “All have wondered whether to marry, remarry, or stay married, and have struggled with how to negotiate the unquestioned South Asian social value of having a husband and being a wife” (Hausner and Khandelwal 2006:3). Medieval stories of female gurus in Hindu tradition situate them as wives; in modern times, female gurus exhibit a range of stances on the issue (Pechilis 2004a:7, 15, 28–29, 34), including being married, being separated from a husband, or rejecting demands that they marry. For some, including Gurumayi, the issue of marriage does not come up in biographical accounts.

An emphasis on personal experience is another hallmark of female gurus in history and today (Pechilis 2011; Pechilis 2012), and can be seen in Gurumayi’s emphasis on sadhana (spiritual practice). Although it is clear that her guru Baba Muktananda saw something special in her, what Gurumayi emphasizes in her own accounts of the years before she became guru is that her intensive practice gradually attuned her mind to her guru’s (Pechilis 2004b:226–27). In terms of devotees’ sadhana, in the late 1990s Gurumayi effected an important shift away from her guru Swami Muktananda’s and her own practice of personally interacting with devotees, especially at weekend Intensive programs. The Intensives had been famous for always having the guru in residence, and devotees could approach the guru and receive a graceful touch with a peacock feather wand on their bowed heads. Instead, the guru began to be absent from Intensives; if she appeared, it was by satellite video transmission. Discussion of the change in Siddha Yoga publications encouraged the view that by her absence, the guru sought to encourage devotees to focus on their practice of the teachings rather than on her presence (Pechilis 2004b:229–33).

Gurumayi’s shifting presence and absence suggests an interesting dynamic between intimacy and distance in the paths of female gurus (Pechilis 2015). In terms of interaction with the guru, one model is an “event intimacy” cultivated through defined moments of the guru’s presence at scheduled gatherings, which often deploy technology to widen the reach; however, much of the spiritual work of the disciples is done away from the guru’s embodied presence, in contrast to the traditional gurukula system in which the students live with the guru. This event intimacy characterizes Gurumayi’s leadership. A different model is that many female guru-ascetics operate on a more local level, where they have personal experience with their followers on a daily basis; they offer opportunities for “everyday intimacy.” For example, a contemporary guru-ascetic in north India holds frequent small-gathering meetings with her devotees in which she narrates stories of everyday encounters that illustrate themes of duty, destiny, and devotion, which create a gendered “rhetoric of renunciation” that has at its center a concept of engaged, devotional asceticism (DeNapoli 2014). Of course, the number of devotees and organizational structure are factors here: Siddha Yoga is a global movement that has become a highly systematized, vertical organization constructed of hierarchies to manage various aspects of the institution, including spiritual instruction, finance, and research. It has made recent efforts to focus more directly on those who commit to the path, and to exclude others; for example, closing the Shree Muktananda Ashram in South Fallsburg to all but long-term students; enhancing the status of regional centers by holding more, including “global,” activities at them; promoting the home-study course; holding retreats for up to twenty-five students; and making some information on the Siddha Yoga website accessible only by sign in.


The most prominent issue in understanding the nature of the guru in a Western context is the deep-seated cultural suspicion of the category, based on the lack of a concept of a “perfected being” in Western tradition. Traditions that originated in South Asia have long histories of thinking about and asserting the reality of a perfected being, with the historical Buddha probably the most well-known example across the globe. Adoration of a living person can read as a “cult” in the Western contextalthough the culture of celebrity so prominent in the West displays many similarities. Traditionally in South Asia, surrender and loyalty are due to the guru, which amplifies the vulnerability of the devotee within a relationship that is in many ways comparable to a relatively common power differential (parent-child, teacher-student, employer-worker). Many female gurus offset this vulnerability of the devotee by embodying the nurturing persona of mother, evident in their titles (ma, amma) and behavior (such as Ammachi ‘s hugging), as well as by the public dimension they cultivate, such as visibility, accessibility, service, and teachings on their websites. Controversial aspects of the paths of the male gurus popular in the West in the 1960s, such as a closed and secretive residential campus, are outmoded. Still, to what extent a specific guru operates in an authoritarian mode and a specific devotee’s response to a guru renders the guru authoritarian for her or for him does need to be assessed, since there remains the potential for the devotee to be overwhelmed by the relationship (Cornille 1991:23–30; Kramer and Alstad 1993; Storr 1997). Even a cursory internet search reveals that there are vocal groups of ex-Siddha Yoga devotees who feel betrayed by Siddha Yoga gurus.

Significantly, there has been a healthy skepticism of the guru in Indian tradition, especially on the issues of the acquisition of money and sexual exploitation (Narayan 1989; Kang 2016). Also, it is worth remembering that, in the traditional model, study with the guru prepared a man to move into a healthy, socially meaningful life of work and marriage; it was not generally speaking an end in itself. These nuances, coupled with female gurus’ emphasis on life experiences, are now beginning to inform Western reflections on experiences of the guru path. What we see emerging are personal critical reflections that more calmly and less polemically reflect on areas of disappointment in or perceived limitations of the guru, written by former devotees who reflect on their experiences with the guru in the context of a longer view of their own evolving life experiences; I have called these a “discourse of constructive disappointment” (Pechilis 2012:127). Such reflections have emerged mainly around female gurus, including Gurumayi of Siddha Yoga (Caldwell 2001; Szabo 2009). It remains to be seen if the guru-disciple relationship, even in its breakdown, can lead to generative modern discussion of interdependence and human spiritual growth.


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Post Date:
7 March 2017





1951  The 1735 Witchcraft Laws, which had made the practice of Witchcraft a crime in Great Britain, were abolished.

1951  The Witchcraft Museum on the Isle of Man opened with backing from Gerald Gardner.

1954  Gardner published the first non-fiction book on Wicca, Witchcraft Today .

1962  Raymond and Rosemary Buckland, initiated Witches, came to the United States and began training others.

1971  The first feminist coven was formed in California by Zsuzsanna Budapest.

1979  Starhawk published The Spiral Dance: The Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess .

1986  Raymond Buckland published the Complete Book of Witchcraft.

1988  Scott Cunningham published Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner .

2007  The United States Armed Services permitted the Wicca pentagram to be placed on graves in military cemeteries.


Gerald Gardner, a British civil servant, is credited with the creation of Wicca, although some disagreement continues to swirlaround whether or not that is true. Gardner contended that he was initiated into the New Forest Coven, by Dorothy Clutterbuck in 1939. Members of this coven claimed that theirs was a traditional Wiccan coven whose rituals and practices had been passed down since pre- Christian times.

In 1951, laws prohibiting the practice of witchcraft in England were repealed, and soon thereafter, in 1954, Gardner published his first non-fiction book, Witchcraft Today (Berger 2005:31). His account came into question, first by an American practitioner Aiden Kelly (1991) and subsequently by others (Hutton 1999; Tully 2011) Hutton (1999), a historian who wrote the most comprehensive book on the development of Wicca, claims that Gardner did something more profound than merely codifying and making public a hidden old religion: he created a new vibrant religion that has spread around the world. Gardner was helped in this endeavor by Doreen Valiente, who wrote much of the poetry used in the rituals, thereby helping to make them more spiritually moving (Griffin 2002:244).

Some of Gardner’s students or students of those trained by him, such as Alex and Maxine Saunders, created variations of Gardner’s spiritual and ritual system, spurring new sects or forms of Wicca to develop. From the beginning there were some who claimed to have been initiated into other covens that had been underground for centuries. None of these garnered either the success of Gardner’s version or the scrutiny. It is most probable that some of them were influenced by many of the same social influences that had informed Gardner, including the Western occult or magical tradition, folklore and the romantic tradition, Freemasonry, and the long tradition of village folk healers or wise people (Hutton 1999).

It has typically been believed that British immigrants Raymond and Rosemary Buckland brought Wicca to the United States. But, the history is actually more complex as evidence suggests that copies of Gardner’s fictional account of Witchcraft and his non-fiction book, Witchcraft Today were brought over to the United States prior to the arrival of the Bucklands (Clifton 2006:15). Nonetheless the Bucklands were important in the importation of the religion as they created the first Wiccan coven in the United States and initiated others. Once on American soil, the religion became attractive to feminists looking for a female face of the divine and environmentalists who were drawn to the celebration of the seasonal cycles. Both movements, in turn, helped to transform the religion. Although the Goddess was celebrated, the coven led by the High Priestess Gardner had not developed a feminist form of spirituality. It was common, for example, for the High Priestess to be required to step down when she was no longer young (Neitz 1991:353).

Miriam Simos, who writes under her magical name, Starhawk, was instrumental in bringing feminism and feminist concerns to Wicca. She was initiated into the Fairie Tradition of Witchcraft and into Zsuzsanna Budapest’s Feminist Spirituality group. Starhawk’s first book, The Spiral Dance: The Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (1979), which brought together both threads of her training, sold over 300,000 copies.(Salomonsen 2002:9). During this same period the religion went from a mystery religion (one in which sacred and magical knowledge is reserved for initiates), with a focus on fertility, to an earth based religion (one that came to see the earth as a manifestation of the Goddess — alive and sacred) ( Clifton 2006:41). These two changes helped to make the religion appealing to those touched by feminism and environmentalism both in the United States and abroad. The religion’s spread was further aided by the publication of relatively inexpensive books and journals and the growth of the Internet.

Initially the Bucklands, following Gardner’s dictate, claimed that a neophyte needed to be trained by a third degree Wiccan, someone who had been trained in a coven and gone through three levels or degrees of training, similar to those in the Freemasons. However, Raymond Buckland changed his position on this. He eventually published a book and created a video explaining how individuals could self-initiate. Others, most notably Scott Cunningham, also wrote how-to books that resulted in self-initiation becoming common. Wicca: A Guide for Solitary Practice (Cunningham 1988) alone has sold over 400,000 copies. His book and other how-to books have helped to fuel the trend toward most Wiccans practicing alone. The large number of Internet sites and the growth of umbrella groups (that is, groups that provide information, open ritual, and at times religious retreats, referred to as festivals) make it possible for Wiccans and other Pagans to maintain contact with others whether they practice in a coven or alone. The growth of these books and websites helped to make Wicca less of a mystery religion. Initially it was in the coven that esoteric knowledge was taught, often as secret knowledge that could only be passed on to others who were initiated into the religion. Little, if any, of the rituals or knowledge now remains secret.


Belief in Wicca is less important than experience of the divine or magic. It is common for Wiccans to say they don’t believe in the Goddess (es) and God(s); they experience them. It is through ritual and meditation that they gain this experience of the divine and perform magical acts. The religion is non-doctrinal, with the Wiccan Rede “Do as thou will as long as thou harm none” being the only hard and fast rule. The religion, according to Gardner, existed throughout Europe prior to the advent to Christianity. In Gardner’s presentation, the Goddess and the God balance what he called male and female energies. Groups, referred to as covens, are ideally to mimic that balance by being composed of six women and six men with an additional woman who is High Priestess. One of the men in the group serves as the High Priest but the Priestess is the group leader. In actuality few covens have this exact number of participants, although most are small groups (Berger 1999:11-12).

The ritual calendar is based on an agricultural calendar that emphasizes fertility. This emphasis is reflected in the changing
relationship between the Goddess and the God as portrayed in the rituals. The Goddess is viewed as eternal but changing from the maid, to mother, to crone; then, in the spiral of time, she returns in the spring as a young woman. The God is born of the mother in midwinter, becomes her consort in the spring, dies to ensure the growth of crops in the fall; then he is reborn at the winter solstice. The God is portrayed with horns, a sign of virility. The image is an old one that was converted to the image of the Devil within Christianity. All goddesses are viewed as aspects of the one Goddess just as all gods are believed to be aspects of the one God.

The image of Wicca as the old religion, led by women, that celebrated fertility of the land, animals and people was taken by Gardner from Margaret Murray (1921), who wrote the foreword to his book. She argued that the witch trials were an attack on practitioners of the old religion by Christianity. Gardner took from Murray the image of witches of the past as healers who used their knowledge of herbs and magic to help individuals in their community deal with illness, infertility and other problems. At the time that Gardner was writing, Murray was considered an expert on the witch trials, although her work subsequently came under attack and is no longer accepted by historians.

Magic and magical practices are integrated into the belief system of Wiccans. The magical system is one that is based on the work of Aleister Crowley, who codified Western esoteric knowledge. He defined magic as the act of changing reality to will. Magical practices have waxed and waned in the West but have never disappeared (Pike 2004). They can be traced back to twelfth century appropriations of the Cabbala and ancient Greek practices by Christianity and were important during the scientific revolution (Waldron 2008:101).

Within Wiccan rituals, a form of energy is believed to be raised through dancing, chanting, meditation, or drumming, which can bedirected toward a cause, such as healing someone or finding a job, parking place, or rental apartment. It is believed that the energy that an individual sends out will return to her/him three-fold and hence the most common form of magic is healing magic. Performing healing both helps to show that the Witch has magical power and that s/he uses it for good ( Crowley 2000:151-56). For Wiccans the world is viewed as magical. It is commonly believed that the Goddess or the God may send an individual a sign or give them direction in life. These may come during a ritual or meditation or in the course of everyday life as people happen upon old friends or find something in the sand at the beach that they believe is of import. Magic therefore is a way of connecting with the divine and with nature. Magic is viewed as part of the natural world and indicative of individuals’ connection to nature, to one another, and to the divine.

Wiccans traditionally keep a Book of Shadows, which includes rituals and magical incantations that have worked for them. It is common for the High Priestess and High Priest, leaders of the coven, to share their Book of Shadows with those they are initiating, permitting them to copy some rituals entirely. Each Book of Shadows is unique to the Wiccan who has created it and often is a work of art in its own right.

Most, although not all, Wiccans believe in reincarnation (Berger et al 2003:47). The dead are believed to go to Summerland between lives, a place where their soul or essence has a chance to reflect on the life they lived before rejoining the world again to continue their spiritual growth. Karma of their past actions will influence their placement in their new life. But, unlike Eastern concepts of reincarnation that emphasize the desire to end this cycle of birth, death and reincarnation, returning to life is viewed positively by Wiccans. The inner being is able to interact again with those who were important in past lives, learn and evolve spiritually.


Within Wicca, rituals are more important than beliefs as they help put the practitioner in touch with spiritual or magical elements. The major rituals involve the circle of the year (the eight sabbats that occur six weeks apart throughout the year) and are conducted on the solstices, equinoxes and what are known as the cross days between them. These commemorate the beginning and height of each season and the changing relationship between the God and the Goddess. Birth, growth, and death are all seen as a natural part of the cycle and are celebrated. The changes in nature are believed to be reflected in individuals’ lives. Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), which occurs on October 31 st, is considered the Wiccan New Year and is of particular import. The veils between the worlds, that of the living and that of the spirit, are believed to be particularly thin on this evening. Wiccans deem this the easiest time of the year to be in contact the dead. This is also a time during which people will do magical working to rid their lives of habits, behaviors, and people that are no longer a positive force in their lives. For example, someone may perform a ritual to eliminate procrastination or to help them gather their energies to leave a dead end job or a dead end relationship. In the spring, the sabbats celebrate spring and fertility in nature and in people’s lives. There is always a balance in rituals between the changes in nature and the changes in individuals’ lives (Berger 1999:29-31).

Esbats, the celebration of the moon cycles, are also of import. Drawing Down the Moon, which is possibly the best known ritual within Wicca because of a book by that title by Margot Adler (1978, 1986), involves an invocation in which the Goddess or her powers enters the High Priestess. For the duration of the ritual she becomes the Goddess incarnate (Adler 1986:18-19). This ritual is held on the full moon, which is associated with the Goddess in her phase as Mother. New moons or dark moons, which are associated with the crone, are also typically celebrated. Less often a ritual is held for the crescent or maiden moon. There are also rituals for marriages (referred to as hand-fastings); births (Wiccanings); and changing statuses of participants, such as coming of age or becoming an elder or a crone. Rituals are held for initiation and for those who becoming first, second, or third degree Wiccans or Witches. Rituals can also be done for personal reasons, including rituals for healing, for help with a particular problem or issue, for celebration of a happy event, or for thanking the deities for their help.

Wiccans conduct their magical and sacred rites within a ritual Circle that is created by “cutting” the space with an athame (ritual knife). Because Wiccans do not normally have churches, they need to create sacred space for the ritual in what is normally mundane space. This is done in covens by the High Priestess and High Priest walking around the circle while extending athames out in front of them and chanting. Participants visualize a blue or white light radiating up in a sphere to create a safe and sacred place. The High Priestess and High Priest then call in or invoke the watchtower, that is, the powers of the four directions (east, south, west and north) and the deities associated with each of those. They normally consecrate the circle and the participants with elements that are associated with each of these directions, which are placed on an altar in the center of the circle (Adler 1986:105-106). Altars are typically decorated to reflect the ritual being celebrated. For example, at Samhain, when death is celebrated as part of the cycle of life, pictures of deceased relatives and friends may decorate the altar; on May Day (May 1 st) there would be fresh flowers and fruit on the altar, symbolizing new life and fertility.

Once the circle is cast, participants are said to be between the worlds in an altered state of consciousness. The rite for the particular celebration is then conducted. The Circle also serves to contain energy that is built up during the rites until it is ready to be released in what is known as the Cone of Power. Singing, dancing, meditation, and chanting can all be used by Wiccans to raise power during a ritual. The cone of power is released for a purpose set by the Wiccan practitioners. There can be one shared purpose, such as healing a particular person or the rainforest, or each person may have his or her own particular magical purpose (Berger 1999:31). The ceremony ends with a cup of wine being raised and an athame dipped into it, symbolizing the union between the Goddess and the God. The wine is then passed around the Circle with the words “Blessed Be” and drunk by the practitioners. Cakes are blessed by the High Priestess and Priest; they are also passed around with the words “blessed be” and then eaten (Adler 1986:168). Sometimes rituals are conducted naked (skyclad) or in ritual robes, depending on the Wiccan tradition and the place the ritual is conducted. Outdoor or public rituals are normally conducted in robes or street clothes. At the end of the rites, the Circle is opened and the Watchtowers are symbolically taken down. Traditionally, people then share a meal, as eating is seen as needed to ground participants (i.e., help them leave a magical state and return to the mundane world).

Solitary practitioners may join with other Wiccans or Pagans for the sabbats or esabats or perform the rituals alone. Some groups offer public rituals, often in a rented space at a liberal church or the backroom of a metaphysical bookstore. If the practitioner does a ritual alone they modify the ritual as needed. Books and some websites provide suggestions to enable solitary practitioners to do these rituals individually.


According to the American Religious Identity survey conducted in 2008, there are 342,000 Wiccans in the United States. This is consistent with the number of teenage and emerging adult Wiccans found in The National Survey of Youth and Religion (Smith with Denton 2005:31; Smith with Snell 2009:104) Many experts believe this number is too small, based on book sales of Wiccan books and traffic on Pagan websites. Nonetheless, the religion is a minority religion. Wiccans live throughout the United States, with the largest concentration in California where ten percent of all Wiccans reside. The District of Columbia and South Dakota have the lowest percentage, with one-tenth of one percent of Wiccans living in either of those areas (Berger unpublished).

There is no single leader for all Wiccans or Witches. Most pride themselves on being leaderless. Traditionally, Wicca has been taught in covens, but a growing number of Wiccans are self-initiated, having learned about the religion primarily from books and secondarily from Websites. Some individuals are well-respected and known within the community, mostly because of their writing. Miriam Simos, who writes under her magical name, Starhawk, has been called the most famous Witch of the West (Eilberg-Schwatz 1989). Her books have had an important impact on the religion, and she was the founder and one of the leaders of her tradition, The Reclaiming Witches. Even those who have not read her books may be influenced by the ideas as they have become so much a part of the core thinking of many in the religion. There are some Pagan umbrella organizations, such as the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG), EarthSpirit Community, and Circle Sanctuary that organize festivals, have open rituals for the major sabbats, provide a webpage with information, and fight against discrimination for all Pagans. They normally charge a small fee for being a member and other fees for open rituals and festival attendance. No one is required to be a member, and there is a growing number of Wiccans who are not members of any organization. Nonetheless, these groups remain important and many of their leaders are well known within the larger Pagan community.


There is a longstanding debate among practitioners about the group’s sacred history as presented by Gardner. Although most Wiccans now regard it as a foundation myth, a small but vocal minority believe it to be literally true. Several academics, such as Hutton and Tully have had their credentials and work brought into question by practitioners who disagree with their historical or archeological findings. Hutton (2011:227) claims that those who critique him and others who have questioned Gardner’s claim to an unbroken history between antiquity and current practices of Witchcraft have provided no new evidence to support their claims. Hutton (2011, 1999), Tully (2011) and others note that there are some elements of continuity between pre-Christian practices and current ones, particularly in terms of magical beliefs and practices, but that this does not indicate an unbroken religious tradition or practice. Hutton argues that some elements of earlier Pagan practices were incorporated into Christianity and some remained as folklore and were absorbed by Gardner creatively. Wiccan practices are informed by past practices according to him and others but that does not mean that those who were executed as witches in the early modern period were practitioners of the old religion as Margaret Murray claimed or that current practitioners are in a unbroken line of pre-Christian Europeans or Britons.

Although Wicca has gained acceptance in the past twenty years, it remains a minority religion and continues to have to fight for religious freedom. Wiccans have won a number of court cases resulting in the pentagram being an accepted symbol on graves in military cemeteries, and, recently in California, the recognition that Wiccan prisoners must be provided with their own clergy (Dolan 2013). Nonetheless, there continues to be discrimination. For example, on Sunday, February 17, 2013 Friends of Fox anchors mocked Wicca when reporting that the University of Missouri recognized all Wiccan holidays (in reality only the Sabbats were recognized). The three anchors went on to proclaim Wiccans were either dungeons and dragons players or twice divorced middle-aged women who live in rural areas, are mid-wives and like incense. This portrait is both demeaning and inaccurate as all research indicates that while most Wiccans are women, they tend to live in urban and suburban areas and are as likely to be young as middle aged, and tend to be better educated than the general American public (Berger 2003:25-34). After a protest lead mostly by Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, the network apologized. Nonetheless most Wiccan believe that negative images, such as the one presented on Fox news, are common and can affect individuals’ chances of promotions and their ability to take time from work to celebrate their religious holidays. However, there does appear to be a shift from Wiccans being seen as dangerous devil worshippers to being regarded as silly but harmless. Many Wiccans have been working to have their religion recognized as a legitimate and serious practice. They are active in inter-faith work and participate in the World Parliament of Religions.


Adler, Margot. 1978, 1986. Drawing Down the Moon. Boston: Beacon Press.

Berger, Helen., A. 2005. “Witchcraft and Neopaganism.”Pp 28-54 in Witchcraft and Magic: Contemporary North America, edited by. H elen A. Berger, 28-54. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Berger, Helen A. 1999. A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States. Columbia, SC: The University of South Carolina Press.

Berger, Helen A. unpublished “The Pagan Census Revisited: an international survey of Pagans.

Berger, Helen. A., Evan A. Leach and Leigh S. Shaffer. 2003. Voices from the Pagan Census: Contemporary: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States. Columbia: SC: The University of South Carolina Press.

Buckland, Raymond. 1986. Buckland’s Complete Book or Witchcraft. St. Paul, Mn: Llewellyn Publications.

Clifton, Chas S. 2006. Her Hidden Children: The rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. Walnut Creek , CA: AltaMira Press.

Crowley, Vivianne. 2000. “Healing in Wicca.” Pp. 151-65 in Daughters of the Goddess: Studies of Healing, Identity, and Empowerment, edited by Wendy Griffin. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press

Cunningham, Scott. 1988. Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

Dolan, Maura. 2013 “ Court Revives Lawsuit Seeking Wiccan Chaplains in Women’s Prisons” Los Angeles Times , February 19. Accessed from http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2013/02/court-revives-lawsuit-over-wiccan-chaplains-in-womens-prisons.html on March 27, 2013.

Eilberg-Schwatz, Howard. 1989. “Witches of the West: Neo-Paganism and Goddess Worship as Enlightenment Religions.” Journal of Feminist Studies of Religion 5:77-95.

Griffin, Wendy. 2002. “Goddess Spirituality and Wicca.” Pp 243-81 in Her Voice, Her Faith: Women Speak on World Religions, edited by Katherine K. Young and Arvind Sharma. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Hutton, Ronald . 2011 “Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History” The Pomegranate12:225-56

Hutton, Ronald. 1999. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kelly, Aiden. A. 1991. Crafting the Art of Magic: Book I. St. Paul, MN: LLewellyn Publications.

Murray, Margaret A. 1921, 1971. The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Neitz, Mary-Jo. 1991. “In Goddess We Trust.” Pp.353-72 in In Gods We Trust edited by Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony. New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Press.

Pike , Sarah . M. 2004. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America . New York: Columbia University Press.

Salomonsen, Jone. 2002. Enchanted Feminism: The Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco. London: Routledge Press.

Smith, Christian with Melinda. L. Denton. 2005. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Smith, Christian with Patricia Snell. 2009. Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Starhawk. 1979. The Spiral Dance. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers

Tully, Caroline. 2011. ” Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Orlando, FL.

Waldron, David. 2008. The Sign of the Witch: Modernity and the Pagan Revival. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
Helen A. Berger

Post Date:
5 April 2013





Our Lady of Clearwater


1929 (January 15) Father Edward J. Carter, S.J was born.

1991 Rita Ring began receiving “private messages from Jesus and Mary.

1991 (September 1) Mary appeared to five women in a field in Indiana, identifying herself as “The Lady of Light. One of the women was the anonymous visionary who came to be known as “The Batavia ( Ohio) Visionary”

1992 The Batavia Vissionary predicted that the Virgin Mary would appear at the St. Joseph Church in Cold Spring, Kentucky.

1992 (May) Mary announced that she would select three priests as “special ambassadors.”

1992 (August 31) Carter saw what he described as an image of the Virgin Mary in the trees at St. Joseph Church.

1993 Carter began receiving locutions from Jesus.

1994 Carter founded the Shepherds of Christ Ministry after the Batavia Vissionary was instructed to include him with the other priests who were to receive messages through her and to carry out the special mission of establishing the Shepherds of Christ.

1996 (May 31) Carter and the Batavia visionary saw Mary in a field and then began receiving messages until September 13, 1997

1996 (December 17) A customer at the Seminole Finance Company in Clearwater, Florida noticed an iridescent outline resembling the Virgin Mary on the glass paneling comprising the south wall of the building.

1996 (December 19) Two days after the image was first reported, Rita Ring, an active member of the Shepherds for Christ Ministry, received a message from Mary authenticating the image.

1997 (January) Clearwater police estimated a total of nearly 500,000 visitors since the initial sighting.

1997 (May) An unidentified vandal defaced the image by spraying the window with corrosive chemicals.

1998 (July 15) Ring reported a message from the Virgin Mary requesting a crucifix be built and placed beside her image.

1998 (Fall) Ugly Duckling Corporation leased the 22,000 square-foot building to the Shepherds of Christ Ministries, who subsequently purchased and renamed it “Our Lady of Clearwater.”

1998 (December 17) The Shepherds of Christ Ministries unveiled 18-foot crucifix, sculpted by Felix Avalos at the site.

2000 (December 18) Father Carter died.

2000 (February) The Shepherds of Christ opened a factory manufacturing rosaries on the second floor of the building.

2003 (December) The rosary factory closed due to a lack of funding and labor.

2004 (March 1) An assailant shattered the three topmost window panes which had revealed the head of the image.


On December 17, 1996, a customer at the Seminole Finance Company in Clearwater, Florida noticed an image bearing striking
resemblance to the Virgin Mary on the window paneling comprising the south wall of the building. The image occupied about a dozen glass panels on the building and was approximately 50 feet in height and 35 feet in width (Trull 1997). The customer who first noticed the image contacted local media, and within hours a crowd had gathered outside the building to witness the “Christmas miracle.” Devotees, skeptics, and otherwise interested tourists began to flood the city. The Clearwater city council was forced to take immediate action to accommodate an influx of visitors, estimated at 80,000 per day during December, to which the city was not accustomed. Within two months of the original sighting, Clearwater police estimated that “almost a half-million people” had visited the location and established a “Miracle Management Team” to handle the crowds of pilgrims (Tisch 2004:2). By the spring of 1997, the city had already “spent over $40,000… for crowd control” and later installed a traffic signal at the intersection of U.S. 19 and Drew Street, where the building is located (Posner 1997:3).

After the initial outpouring of public interest, the number of pilgrims gradually waned. Declining public interest in the image was reversed when, in May of 1997, the image was defaced by an unidentified vandal who sprayed corrosive chemicals onto the window, temporarily obscuring the image. However, the following month “two days of heavy thunderstorms washed away the blemishes; some pilgrims referred to this event as the image “healing itself” (Trull 1997; Tisch 2004:3). Despite the suddenly rekindled interest, in the years following the initial sighting and consequential fervor, the numbers of visitors to the site had decreased to about two hundred per day. Nonetheless, the Clearwater apparition underwent “a series of developments…that led to its institutionalization as a devotional center” and thus relative longevity compared to many other apparition sites (Swatos 2002:182). Among these factors were the relative permanence and resilience of the image until its final destruction in 2004, the emergence of a visionary who provided messages associated with the image, and a connection to the Shepherds of Christ Ministries.

At the time of the sighting, the building as well as the Seminole Finance Company was owned by Michael Krizmanich, a devout Catholic who subsequently sold the business to Ugly Duckling Car Sales Inc. The extremely large number of pilgrims to the site had a negative impact on the Ugly Duckling’s sales, and the company ultimately decided to lease the building to the Shepherds of Christ Ministries. The Shepherds renamed the building the “ Mary Image Building” and converted the interior into a shrine. Some members of the Ohio-based Shepherds of Christ Ministries relocated to Florida. Among them was Rita Ring who received a message authenticating the image in Clearwater on December 19, 1996, just two days after the initial image sighting.

In a later message received by Ring on July 15, 1998, the Virgin requested that a large crucifix be built and placed next to her image on the window panels. Funded by the Shepherds of Christ Ministries, the eighteen-foot crucifix sculpted by Felix Avalos, was unveiled on December 17, 1998, two years after the first sighting.

On March 1, 2004, the image was irreparably damaged when an assailant shattered the three topmost window panes. It has been

theorized that the vandal used a slingshot to propel several small metal balls through the panels containing the image’s head. Despite the damage to the image, the Shepherds of Christ Ministries retained the Mary Image Building, and Rita Ring continued to receive messages from the Virgin and Jesus However, the permanent destruction of the apparition has greatly diminished visitation to the Clearwater site.


Rita Ring has been the central visionary at Our Lady of Clearwater. Although Ring had reported receiving messages from Jesus and Mary since 1991, the messages following the appearance of the image on the Seminole Finance Company were closely linked to the Clearwater image. Ring’s first message following the discovery of the image on December 19, 1996 authenticated the image and connected the image to its location: “…I appear to you, my children, on a [former] bank in Florida. You have made money your god! Do you know how cold are your hearts? You turn away from my Son, Jesus, for your money. Your money is your god… ” (“News” n.d.)

Ring reported that Mary requested a widespread dissemination of the present messages, of those which would follow, and of the “Mary Message,” a tape recorded message received seven days prior at the annual feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A similar message was received on January 23, 1997, in which Ring reported Mary’s request for the distribution of not only “Mary’s Message,” but also several other books published by the Shepherds of Christ Ministries, including God’s Blue Book and Rosaries from the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Further, many of the messages conveyed God’s wrath with human sinfulness and the failure to listen to previous messages, threatening humanity with fire, even citing religious negligence and divine wrath as the source of contemporary wildfires across Florida. There have also been prophecies of an imminent Endtime. All of Ring’s messages have been discerned by Father Carter.

The religious activity associated with Clearwater is clearly largely rooted in Catholicism and parallels the belief of many similar apparition groups for a need to return to the teachings of Christ. The Shepherds of Christ Ministries also has sought a degree of ecumenism. When the Shepherds decided to acquire the bank building in 1998, the group stated its intention to “make [the] site available to people of all faiths for quiet prayer and refection,” and questioned religious divisions, asking “Do we not all pray to the same Heavenly Father?” (Swatos 2002).


Shortly after the initial sighting of the Clearwater image, a provisional shrine was constructed at the apparition site containing benches, a donations box, candles, rosaries, photographs, flowers, candles, and prayer requests. Visitors to the site commonly leave offerings to the Virgin, such as “candles, flowers, fruit, [and] beads, and participate in individual acts of piety (Posner 1997:2). Mary’s requests for pilgrims, as reported by Ring, include prayer, a daily recitation of the Ten Commandments at the site, recitation of the rosary, and an observance of the First Saturday devotion. In order to fulfill the Virgin’s requests to distribute her messages and lead others into prayer, audiotapes of “Mary’s Message” are played and rosaries, pamphlets, and brochures are provided by site staff (Swatos 2002:192). The focus on individual worship, rather than “the communal sense of the Mass,” is one of the primary factors setting the Clearwater group’s organization apart from traditional Catholic configuration (Swatos 2002).

Pilgrims to the site also contribute to the perception of a sacred presence and the potential for miraculous events. For example, among some pilgrims from the Latino community there was a sense that Mary might assist a young refugee from Cuba who sought asylum in the U.S.: “Tessy Lopez, 62, of Miami Beach beamed with joy as she regarded the apparition. Like many others gathered at the site, Lopez said she considered it to be a sign of an impending miracle for Elian, the 6-year-old Cuban rafter who
survived a voyage that killed his mother and 10 others….I think that boy is blessed. Many people gave their lives for that boy, and he lives  blocks from here,” Lopez said. “We must realize this is an important sign” (Garcia 2000). Barbara Harrison (1999) visited the site on Christmas, 1996 and reported a message from Mary in which she was told “I have selected you as a vehicle through which my message will be spread….You must tell of this day and of our previous meetings in a book….You must tell of the miracles of birth and adoption.”


Little is known about the life of one of the two central figures in Clearwater apparition. Rita Ring is simply described as a married woman with four children, a mathematics professor at the University of Cincinnati, and a devout Catholic and active member of the Shepherds of Christ Ministry. She reportedly began receiving “private revelations” from Jesus and Mary in 1991, several years prior to reporting messages associated with the image at Our Lady of Clearwater. More is known about Father Edward Carter. He was brought up I Cincinnati, attended Xavier University, was ordained in the Jesuit Order when he was 33 years-old, and taught theology at Xavier University for nearly three decades. Carter reports having begun receiving messages from Jesus during the summer, 1993, and on the day before Easter in 1994 was told that he would now begin to receive messages for others (Carter 2010). He founded the Shepherds of Christ Ministry in 1994 after the Batavia Vissionary was instructed to include him with the other priests who were to receive messages through her and to carry out the special mission of establishing the Shepherds of Christ. Carter also received a message from Jesus in which he was told to undertake this mission and to include Rita Ring: ” I am requesting that a new prayer movement be started under the direction of Shepherds of Christ Ministries…. I will use this new prayer movement within My Shepherds of Christ Ministries in a powerful way to help in the renewal of My Church and the world. I will give great graces to those who join this movement…. I am inviting My beloved Rita Ring to be coordinator for this activity” (“About” 2006).
On December 19, 1996, two days after the image on the Seminole Finance Company Building was reported, Mary authenticated the Clearwater apparition to Rita and instructed Rita to begin the work in Florida. Ring began serving as the locutionist, and Cartervalidated (“discerned) her messages. For a time she received messages daily that were made available in the Message Room along with video tapes. Ring visited what became the ” Mary Image Building” on the fifth of each month. Beginning in 2000, the year of Jubilee, the image has appeared to turn completely gold on that day.

The Shepherds of Christ Ministries describes itself as “a multi-faceted, international movement, made up of a number of ministries all dedicated to “bringing the Catholic Church’s faithful to deeper love and respect for the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.” Open to priests, religious and the laity, the ministry currently has over 150 prayer chapters in its worldwide network devoted especially to the spiritual welfare of priests” (Shepherds of Christ Ministries n.d.). The organization devotes itself to promoting the welfare of priests and encouraging those interested in a spiritual life to recite the rosary and participate in the Eucharist. A major objective is to encourage priests to “become more holy, hence traditional, and abandon modernist tendencies” (Swatos 2002:182). The Shepherds of Christ Movement lists its ministries as including the Apostles of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, which pledges members to praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament for two hours each week; a “24 hour Adoration” located in China, Indiana, support for a nursing home; a “Consecration of Homes” for individuals and families; and a program to supply hand-made rosaries free-of-charge to Catholic schools (“Ministries n.d.)

 The Shepherds of Christ Ministries began leasing the bank building in 1998 and eventually purchased the 22,000-square-foot
center for more than two million dollars. The group began to refer to the building as “Our Lady of Clearwater.” On July 15, 1998 the daily message from Mary stated that “i wish a crucifix to be placed at the site near the main window beside my image. My eyes are always on my son Jesus crucified and my heart knows his resurrection from my dead“ (Desrochers 2007). The 18-foot crucifix was sculpted by Felix Avalos, was unveiled on December 18, 1998. The Shepherds subsequently opened a rosary factory in the building in 2000 and constructed a chapel for worship.

By 2002, however, public interest in the site had dramatically declined; the crucifix was covered due to weather-precipitated deterioration; the parking lot where pilgrims gathered was largely empty; the rosary factory was unable to support itself and closed; the group was not successful in supporting the site by selling tiles inscribed with the donor’s name. The partial destruction of the apparitional image in 2004 furthered weakened an already struggling apparitional site.


One notable controversy surrounding the image at Clearwater is the source of the image itself. While Ring reported that the Virgin Mary authenticated her appearance two days after the initial sighting on December 17, 1996, a photograph taken in the building in 1994 reveals that the image had been present for some time and was only noticed when palm trees partially covering the window, were removed. Further, according to Posner, “any religious pilgrim, reporter, or casual visitor need only to walk around the building to note that the ‘Mary apparition’ is hardly the only such colorful image present. Indeed, iridescent staining of a similar nature is apparent around its circumference wherever exposed reflective glass was used, and is particularly vivid where vegetation and sprinkler heads are in close proximity to the glass. Along the low hedges, the stains appear to hover just above their tops; where the palms grow high, the stains follow” (1997:1). A local chemist examined the windows and suggested the stain was produced by water deposits combined with weathering, yielding a chemical reaction like that often seen on old bottles, perhaps due to the action of the water sprinkler. However, adherents to the divine nature of the image argue that what is miraculous about the image is not its origin, but the fact that “this combination of elements formed itself into this image, rather than, for example, an amorphous series of waves” (Swatos 2002).

The image has also drawn mixed reviews from visitors. For example, “I see the reflections, but I don’t see it,” said Carmen Rodriguez, 50, with a tinge of disappointment. “I think some people can see it and others not. Perhaps it’s based on necessity.” And, Eulalia Asencio, 29, expressed skepticism. She said she had carefully touched the window pane to see if air conditioning might have caused the image to appear. “It looks like when you get Windex and then you have that rainbow action going on,” Asencio said. “I really think it is the reflection of the light” (Garcia 2000). On the other hand, for most pilgrims the image provided a dramatic experience of divine presence, as evidenced by the enormous crowds, the gifts and prayer requests left at the shrine, and the testimonies of miracles. Barbara Harrison (1999:20), who was not Catholic, reported that when she arrived at the site “Awestruck crowds were staring up at the rainbow image of the Blessed Mother Mary. I was unprepared for the rush of emotions I experienced…. I was astonished, and the sanctity of the moment took my breath away.

There has been a modest level of tension between the Roman Catholic Church and Our Lady of Clearwater leaders. The Shepherdsof Christ Ministries presents itself as a lay Catholic organization but has no formal relationship to the church. Site representatives have taken care not to challenge Roman Catholic Church authority. For example, the group indicated that it would seek permission from the local diocese before constructing a chapel at the site. Father Carter has repeatedly stated that “I recognize and accept that the final authority regarding private revelations rests with the Holy See of Rome, to whose judgment I willingly submit” (“News” n.d.). The Catholic diocese of St. Petersburg has disavowed any connection to Shepherds of Christ and has called the image a “naturally explained phenomenon.” However, the diocese has not launched an investigation of the site and has not condemned it (“Clearwater Madonna Changes Hands” 1998; Tisch 2004:4). There have other criticisms from within the Catholic community that conclude the apparitions are not authentic (Conte 2006).

It is estimated that there have been 1,500,000 visitors to the Our Lady of Clearwater apparition site since 1996. Despite the sharp decline in both pilgrims and tourists to the Mary Image Building following the 2004 destruction of the image, the Shepherds of Christ Ministries has continued to hold recitations of Mary’s daily messages at the building. Transcripts of the messages have been posted on the Shepherds of Christ website as well as printed in the books published by the organization.”


“About.” 2006. Shepherds of Christ Ministries. Accessed from http://www.sofc.org/ABOUT/abouthom.htm on 10 March 2013.

Carter, Edward. 2010. Tell My People: by Fr. Edward Carter, S.J. Accessed from http://deaconjohn1987.blogspot.com/2010/10/tell-my-people-by-fr-edward-carter-sj.html

” Clearwater Madonna Changes Hands.” 1998, July 11. Accessed from http://www.witchvox.com/media/mary_shrine.html on 10 March 2013.

Conte, Ronald. 2006. “Claims of Private Revelation: True or False? An Evaluation of the Messages of Rita Ring.” Catholic Planet. Accessed from http://www.catholicplanet.com/apparitions/false45.htm on 10 March 2013.

Desrochers, Claude. 2007. “Jesus and Mary in Clearwater, Florida.” JPG, 30 November. Accessed from http://jpgmag.com/stories/2033 on 10 March 2013.

Garcia Sandra Marquez. 2000. Mary `Appears’ Near Elian.” The Miami Herald, 26 March. Accessed from http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/elian/mary.htm on 10 March 2013.

Harris, Barbara. 1999. Conversations with Mary: Modern Miracles in an Everyday Life. Osprey, FL: Heron House Publishers.

“Ministries.” n.d. Shepherds of Christ Ministires. Accessed from http://www.sofc.org/ministries2.htm on 10 March 2013.

“News.” n.d. Shepherds of Christ Ministries. Accessed from http://www.sofc.org/news_1.htm on 8 March 2013.

O’Neil, Barbara. 2000. “Believers Hear: Make Rosaries,” St. Petersburg Times, 15 October. Accessed from http://www.sptimes.com/News/101500/NorthPinellas/Believers_hear__Make_.shtml on 5 March 2013.

Posner, Gary P. 1997. “ Tampa Bay’s Christmas 1996 ‘Virgin Mary Apparition’,” Tampa Bay Skeptics Report. Accessed from http://www.tampabayskeptics.org/v9n4rpt.html on 3 March 2013.

Shepherds of Christ Ministries. n.d. “Virgin Mary Tells Cincinnati Visionary Why Her Image Appears on FL Office Building.” Accessed from http://www.sofc.org/news_1.htm on 10 March 2013.

Swatos, William H., Jr. 2002 “Our Lady of Clearwater: Postmodern Traditionalism.” Pp. 181-92 in From Medieval Pilgrimage to Religious Tourism: The Social and Cultural Economics of Piety, edited by William H. Swatos, Jr. and Luigi Tomasi. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Tisch, Chris. 2004. “For Mary’s Faithful, A Shattering Loss.” St. Petersburg Times, 2 March. Accessed from http://www.sptimes.com/2004/03/02/Tampabay/For_Mary_s_faithful__.shtml on 3 March 2013.

Trull, D. 1997. “The Virgin May Does Windows?” Accessed from http://dagmar.lunarpages.com/~parasc2/articles/0797/mary.htm on 3 March 2013.

David G. Bromley
Leah Hott

Post Date:
11 March 2013





Our Lady of Emmitsburg



1957 (March 12):  Gianna Talone was born in Phoenix, Arizona.

1987 (September):  Gianna dreamed of Our Lady three nights in a row, prompting her to pray the rosary and attend Mass daily.

1988 (June):  While making a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Gianna received her first locution from Our Lady and had a vision of the Child Jesus.

1988 (July):  Gianna and eight other young adults at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Scottsdale, Arizona began receiving locutions and visions of Our Lady and Jesus.

1989:  A priestly commission in Phoenix investigated the apparitions at St. Maria Goretti. Phoenix Bishop Thomas O’Brien allowed the prayer group to continue.

1989 (December 19):  Gianna began receiving daily apparitions of Our Lady, except on Fridays.

1993 (January):  Gianna Talone and then-fiancé Michael Sullivan made a pilgrimage to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Gianna received a vision during which Our Lady invited the couple to relocate to Emmitsburg.

1993 (November 1):  Gianna and Michael moved to the Emmitsburg area and began attending the Marian Prayer Group on Thursday nights. This was when she typically received an apparition with a public message. Attendance at the Thursday Marian Prayer Group swelled as news of the visionary spread.

1994 (August):  Mission of Mercy, a mobile health care organization serving poor, underinsured, and underserved patients, was launched by Drs. Gianna and Michael Sullivan in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

1995 (March 9):  In a message to Gianna, Our Lady designated Emmitsburg as the Center of her Immaculate Heart.

1995 (August 30):  Monsignor Jeremiah Kenney, Vice Chancellor of the Baltimore archdiocese, announced that since the Phoenix diocese had taken a neutral stance toward Gianna’s visions in 1989, Baltimore would follow suit.

1999:  Gianna began compiling The Hidden Life of Our Lord , the autobiography of the Child Jesus, narrated to her through interior locutions.

2000 (September 8):  The Baltimore archdiocese suspended the Thursday prayer meetings because it “finds no basis for [the apparitions]” (“Statement” 2000).

2001 (May):  Baltimore Archbishop Cardinal Keeler arranged a priestly commission to investigate the apparitions.

2002 (September):  The commission concluded that it could neither verify nor condemn the apparitions.

2003:  Cardinal Ratzinger, then-head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, corresponded with Cardinal Keeler, supporting the Keeler Commission’s authority.

2004:  The Marian prayer group was reconstituted and began meeting monthly, first at a nearby farm, then at the Lynfield Event Complex, a conference center outside Frederick, Maryland.

2005:  The Foundation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary was founded, in response to an Our Lady request, to provide information about the Emmitsburg apparitions and messages.

2005 (May):  Gianna began receiving interior locutions from God the Father.

2008 (Spring):  Fr. Edwin O’Brien was appointed Archbishop in Baltimore. Gianna wrote a letter to him informing him of the history of the apparitions in Emmitsburg and assuring him that she would comply with his wishes regarding the monthly prayer meetings held at the Lynfield Event Complex.

2008 (October 8):  Archbishop O’Brien released a Pastoral Advisory explaining the Church’s position on the Emmitsburg apparitions and requesting that Gianna and her supporters stop disseminating information about the apparitions and messages in the diocese of Baltimore.

2008 (October 13):  Gianna and her supporters discontinued the monthly prayer group at Lynfield.

2008-present:  Gianna has continued to report daily apparitions and locutions in her home.


Gianna’s miraculous interactions with Our Lady began in 1987, when she dreamed of Our Lady three nights in a row. These dreamscame at a low point in Gianna’s life. She had received her Doctor of Pharmacology degree, worked at a major hospital in a high-paying position, and married her first husband. Within a few years, however, she had lost her job, her marriage was annulled by the Church, and she was struggling with the direction of her life. Following her dreams of Our Lady, Gianna began praying the rosary, going to Confession, and attending Mass daily. In 1988, she made a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, where she had a vision of the Child Jesus. Our Lady also spoke to her during her trip through an interior locution, telling her, “I am coming home with you in a special way. Once you were a lost lamb but now you have been found.”

Once she returned home (at that time, she lived in Scottsdale, Arizona), she continued attending youth prayer group meetings at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church. There, several young people as well as Father Jack Spaulding reported apparitions or locutions of Jesus and of Our Lady, appearing as Our Lady of Joy. These messages from Jesus have been published in six volumes of I Am Your Jesus of Mercy. In 1989, the diocese of Phoenix investigated the Scottsdale apparitions and took a neutral position on the matter.

In a November, 1992 vision, Our Lady pointed out Michael Sullivan to Gianna at a prayer meeting. Michael Sullivan, a medical doctor who had also struggled with his faith, had made a pilgrimage to Scottsdale and attended the same prayer meeting as Gianna. Like Gianna, Michael had had a successful career before experiencing spiritual and personal struggles including divorce and the abduction of a son. Though he was not a practicing Catholic at that time, he found himself praying the rosary and even making a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, where he volunteered as a doctor during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. By the time he visited Scottsdale in 1992, he had become a much more committed Catholic. In a vision, Our Lady informed Gianna that Michael would be her future husband. Gianna gamely introduced herself to him following her apparition. They dated for about two months before becoming engaged.

In January, 1993, Gianna and then-fiancé Michael Sullivan made a pilgrimage to Emmitsburg, Maryland to visit the National ShrineGrotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Now run by Mt. St. Mary’s University, the site centers upon a replica of the 1858 apparition site in Lourdes, France, and also features a Glass Chapel and visitor’s center. A walkway winds through Stations of the Cross and a Rosary Walk, ending at the foot of a large metal Crucifix atop a wooded hill. This is where Gianna received her first apparition in Emmitsburg. Our Lady, clothed in a blue dress and white veil, invited Gianna and Michael to move to the small town, if they were willing. They were given three days to make the decision, and returned home to Arizona to consider the invitation.

On June 19, 1993, Gianna and Michael married in Arizona, at St. Maria Goretti Church. At the time of their wedding ceremony, there was a severe thunderstorm in Emmitsburg, and lightning struck St. Joseph Catholic Church. The church lost electricity for three days, but the light illuminating the statue of Our Lady at the front of the church remained lit. Some Emmitsburg parishioners, upon learning that Gianna’s wedding ceremony coincided with this event, deemed it miraculous.

In November, 1993, Gianna and Michael moved to the Emmitsburg area and began attending Masses and a weekly Marian PrayerGroup at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Emmitsburg. Gianna received a vision at her first prayer meeting, surprising fellow devotees when she fell to her knees and began conversing with Our Lady. Father Alfred Pehrsson, C.M., the parish pastor she had met during her January visit to Emmitsburg, explained to parishioners what had happened and implored them to keep quiet about what they had seen so as not to call undue attention to Gianna or the prayer group. Nevertheless, attendance at the Thursday Marian Prayer Group grew as news of the visionary spread. As many as 1,000 visitors attended weekly (Gaul 2002), including several priests, bishops from other countries, and even non-Catholic visitors. Close to 700,000 people attended between 1994 and 2008 (G. Sullivan 2008). Church groups throughout the region organized bus trips to Emmitsburg, and many families drove several hours to spend the day visiting the town. The numbers of conversions and confessions increased, and Fr. Pehrsson even heard confessions from Jewish and Protestant attendees (Pehrsson n.d.). Many attendees reported miracles during the service: a spinning sun or two suns, healings, and once, the lights of heaven visible in Gianna’s eyes during ecstasy. Every week, several rows of pews were reserved at the church for parishioners, but others had to arrive before noon (for the 7 PM service) in order to find a seat. Overflow crowds were directed to the church rectory across the street, where a television screen was set up so that all could see Gianna. Problematically, crowds set up blankets and chairs on the lawn and cemetery surrounding the church, and parked illegally throughout the small town. In response, some Protestant churches in the area opened their parking lots to pilgrims.

Throughout the 1990s, there was little controversy between apparition believers and Church leaders. The Baltimore Archdiocese at this time took a neutral stance, supporting the outcome of the 1989 Phoenix investigations. Gianna continued to have daily apparitions of Our Lady, and even began receiving interior locutions from God the Father and from Jesus.

In September, 2000, however, the Archdiocese suspended the Thursday prayer meetings at St. Joseph Catholic Church, releasing a statement indicating that it “finds no basis for [the apparitions]” (“Statement” 2000). This move may have been prompted by an apparent shift in the tone of the messages; in the late 1990s, they began featuring warnings and predictions of chastisement. That Thursday in September, 2000, supporters found a sign taped to the door of St. Joseph Church indicating that the prayer meeting would not be held that day (Clarke 2008). Many attendees, including a bus of pilgrims who had just arrived from Ireland, were understandably disappointed. In the months that followed, many supporters wrote letters to Baltimore’s Cardinal Keeler and to local newspapers expressing their disappointment and confusion.

Cardinal Keeler arranged a priestly commission in Baltimore to investigate the apparitions in 2001. Supporters maintain that the
Commission was unfair to Gianna, spending very little time with her and prohibiting her supporters (including theologians) from speaking on her behalf. Gianna was permitted to answer only the questions posed to her by the Commission, rather than tell her whole story.

The Keeler Commission issued a decision in September, 2002, concluding that “it did not believe in the claim” that Gianna was receiving authentic visions of Our Lady because it “did not find the evidence it needed to verify or condemn the visions” (Lobianco 2002). The Commission expressed concern over the “apocalyptic” content of the messages, arguing that “we should not encourage apocalyptic predictions or cater to a miracle-mania mentality” (as quoted in Keeler 2002). The Commission was also concerned that it saw “no perceptible development or progression” of the messages; over time, it argued, they did not become more complex as believers presumably matured in faith, nor did they follow the liturgical cycle (as quoted in Keeler 2002). Further, the Commission concluded that some messages were contrary to Church teachings; for example, Gianna’s messages predict an intermediate and non-corporeal, spiritual return of Jesus to earth as a child prior to the actual final coming of Jesus as an adult and “Just Judge.” Church authorities seem to reject the notion of this intermediate coming. Finally, the Commission was skeptical of both the conversions reported as a result of Our Lady’s messages in Emmitsburg, as well as what it termed the “growing addiction to the spectacular” that it believed was happening in connection with the apparitions (as quoted in Keeler 2002). As a result of the Commission Report, Monsignor Kenney in Baltimore released a statement saying that the Archdiocese had concluded the apparitions were not supernatural. In addition, Cardinal Ratzinger, then-head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, corresponded with Cardinal Keeler (though his letter was not released to the public at the time) supporting the Keeler Commission’s authority to “conclude the matter with a decree of ‘constat de non supernaturalitate’” (Ratzinger 2003).

Gianna and Michael Sullivan, in addition to several of their supporters, wrote letters to diocesan authorities questioning the validity of the Keeler Commission’s conclusions and asserting that the apparitions were indeed valid. Michael Sullivan published online a letter he had written to Cardinal Keeler, copying dozens of U.S. bishops, asking why the prayer group had been suspended in 2000 and expressing concern that the Keeler Commission had been misinformed about the content of the messages (M. Sullivan 2003). In a 2006 vision, Our Lady told Gianna that the Church’s decision about the apparitions came from the local level (Cardinal Keeler), not from Vatican authorities, so the decision therefore carried less weight than it would if it had come from higher authorities. As Gianna later pointed out, “Cardinal Ratzinger does not himself conclude [that the apparitions are not supernatural] and … allows the authority to rest at a local level, that being with Cardinal Keeler and not the Holy See” (2006). Cardinal Keeler, in response, released Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter and reiterated his stance that the apparitions were not supernatural.

Meanwhile, in 2004, supporters resurrected the Marian Prayer Group. Since 2000, they had not been permitted to hold these meetings on Church property, but they reasoned that they could hold meetings on private property, particularly if they did not hold Mass or offer Sacraments. The prayer group met at a nearby farm monthly, participants sometimes huddling in a barn during inclement weather. Later, the group moved to the Lynfield Event Complex, a conference center outside Frederick, Maryland thatcould hold larger crowds. As many as 1,000 people attended this prayer meeting some months, despite the absence of Mass and Sacraments. The prayer group became more formally organized during this time period, as a core group of volunteers video recorded Gianna during ecstasy and audio recorded the message, posted public messages to a website, handled donations for the conference center rental fees, compiled messages into book series, and handled the production of Our Lady of Emmitsburg statues, prayer cards, and pins. Two websites (Foundation for the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary and Private Revelations 12:1) were created to provide factual information and transcripts of messages.

During this time period, opposition to the apparitions from some local Catholics and diocesan leaders also grew. Another website, Cult Watch , took a negative view of the apparitions, supporters, and visionary. Father Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., Gianna’s spiritual advisor, was silenced when Cardinal Keeler ordered Fr. Kavanaugh’s superior to temporarily restrict the priest from attending the monthly prayer meetings. Father Alfred Pehrsson, the parish priest at St. Joseph who had since been relocated to another parish, was also asked by his superiors not to speak about the Emmitsburg apparitions. Both men have remained reticent to speak about the Emmitsburg events.

In 2007, Fr. Edwin O’Brien was appointed Archbishop in Baltimore upon Cardinal Keeler’s resignation. With the change in leadership, Gianna wrote a letter to Archbishop O’Brien informing him of the history of the apparitions in Emmitsburg and assuring him that she would comply with his wishes regarding the monthly prayer meetings held at Lynfield. Archbishop O’Brien did not respond to Gianna’s letter directly, but instead released a Pastoral Advisory in 2008 repeating the Church’s position that the messages were not supernatural. While he admitted in the Pastoral Advisory that there is nothing necessarily sacrilegious about the messages, he asserted his view that the “alleged apparitions are not supernatural in origin” (O’Brien 2008). He further “strongly” cautioned Mrs. Gianna Talone-Sullivan not to communicate in any manner whatsoever, written or spoken, electronic or printed, personally or through another in any church, public oratory, chapel or any other place or locale, public or private, within the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Baltimore any information of any type related to or containing messages or locutions allegedly received from the Virgin Mother of God.

The Pastoral Advisory further warned Catholics against “participat[ing] in any activity surrounding these alleged apparitions or who seek to disseminate information and promote them here in the Archdiocese.” Archbishop O’Brien closed his letter by saying he wanted to “resolve the divisions created by this situation.”

Local supporters were outraged, many of them questioning whether Archbishop O’Brien overstepped his authority by attempting to regulate the activities of Catholics even off church property. Gianna, however, wrote to Archbishop O’Brien thanking him for “clarifying the many unresolved questions his predecessor [Cardinal Keeler] left unaddressed” (2003). She declared in her letter that she would no longer attend monthly prayer meetings at Lynfield and that she was neither affiliated with nor responsible for the activities of The Foundation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary . In her letter, which she also published online, she urged her supporters to “heed the Bishop’s cautions.”

Gianna has continued to report daily apparitions and locutions in her home. The Foundation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary and Private Revelations 12:1 still operate, compiling and interpreting previous Emmitsburg messages for online newsletters. In 2013, the newsletter of the Foundation was received by people in 54 U.S. states and territories and 145 nations. As of February, 2014, internet users from 188 countries have made over 9 million visits to the website of the Foundation.


Those who believe in the Emmitsburg apparitions have discerned by various means that the apparitions are legitimate. In interviews that I conducted with supporters in 2011 and 2012, many pointed out that Gianna was a “yuppie” with some wealth, an advanced degree in Pharmacology, and a job—in other words, with much to lose by claiming to receive apparitions. These individuals did not believe that Gianna would report seeing Our Lady and risk public scrutiny if it weren’t true. Gianna has even undergone testing twice while in ecstasy: once at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center in 1993 under the supervision of Marian theologian Fr. René Laurentin, and again at Johns Hopkins University in 2003 by Dr. Ricardo Castañón. Both times, doctors determined that her brain scans were consistent with those of other visionaries in ecstasy. Detractors have accused Gianna of heading a “cult” or reveling in her fame. Some supporters, however, have been quick to point out that Gianna is merely a conduit of the divine.

Supporters can easily access several years’ worth of messages from Our Lady of Emmitsburg through the websites of The Foundation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary and Private Revelations 12:1, and many individuals re-read those messages, finding new meanings each time. Some messages have garnered more attention than others. During my fieldwork in Emmitsburg from 2010 to 2013, I witnessed occasional conversations about those messages bearing warning of catastrophe. Two important examples are the June 1, 2008 message warning of “another body in orbit around your solar system” and destroying “60-70% of the world’s population,” and the December 31, 2004 message warning of the “earth being spun off its axis.” A few individuals in Emmitsburg speculated that the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which NASA reports shifted the earth on its axis by four inches, fulfilled this prophecy.

Another common theme in the messages is that people should pray for priests and apostates. The September 15, 2003 message cautions: “The Church will always stand because of my Son, but what is in jeopardy are the souls of many of my priest s, my Bishops and my Cardinals who will have to atone and who will be held accountable for misleading the flock.” A common refrain for priests and lay Catholics, however, is to pray for them. The August 31, 1995 message is typical: “Pray for Mercy, little children, and desire Love and forgiveness for all people.”

Given the opposition from certain local priests to the Emmitsburg apparitions, supporters have also been heartened by Our Lady’smany messages assuring them that she is not leaving Emmitsburg. The February 5, 2006 message, for instance, assures listeners that Emmitsburg is the Center of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart despite opposition from some Church leaders, then continues, “Know that I am not leaving and that I intercede for all good things for you before the Throne of God.” The October 5, 2008 message (just before the Pastoral Advisory was released) repeats this theme: “know that I am here with you. I am not leaving , even if you think I am far away.”

Supporters hold a variety of opinions about the Archdiocesan stance on the apparitions. While most all supporters have obeyed the spirit of the Pastoral Advisory by not holding prayer meetings and not speaking about the apparitions unless asked, many have continued to question the authority of Archbishop O’Brien to prohibit prayer meetings that convene on property not belonging to the Catholic Church. Further, many supporters adhere to the Church teaching on private revelation, that believers may “ welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church” (“Catechism” In Emmitsburg, many individuals reason that nothing in the messages conflicts with Church teaching, scripture, or tradition, and thus they are free to believe in them. They believe that the Keeler Commission, which concluded that apocalyptic teachings were troubling and that the messages about the return of the Child Jesus in an intermediate spiritual reign prior to the actual Final Coming contradicted Church teaching, was misinformed.


Due to prohibitions, practices relating to the Emmitsburg apparitions have changed greatly over time. Prior to September 2000, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Emmitsburg hosted a Marian Prayer Group in the church every Thursday. Pilgrims from around the world would attend the 8:30 AM weekday Mass, followed by private prayer and afternoon Confession. Many would visit the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes, National Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton, and other sites in town. The prayer service was held in the evening, featuring Mass, Rosary prayers, and a healing service. Devotees often stayed until late in the evening.

From 2004-2008, the prayer group met monthly to pray the Rosary. These services did not occur on Church property, did not feature Mass, and did not offer Sacraments. Nevertheless, they attracted hundreds of pilgrims.

Now that the prayer group has been disbanded, the Foundation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary is encouraging supporters to hold monthly Marian Days of Prayer in their own homes. There is no way to measure how many people are involved in this endeavor, but in my time in Emmitsburg, I have never heard of anyone organizing a prayer group specifically for the Marian Day of Prayer. I have, however, spoken to several people who incorporate Our Lady of Emmitsburg into their daily devotions. They may mention her name during a Litany (“Our Lady of Emmitsburg, Pray for Us”), carry prayer cards with her image, or keep statues of her in their homes. Many people continue to read Our Lady of Emmitsburg messages, since many of them are accessible via websites and printed books. The Foundation and Private Revelations 12:1 compile messages and interpretations in electronic newsletters that are distributed worldwide. The newsletter of the Foundation was distributed in 54 U.S. states and territories and 145 nations in 2013.

Additionally, many supporters were and continue to be active in their local parishes, attending Mass frequently, visiting the Grotto regularly, praying the Rosary and other prayers, and reading books about the lives of the saints. In general, Emmitsburg believers in the apparitions tend to fall in line with other conservative Catholics in terms of their attitudes toward social and political issues and Church authority. Like many “highly committed” Catholics, many individuals support their Church’s opposition to birth control, abortion, and same sex marriage (D’Antonio 2011; D’Antonio, Dillon & Gautier 2013; Dillon 2011a, 2011b); to be sure, many of the Emmitsburg messages take a conservative stance on these issues.


Prior to the 2008 Pastoral Advisory, a network of volunteers organized the prayer group and the dissemination of messages. Tasks included videotaping Gianna during her vision, transcribing the messages, maintaining websites, collecting donations for the conference center rental (from 2004 to 2008), managing crowds of attendees, and leading Rosary prayers during services.

The Foundation was established to be, and remains, an important depository of information about the apparitions. Private Revelations 12:1 is another helpful source of historical information. Both organizations maintain websites easily accessible by any internet search engine, the Foundation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary and Private Revelations of Our Lady of Emmitsburg . Both organizations officially are located in Pennsylvania and are thus outside the jurisdiction of the Baltimore Archdiocese and its prohibitions. Notably, Gianna disavowed any involvement with The Foundation in her 2008 response to the Pastoral Advisory.


The major challenge in Emmitsburg is the Church’s position on the apparitions. Some parish priests remain adamantly opposed to them, and there is some anecdotal evidence of animosity between certain parish priests and apparition supporters in Emmitsburg. Some local lay Catholics also oppose the apparitions, so much so that supporters frequently censor themselves in the presence of certain individuals. Cult Watch occasionally posts new articles deriding the apparitions and visionary.

Following the termination of the monthly prayer meeting at Lynfield, the unofficial hub for apparition supporters was St. Peter’s Bookstore, an Emmitsburg bookstore and coffee house that had been founded as a service to Our Lady of Emmitsburg to serve as a repository of information about the apparitions. St. Peter’s offered book compilations of messages, knowledgeable employees and owners willing to share information about the apparitions, an inviting seating area conducive to discussing the apparitions, and other Catholic items. The business had been quite successful while the prayer group still met near Emmitsburg, even organizing a major lecture series, and was a favorite hangout for local Catholics and Catholic pilgrims visiting the Grotto. Many supporters, therefore, were disappointed when St. Peter’s went out of business in 2012.

With the appointment of Archbishop Lori in Baltimore in 2012, some individuals hoped that the Archdiocese would ease its prohibition on a Marian Prayer Group in Emmitsburg. No formal restrictions have been placed on Gianna in the Archdiocese since Archbishop O’Brien left Baltimore. There has been some interest in organizing a Marian prayer group that would not include Gianna’s visions and messages, and some of the Daughters of Charity at the Basilica have organized a few such meetings. As for the apparitions, there is currently no way to measure how many people continue to believe and to support them, since the prayer group has not been permitted to convene since 2008. While supporters are hopeful that Church leaders will reverse their decision about the Emmitsburg apparitions, many speculate that the apparitions will be approved only when Gianna’s visions and locutions cease, or through divine intervention.


Catechism of the Catholic Church. 1993. Accessed from www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM on 13 February 2014.

Clarke, Paul A. 2008. The last word? Frederick News Post , December 14, Local News section. Accessed from www.fredericknewspost.com on 13 March 2010.

D’Antonio, William V., Michele Dillon, and Mary Gautier. 2013. American Catholics in Transition. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

D’Antonio, William V. 2011. “New Survey Offers Portrait of U.S. Catholics.” National Catholic Reporter , October 24. Accessed from http://ncronline.org/AmericanCatholics on 14 January 2012.

Dillon, Michele. 2011a. “Trends in Catholic Commitment Stable over Time.” National Catholic Reporter . October 24. Accessed from http://ncronline.org/AmericanCatholics on 14 January 2012.

Dillon, Michele. 2011b. “What is Core to American Catholics in 2011.” National Catholic Reporter , October 24. Accessed from http://ncronline.org/AmericanCatholics on 14 January 2012.

Eck, Larry and Mary Sue. 1992. “Jesus, I Trust in Thee: An Interview with Michael Sullivan, MD.” Medjugorje Magazine, July-August-September, 17-27.

Faricy, Robert, SJ and Rooney, Lucy, SND de N. 1991. Our Lady Comes to Scottsdale: Is It Authentic? Milford, OH: The Riehle Foundation.

Fortney, Sarah. 2007. “The Voices of Faith.” Frederick News Post , January 8, Local News section. Accessed from www.fredericknewspost.com on 13 March 2010.

Foundation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. n.d. “Messages of Our Lady of Emmitsburg.” Accessed from www.centeroftheimmaculateheart.org on 13 February 2014.

Gaul, Christopher. 2003. “Vatican Supports Action to Suppress Visionary. Accessed from www.archbalt.org/news/crsullivan.cfm on 13 March 2010.

Gaul, Christopher. 2002. “We Do Not Believe in the Apparitions.” Accessed from www.emmitsburg.net/cult_watch/news_reports/we_do_not_believe.htm on 13 March 2010.

Gaul, Christopher. 1995. “Brief History of St. Joseph’s Church.” The Catholic Review , November 1.

Keeler, William Cardinal. 2002. “Letter to Fr. O’Connor,” December 5. Accessed from www.emmitsburg.net/cult_watch/commission_report.htm on 12 June 2012.

Keeler, William Cardinal. 2003. “Decree,” June 7. Accessed from archbalt.org/news.upload/SullivanDecree.pdf on 19 March 2010.

Kenney, Rev. Msgr. Jeremiah F. 2002. “Letter to Gianna Talone-Sullivan,” September 24.

Lobianco, Tom. 2002. “Church Takes Neutral Stance on Apparitions. Frederick News Post , December 8, Local News section. Accessed from www.fredericknewspost.com on 13 March 2010.

Moving Heart Foundation. n.d. “Background.” Accessed from http://www.movingheartfoundation.com/Background.htm on 3 February 2014.

O’Brien, Archbishop Edwin. 2008. “Pastoral Advisory,” October 8. Accessed from www.archbalt.org/news/upload/Pastoral_Advisory.pdf on 21 May 2010.

O’Brien, Archbishop Edwin. 2002. “Letter to Father O’Connor,” December 5. Accessed from www.emmitsburg.net/cult_watch/commission_report.htm on 13 March 2010.

Pehrsson, Fr. Al C.M. n.d. “Our Lady of Emmitsburg: Testimony 1993-2006.” Audio CD distributed by Foundation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Ratzinger, Cardinal Joseph. 2003. “Letter to Cardinal Keeler,” February 15. Accessed from www.archbalt.org/news/upload/decreeRatzinger.pdf on 21 May 2010.

“Statement Concerning the Alleged Apparitions to Gianna Talone-Sullivan in Emmitsburg.” 2000. Accessed from http://www.tfsih.com/Misc/Unsigned%20Decree_09-08-00.pdf on 30 January 2014.

Sullivan, Gianna. 2008. “Letter.” Accessed from www.emmitsburg.net/cult_watch/rm/GiannaPastoralAdvisoryResponse.pdf on 21 May 2010.

Sullivan, Gianna. 2006. “Letter.” Accessed from www.pdtsigns.com/giannaupdate.html on 21 May 2010.

Sullivan, Michael. 2003. “Letter.” Accessed from www.emmitsburg.net/cult_watch/rm/Sullivan_rebuttal.pdf on 21 May, 2010.

Jill Krebs

Post Date:
23 February 2014



Our Lady of Good Help



1831 (January 30):  Marie Adele Joseph Brise was born in Dion-le-Val, Brabant, Belgium.

1855:  Brise and her family emigrated from Belgium to Wisconsin.

1859 (October):  Brise had three visions of the Virgin Mary in which she was told to teach
children about God.

1859:  Brise’s father built the first shrine chapel on the apparition site.

1867:  The first school, St. Mary’s Academy, was built at the chapel site; the school formally opened in 1869.

1871 (October 8):  Brise led a prayer vigil around the chapel during the Peshtigo fire. All five acres of the chapel grounds were unharmed while the surrounding land was destroyed.

1896 (July 5):  Adele Brise died.

1933:  The School was remodeled into the Home for Crippled Children.

1941:  The current chapel building was constructed.

1953:  The Home for Crippled Children was closed and Pre-Novitiate High School was established.

1968:  The high school was closed. Franciscan Sisters continued to manage the shrine

1970:  The grounds became a House of Prayer.

1992-2002:  The Carmelite Sisters from Grand Rapids, Michigan assumed responsibility for the shrine.

2002:  The local diocese reassumed control of the shrine.

2009 (January 9):  Bishop David Ricken appointed a commission to study Brise’s original apparition claims.

2010 (December 8):  The site was authenticated and was the first to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.


Marie Adele Joseph Brise was born to Lambert and Marie Brise in Dion-le-Val, Brabant, Belgium on January 30, 1831. As a child she
and several friends pledged to join a religious order. However, Brise continued to live with her parents in what was a relatively poor family until 1855 when the family emigrated to America. The family purchased a 240 acre tract of land to support itself. It was four years later, in October, 1859, just a short time after the Marian apparitions at Lourdes, that Brise had the first of three apparitional experiences. She was carrying grain to a mill in Champion, Wisconsin when the Virgin Mary appeared to her: “She saw a lady clothed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars around her head standing between two trees, one a maple, the other a hemlock” (Shrine 2010). Brise found the experience frightening. On Sunday, October 9, the second apparitional event occurred when Brise was walking to Mass in Bay Settlement, a neighboring area, with two companions. Only Brise directly experienced the apparition. Finally, when walking home from church, Brise experienced an apparitional figure in the same place for a third and final time. Mary identified herself as the “Queen of Heaven” and told Brise that she must teach the children how to live their lives for God. From that day forward, Brise devoted her life to the teachings of the Catholic faith to young
children. The chapel was soon accompanied by a school, St. Mary’s Academy, in 1867 (Mann 2011). Brise had gathered many pupils by this time and began teaching them at Our Lady of Good Help.

Several years after the school was built a destructive fire swept through the surrounding area. On October 8, 1871, many of the citizens and land owners in the surrounding areas sought shelter at the chapel grounds from what became known as the Peshtigo fire. These people joined Brise in a procession around the grounds of the chapel to protect them. By morning, the flames had been quenched by the rain and Our Lady of Good Help remained untouched. This was considered a miracle by many, especially considering the fact that the neighboring areas had been scorched by the flames and over 2,000 were found dead (Kasten 2010).

After Brises’ death in 1896, she was buried near the original apparition site. At that time the fate of the prayer site and school seemed uncertain. The school suffered without her presence and was passed into the hands of Sr. Pauline LaPlante, an original member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross of Bay Settlement (Kasten 2010). She worked to continue the school until her death in 1926 (Mann 2011). In the following years the school changed hands and faces several times. In 1933, it was remodeled as the Home for Crippled Children, and then in 1953, Bishop Paul Rhode discontinued the home and turned it into a pre-noviate high school for the Bay Settlement Sisters. In 1990, it became a House of Prayer for the Bay Settlement Sisters until 1990 when the diocese gained control of the grounds. The diocese converted the property into a shrine and welcomed in a group of Carmelite Sisters who founded the Carmel of the Holy Name of Jesus in 1992 (Kasten 2010). Ten years later the Carmel moved on to rural Denmark.

At that point in time, the Our Lady of Good Help was still important in the local community, but there was very little national or international attention. The Bishops of Green Bay supported the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help as a place of prayer, but there had never been any formal recognition or declaration regarding the apparitions. This changed on January 9, 2009 when Bishop David Ricken opened a formal investigation into the apparitions. Less than two years later he declared that the apparitions given to Adele Brise were in fact worthy of belief and showed substance of supernatural character (Sly 2010).


Adele Brise was the only visionary at Our Lady of Good Help. She reported no other visions or apparitions before or after those three at the site that would come to be known as Our Lady of Good Help. It was at the third apparitional event, which occurred while Brise was returning home from church that she received her spiritual mission (Shrine 2010; Kasten 2010). Brise reported that she asked the figure “In God’s name who are you and what do you want of me?” Mary reportedly then told Brise that she was the Queen of Heaven and assigned Brise a mission: “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” Mary then offer more specific instructions: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” When Brise inquired how she might accomplish this mission with little knowledge, Mary responded: “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

The religious activity at Our Lady of Good Help is rooted in Catholic doctrine. As is common with many apparition groups, the goal of this prayer site is to return to what are understood to be God’s teachings. Brise was instructed to teach children how to love and worship God. Those were her only instructions, and she followed them and sought to expand them to incorporate the entire community.

The site has come to be regarded as a place of miracles, and a steady stream of believers daily come to worship and petition the Virgin Mary. Many who have visited the site have testified that they have been cured them of their infirmities or have solved problems they felt unable to address previously (“Marian Apparitions” 2010). The best-known miracle of Our Lady of Good Help is the survival of the Peshtigo fire of October 8, 1871. Even though all the land surrounding the prayer site and school was destroyed in this devastating fire, the grounds of the chapel and everyone on them were spared any harm.

After validating the site in 2010, Bishop Ricken stated that “Sister Adele’s own life was among the most convincing testimonies to the validity of the apparition” (Mann 2011). Indeed, hers was a lifelong devotion to the messages sent to her by Mary. He also believed in these apparitions in part because Brise never tried to capitalize on them. She sought no attention or compensation. Instead, she tried to live as she was instructed and went above and beyond the call of duty. Finally, the validity of the site was confirmed in part due to the actual message. Bishop Ricken stated that the messages’ simplicity and clarity spoke of their truth. The instructions were “simple, but very much loaded with the main message of the Gospel and with the teachings of the Church” (Mann 2011). These messages coupled with the great number of people who testified to being healed or helped at the site led to the validation of Our Lady of Good Help.


People from different walks of life and parts of the country gather at Our Lady of Good Help daily to pray and worship. Mass is held four times a day in the chapel for those who wish for more than just individual reflection on site. Pilgrims testify to the extraordinary qualities of the site: “’It’s incredible — she’s here, you just feel it’, Ms. Banda said after praying in the crypt chapel, said to be on the spot of the apparitions. As they passed a statue of Mary in white, just as described by Ms. Brise, Ms. Banda was overcome with emotion, weeping and hugging her mother. The two of them went back to pray some more” (Eckholm 2010). Another pilgrim stated that “There’s a lot of power here….You can feel the presence of Mary, and it feels like she’s listening to you” (Eckholm 2010). Many crutches and canes are left behind at the shrine’s crypt. The owners of these items leave them saying that they no longer need their assistance.

Every year, there are different events to honor the site and the Virgin Mary. On October 8, pilgrims gather to repeat the procession of the grounds that began during the Peshtigo fire. In May, there is an annual outdoor Mass that includes another procession to the chapel grounds. This tradition was founded by Norbertine Fr. Bernard Pennings in 1895 (Kasten 2010). Finally, an extremely popular tradition is the annual Mass on the feast of Assumption. This event takes place on August 15 and, from morning until night, cars can be seen lining up at the shrine.


Within days of Brise’s final vision in 1859, her father, Lambert Brise, built a small ten by twelve foot chapel at the apparition site. The chapel was enlarged to twenty four by forty feet in 1861; a third chapel of brick construction was erected in 1880.

Following the instructions she received from Mary in 1859, Brise, at age twenty eight, began teaching the Catholic faith to all the children that she could reach. Several young women joined her to form “a community of Third Order (secular) Franciscans” and found St. Mary’s Academy in 1869 (Shrine 2010). The small group of children eventually grew to be the ninety-five children. Brise received no formal funding for this school, instead relying on donations. At times she even had to beg for supplies and funds for the school. Brise remained resolute in her mission until her death in 1896.

Unfortunately, without the Brise’s presence, the leadership at the school faltered. For a time the school was placed in the care of Sr. Pauline LaPlante. LaPlante was one of the community’s original members, and she ran the school with nearly the same devotion as Brise had from 1902 until her death in 1926. At that time the school was altered on several occasions. It became a home for crippled children in 1933, a pre-noviate high school for the Bay Settlement Sisters in 1953, and, finally, a site for the Carmel of the Holy Name of Jesus in 1992. After the Carmelite sisters moved on in 2002, the site was restored to a chapel and shrine dedicated to the apparitions that Brise had encountered over 150 years earlier (Kasten 2010). Although the site had received informal support from local bishops through its history as a pilgrimage and prayer site, it was not formally validated until 2009 when Bishop David Ricken commissioned an investigation into the authenticity of the original apparitions. Over the next two years theologians examined the available historical documents: “We had written testimonies, some oral testimonies – written down later, plus a lot of documentation – letters between Sister Adele and the bishop, etc,
Bishop Ricken realls” (Kim 2011).

Less than two years later, Ricken stated with certainty that the site could indeed be validated as a supernatural and religious site(“Wisconsin Site” 2011). He stated that “I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful” (“Marian Apparitions” 2010).


From the beginning, Brise received little help or recognition. Her father built the original shrine on the spot of the apparitions himself. Brise also was alone in starting her school and helping the local children. St. Mary’s academy, a boarding school, was built in 1867. Within five years there were almost a hundred students enrolled. She relied heavily on her faith and the few donations she received. At times, when the school was low on funding and in need of supplies, Brise would go beg to get the money they needed. After Brise died, the meager support that was once there dwindled and faded.

The school and grounds passed from hand to hand until finally, in 2009, Bishop David Ricken launched an investigation into the authenticity of the apparition site. Before the site was investigated, thirty to fifty people a day would make the journey to Our Lady of Good Help (Keen 2011). However, once Bishop Ricken announced that the site was “approved” and “worthy of belief by the Christian faithful,” that number skyrocketed to around 500 people a day (Mann 2010). With the increased visitation, two priests were assigned full time to the shrine (Keen 2011).

There have been suspicions expressed in the press that the diocese’s investigation was timed to redirect attention away from the priest sex abuse cases that were then plaguing the Catholic Church. Bishop Ricken responded to these allegations: “People have a hunger for the spiritual, and right here in our backyard was a source to meet that need.” He went on to express an expectation that the shrine would become a source of hope and healing (Eckholm 2010). Whatever the merits of the suspicions and allegations, Bishop Ricken’s declaration of “moral certainty” has brought new life and recognition to Our Lady of Good Help (“Wisconsin Site” 2011).


Eckholm, Erik. 2010. “ Wisconsin on the Map to Pray With Mary.” New York Times , December 23. Accessed from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/24/us/24mary.html?_r=0 on 22 November 2013.

Kasten, Patricia. 2010. “Guided by Mary, Adele Brise Taught Children about Catholic Faith.”   The Compass , December 9. Accessed from http://www.thecompassnews.org/news/local/1794-guided-by-mary-adele-brise-taught-children-about-catholic-faith.html on 31 October 2013.

Keen, Judy. 2011. “Faithful Trek to Wisconsin Shrine.”   USA Today , September 22. Accessed from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2011-09-22/wisconsin-virgin-mary-shrine/50519566/1 on 20 November 2013 .

Kim, Susan. 2011. “Official Holy Site Near Green Bay.” Accessed from http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCwQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.620wtmj.com%2Fnews%2Flocal%2F115996504.html&ei=yLeSUp6YI4uikQeCqoGICg&usg=AFQjCNET9GWym9VHvgT10dawcHCxTLnUIg&sig2=STdBrHBGxoAfK1eyI4km1w&bvm=bv.56988011,d.eW0 on 22 November 2013.

Mann, Benjamin. 2010. “Wisconsin Chapel Approved as First U.S. Marian Apparition Site.”   Catholic News Agency ., December 9. . Web. 01 Nov 2013.

“Marian Apparitions at Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help Approved by Bishop Ricken.” 2010.  DA MIHI ANIMAS , December 8. Accessed from http://salesianity.blogspot.com/2010/12/marian-apparitions-at-shrine-of-our.html on 20 November 2013.

Shrine of Our Lady of Good Hope. 2010. “A Brief Historical Account.” Accessed from http://www.gbdioc.org/images/stories/Evangelization_Worship/Shrine/Documents/Shrine-History-Brief.pdf on 28 November 2013.

Sly, Randy. 2010. “The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help Receives the Decree from Bishop of Green Bay.” Catholic Online . December 11. Accessed from http://www.catholic.org/hf/faith/story.php?id=39511 on 01 November 2013.

“Wisconsin Site Deemed ‘Holy’ by Catholic Leaders.” 2011.  Seattle Times , February 14. Accessed from http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2014222320_apusholysitegreenbay.html on 20 November 2013.

David G. Bromley
Caitlin St. Clair

Post Date:
1 December 2013