Our Lady of Aparecida


c.1650: Frei Agnostino de Jesus, sculptor and carioca monk from Sao Paolo, made a small statue of the Virgin.

1717 (October 12): Joao Alves, a fisherman of Guarantinqueta, Brazil, cast his net in the Paraiba River near the Port of Itaguago and snared the body of a statue. He and his companions, Domingos Garcia and Felipe Pedroso, cast their net again, this time pulling up the statue’s head. They named the statue Our Lady Aparecida (Our Lady Who Appeared).

1732: The statue was taken to its first shrine.

1745: A larger church was built on a hilltop near Porto Itaguassu to house the statue.

1822: Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal and elevated Our Lady Aparecida’s title to Patroness of Brazil.

1888: A larger basilica was built to replace smaller chapel that could accommodate 150,000 pilgrims a year.

1904 (September 8): St. Pius X declared Our Lady Aparecida to be Queen of Brazil. The Cardinal of Rio de Janeiro crowned her.

1930: Pope Pius XI proclaimed her as the principal patroness of Brazil.

1931 (May 31): Brazil was officially consecrated to Our Lady Aparecida.

1931: After a near-bloodless military coup d’etat, Getulio Vargas became dictator of Brazil. As a symbol of a united Brazil, he promoted a semi-official Catholic Church with Our Lady Aparecida as its symbol.

1945: Vargas’ ruled as dictator ended; plans already were underway for a new basilica.

1946-1955: Construction began on a large modern-style basilica.

1959: Masses, and the statue, were moved to the new basilica, still under construction.

1964: Another military takeover occurred in Brazil. Many socialists, including intellectuals and artists, were imprisoned or exiled. “President” Castello Branco named Our Lady Aparecida to be the highest general of the Brazilian Army in an attempt to restrict how public spaces could be used.

1978 (May 16): The statue was desecrated by a member of a Protestant sect.

1980: In anticipation of Pope John Paul II’s visit, the likely date of Our Lady’s discovery, October 12, was enacted into law as an official national Brazilian holiday.

1980 (October 12): Pope John Paul II blessed Our Lady’s shrine.

1995 (October 12): A televangelist pastor, Sergio Von Helder, publicly ridiculed an Aparecida icon during a televised religious service.


Before Brazil fell under Spanish control in 1580, Joao III of Portugal controlled a vast territory but had few resources with which to settle and develop it. He therefore divided Brazil into fifteen captaincies and appointed a governor for each. The governors could levy taxes and rule as they saw fit but were required to populate the area, sustain the population, and defend their territories with their own resources. Gold was discovered in south-central Brazil in 1695 in what was to become the captaincies of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, and a mining boom ensued. A new governor for Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, Pedro Miguel de Almeida Portugal e Vasconcellos, the Portuguese Count of Assumar, was due to arrive in his new captaincies, in a town later to be known as Aparaceda, in October, 1717 and was on his way to an important mining site (Johnson 1997).

The local residents wanted to provide a fitting reception for the new governor, and so three fishermen were sent out into the nearby Paraiba River to bring in food for a celebration. The discovery of the statue that came to be called Our Lady of Aparecida on that fishing expedition is “part history, part hagiography” (Johnson 1997:125). In the Roman Catholic Church, saints typically are consecrated after reportedly experiencing a vision or some other manifestation of God (hierophany). However, Our Lady of Aparecida’s path to becoming the Patroness of Brazil was quite distinctive.

Fish catches had not been plentiful immediately prior to the new governor’s visit, and the weather was especially bad when the men set out on their fishing trip. Despite their prayers to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (the Virgin Mary), for many hours Domingos Garcia, Joao Alves, and Felipe Pedroso caught nothing. Finally, casting his net once more, Alves hauled in not fish, but the body of a small statue. The statue had been in the river for a long time (and may have been a Spanish statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe from the period of Spanish control of Brazil between 1580 to 1640), and, as a result, the wood from which the statue was carved had been stained and discolored by the mud and water (Johnson 1997:126).

The men cast their net once more and brought in the statue’s head. They cleaned their catch and decided their statue was one ofOur Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Mary. They named her Our Lady of the Conception Who Appeared from the Waters, which was subsequently shortened to Our Lady Aparecida. The men wrapped her in cloth, continued fishing, and soon had enough fish to provide a sumptuous feast. The appearance of Our Lady of Aparecida came to be regarded as a double miracle. To the faithful, it was miraculous, first, that the fishermen found both the body and the head of the statue simultaneously and, second, that finding the statue was followed by a bountiful harvest of fish. This miracle resonates with a biblical narrative in which Jesus appears to unsuccessful fishermen, telling them to cast their nets again, which leads them to an abundant catch.

From the moment of its discovery, the statue was venerated by the fisherman and their families and neighbors. Felipe Pedroso took the statue to his house where others came to see her. When he moved to Porto Itaguassu, he took the statue with him. In 1732, his son Atanasio built its first shrine. Thirteen years after the first shrine was built, a larger church was erected on a hilltop near Porto Itaguassu for Our Lady of Aparecido. This remained her home for over a hundred years.

Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal in 1822 and elevated Our Lady of Aparecida’s title to Patroness of Brazil, the constitutional separation of church and state notwithstanding. Our Lady of Aparecida became an increasingly more important destination for religious pilgrims in Brazil. By 1888, approximately 150,000 pilgrims were arriving every year. In response, a larger basilica was built to replace the smaller chapel. A succession of elevations of sacred status followed. On September 8, 1904, St. Pius X declared Our Lady of Aparecida to be the Queen of Brazil, and she was crowned by the Cardinal of Rio. Just twenty-six years later, in 1930, Pope Pius XI proclaimed her to be the principal patroness of Brazil, and Brazil was officially consecrated to Our Ladyof Aparecida on May 31 of the next year. In 1931, Getulio Vargas seized power in Brazil after a military coup d’etat. While in power he sought to create a unified Brazil and so promoted a semi-official Catholic Church with Our Lady of Aparecida as its sign. Vargas’s reign as dictator ended in 1945, but by then the plans were already underway for a new basilica. In 1959, Our Lady of Aparecida was moved to the unfinished building. In the meantime, after a period of civilian government, military rule returned in 1964. Catello Branco, who was designated as president, symbolically named Our Lady of Aparecida to be the highest general of the Brazilian Army in an attempt to restrict how public spaces could be used. When the new basilica was finally completed in 1980, Pope John Paul II visited and blessed her shrine. His visit led to the creation of a law which named October 12, her likely date of discovery, an official national Brazilian holiday. The mixing of religious and political legitimation for Our Lady of Aparecida has been controversial but has also meant that Our Lady has been not only a symbol of the Catholic Church but also of Brazil as a nation (Johnson 1997:129).


Since her appearance in the river, Our Lady of Aparecida has always been associated with miracles. For example, after the statue was first moved into its prayer chapel near the river, miraculous events were reported: candles that blew out in the chapel would relight, a slave running from a cruel master prayed to the idol for freedom and his chains were released, a blind girl received sight, and a man who wished to harm the statue found his horse’s feet “locked fast to the ground at the entrance of the building” when he tried to enter the chapel (“Our Lady Aparecida” n.d.). Further, while the new basilica was being constructed, it was reported that the every evening the statue was moved to reside in the in progressing Basilica, but every morning, she would appear back in the old Basilica. This went on for several years. Eventually, it is believed, the statue gave up and realized that no member of the clergy was going to heed her desire to remain at her old resting place.


The date dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida has changed many times over the years. The original date in her honor was set as December 8 from as early as the eighteenth century. However, soon after the Vatican declared May to be the Month of Mary, the episcopate decided to make a special date devoted to Our Lady, the fifth Sunday after Easter, which would always fall in May. Just nine years later, in 1904, “the date was officially changed to the first Sunday of May” (Fernandes 1985:805). However, this date was not recognized by all of the churches, and some chose to use September 7, Independence Day, instead. Years later, in 1939, September 7 was officially established as the new day of Aparecida. Unfortunately, this led to a drastic drop in support from pilgrims at festivals in her honor, apparently as a result of both celebrations occurring on the same day. Thus, in 1955, the National Conference of Bishops moved the date for a final time to its current day, October 12. In 1980, this date became a national holiday.

There are several ritual themes that pilgrims to the Our Lady of Aparecida site express: dependence, territorial bond, and inclusion. The first is Dependence, in which pilgrims worship in order to get protection. This may also be accompanied by a vow, wherein the pilgrims may promise to accomplish something in the name of Our Lady of Aparecida if she will grant them something. The second is a Territorial Bond, wherein pilgrims bring items to be blessed by the statue to improve their relationship with Aparecida. Finally, there is Inclusion, which connotes that, while there are many rituals associated with Catholic Saints, all of them are related and equally important. This is directly contrasted, though, by the attitudes of pilgrims who come to see the idol. They generally arrive to visit the statue and nothing more. They do not confess their sins or hold much stock in the other aspects of Catholicism. In their minds, the statue of Our Lady of Aparecida is the only reality they need.

Pilgrims report extraordinary and miraculous experiences at the basilica. Dawsey (2006:7) writes that “They described the suffering of the pagadores de promessas (payers of promises) who carried crosses and climbed the stairways of the cathedral on their knees. They recalled the people stretched out on the floor of the basilica; they spoke of the people in rags, the sick and lame, and unemployed. At the end of the corridor, in the recesses of the church, they had seen the piles of crutches – allegories of the extraordinary healing powers of the saint. In the sala dos milagres (room of miracles), amid a stunning collection of enchanted objects, they saw up close the signs of the wonderful grace of the Mother of God.


While any organizational aspects of the lady, including where she resides, how she is dressed (a richly decorated robe is wrappedaround her shoulders and a large crown adorns her head), what honors and special titles she has been given, and the official date for her celebration are controlled by various units of the Catholic church, one might say that actual leadership resides with the pilgrims. When Pope John Paul II visited Brazil in 1980 and great preparation was made to receive the expected increase in pilgrims to Aparecida to coincide with his visit, officials were surprised when no more than the normal 300,000 appeared, as opposed to the 2,000,000 who were expected. It seems that the pilgrims intended to follow their traditional schedules with regard to the Lady and to wait until the Pope visited their own locales to pay tribute to him.


Our Lady of Aparecida has faced a series of challenges through her history. Despite her lofty status as Patroness of Brazil and the annual holiday in her honor, she has not been accepted by everyone in Brazil. Many Brazilians of different religions have expressed resentment toward her. Even some within the Catholic tradition believe that she is more of a hindrance than a help to believers.

In the earliest incident, Our Lady of Aparecida was also caught in the midst of a major power struggle. In 1889, the episcopate took over the sanctuaries and called in priests from Europe to assist in restructuring the belief system. This led to massive conflict, both “between the episcopate and local notables over administrative control” and also “between Tridentine-minded missionaries and the native pilgrims” over devotion (Fernandes 1985:804). The priests wanted to reconvert the pilgrims to Catholicism, yet they found that the pilgrims still practiced some Pagan rituals that had been part of their belief system for centuries and were resistant to change. As already noted, pilgrims regularly traveled to worship Our Lady of Aparecida, but one priest found that “90% of those 30,000 people [who visited the statue] had never confessed, or only once, in their entire lives” (Fernandes 1985:804). The Catholic Church has had a continuing struggle with the facts on the ground; while Our Lady of Aparecida is formally a Catholic icon, many of those who worship her do not closely follow Catholic doctrines.

As second incident occurred in 1978. A member of a Protestant sect took Our Lady of Aparecida from her pedestal and attempted to escape with the statue. He was chased and captured, but just before being apprehended, he smashed the statue to the ground. The statue was repaired, but it proved impossible to restore exactly the original features of the statue’s face.

Finally, on October 12, 1995 (which was a festival day), televangelist Segio Von Helder appeared on the 25 th Hour Program on the Record Television Network. In this segment, Helder criticized the prominence of the idol in Brazil’s culture, stating that “God is changed from principal actor to mere helper” (Johnson 1997:131). He then began to kick and beat the statue he had brought on the show with him. While this was a replica statue, his actions still caused an outrage among viewers. Both the network owner and the televangelist faced immediate and severe backlash from citizens. In the weeks that followed, there was an enormous spike in support for and devotion to the Lady, which coincided with extreme prejudice and anger toward the Igreja Universal, the parent network. Igreja Universal subsequently silenced him and sent him to the United States.

While Our Lady of Aparecida has been at the center of a number of conflicts through Brazil’s history, as the Patroness of Brazil she remains both a powerful symbol of the Roman Catholic tradition in the world’s most Catholic nation and of Brazilian national identity. Legions of pilgrims, both Catholic and non-Catholic, continue to trek to the basilica where the statue resides. Festivals honoring Our Lady of Aparecida are also held by diasporic populations in the United States (Arenson 1998).


Arenson, Adam. 1998. “The Role of the Nossa Senhora Aparecida Festival in Creating Brazilian American Community.” New York Folklore 24:1-4.

Dawsey, John. 2006. “Joana Dark and the Werewolf Woman: The Rite of Passage of Our Lady.” Religião & Sociedade 2:1-13.

Fernandes, Rubem César. 1985. “Aparecida, Our Queen, Lady and Mother, Sarava!” Social Science Information. Accessed from http://ssi.sagepub.com/content/24/4/799 on 2 May 2014

Johnson, Paul C. 1997. “Kicking, Stripping, and Re-Dressing a Saint in Black: Visions of Public Space in Brazil’s Recent Holy War.” History of Religions 37:122-40.

Leon, Luis D. 2010. Teaching Language in Context.” Church History 79:504-06.

Oliveira, Plinio Correa de. “Our Lady of Aparecida – October 12.” n.d. Tradition In Action. Accessed from http://www.traditioninaction.org/SOD/j227sd_OLAparecida_10-12.html on 2 May 2014

“Our Lady of Aparecida” (Nossa Senhora Aparecida). n.d. Mary Pages. Accessed from http://www.marypages.com/LadyAparecida.htm on 2 May 2014.

Yeh, Allen and Gabriela Olaguibel. 2011. “The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Study of Socio-Religious Identity” International Journal of Frontier Missiology. 28:169-77.

David G. Bromley
Caitlin St. Clair


Our Lady of Bayside


1923 (July 12):  Veronica Lueken was born.

1968 (June 5):  Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert Kennedy. This event was tied to the onset of Lueken’s first mystical experiences.

1970 (June 18):  The Virgin Mary appeared to Lueken for the first time at St. Robert Bellarmine’s Church.

1971-1975:  “The Battle of Bayside” occurred. This period saw escalating tensions between Lueken’s followers and the Bayside Hills Civic Association. Vigils would draw thousands of people. At the height of the controversy, up to 100 police officers were needed during vigils to keep the peace.

1971 (March 31):  Monsignor Emmet McDonald of St. Robert Bellarmine’s Church wrote Bishop Francis J. Mugavero, asking for his help in removing Lueken’s movement.

1973:  A Canadian group called the Pilgrims of Saint Michael began supporting Lueken. They brought busloads of pilgrims from Canada to attend vigils and published Lueken’s messages in their newsletters, Vers Demain and Michael Fighting .

1973 (March 7):  A new comet was sighted by Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek. Baysiders briefly interpreted the comet Kohoutek as the “Ball of Redemption” described in Lueken’s visions.

1973 (June 29):  Under pressure from the Bayside Hills Civic Association and St. Robert Bellarmine’s parish council, Chancellor James P. King formed a commission to investigate Lueken’s visions. The commission read transcripts of Lueken’s messages from heaven and concluded that her visions “lack complete authenticity.”

1973 (November 27):  The diocese removed the statue of Mary from St. Robert Bellarmine’s in an attempt to stop the vigils. Pilgrims responded by bringing their own statue made of fiberglass.

1974 (January 29):  Lueken’s youngest son, Raymond, was shot and killed in a hunting accident while camping with friends in upstate New York near Callicoon. Lueken became reclusive following his death.

1974 (June 15):  Seventeen year-old Daniel Slane engaged a pilgrim in a heated argument. While walking back to his car, he was stabbed twice in the back. Church authorities claimed his assailant was a Pilgrim of Saint Michael who boarded a bus and successfully escaped to Canada.

1975 (May 22):  Lueken and her followers agreed to a settlement to relocate the vigils to Flushing Meadows Park. On May 26, the first vigil was held in Flushing Meadows Park.

1975 (June 14):  The Bayside Hills Civic Association organized a “Day of Jubilation” to celebrate the removal of the pilgrims.

1975 (September 27):  Lueken delivered a message announcing an “imposter pope,” a communist agent whose appearance had been modified using plastic surgery to resemble Paul VI.

1977:  The Pilgrims of Saint Michael withdrew their support. Their official reason for leaving had to do with whether female pilgrims should wear blue berets or white berets. However, their actual motivation appears to have been that Lueken’s celebrity had come to overshadow their movement. Lueken’s movement became incorporated as “Our Lady of the Roses Shrine” and began producing its own newsletter. It continued to grow.

1983 (June 18):  An estimated 15,000 pilgrims from around the world gathered at Flushing Meadows Park for the thirteenth anniversary of the first apparition of Mary at Bayside.

1986:  Bishop Mugavero promulgated a strongly worded declaration, stating that Lueken’s visions are false. It was sent to dioceses throughout the United States and to conferences of bishops around the world.

1995 (August 3):  Veronica Lueken died.

1997 (November):  A schism between Veronica’s widower Arthur Lueken and shrine director Michael Mangan split the Baysider movement. Both factions began scrambling for resources, followers, and access to the vigil site at Flushing Meadows Park.

1997 (December 24):  A judge awarded Arthur Luken the name “Our Lady of the Roses Shrine” as well as all assets and facilities. Mangan’s group founded its own organization called “Saint Michael’s World Apostolate.”

1998:  The New York Parks Department brokered a deal allowing both groups to share access to the park.

2002 (August 28):  Arthur Lueken died. Vivian Hanratty became the new leader of “Our Lady of the Roses Shrine.” Our Lady of the Roses Shrine and Saint Michael’s World Apostolate continued to hold rival vigils in Flushing Meadows Park.


The apparitions at Bayside began with Veronica Lueken, a Roman Catholic housewife from Bayside, New York, who became a
Marian seer. Lueken’s first mystical experiences followed the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy on June 5, 1968. The next day, as Kennedy lay in the hospital, Lueken was praying for his recovery when she felt herself surrounded by an overwhelming fragrance of roses. Although the senator died late that night, the inexplicable smell of roses continued to haunt her. Soon she would wake up to find she had written poetry that she could not remember writing. She had prayed to St. Therese of Lisieux to save senator Kennedy and suspected that Therese was somehow the true author of these poems. She discussed these experiences with the priests at her parish church, St. Robert Bellarmine’s, but she felt they did not take her seriously. Her husband, Arthur, also discouraged any discussion of miracles.

That summer her visions grew darker. In the sky over Bayside, she saw a vision of a black eagle screaming “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth!” She became convinced that these frightening visions signaled an impending disaster. She wrote Cardinal Richard Cushing in Boston and warned him that something terrible was going to happen. She also felt that her growing sense of danger was somehow connected to the Second Vatican Council that had concluded in 1965. Lueken felt that the Church had turned its back on the Catholic traditions she had practiced since she was a girl. In 1969, she wrote a letter to Pope Paul VI and asked him to oppose the reforms the Council.

In April, 1970, the Virgin Mary appeared to Lueken in her apartment. She announced that she would appear at St. Robert
Bellarmine’s church in Bayside “when the roses are in bloom.” On the night of June 18, 1970, Lueken knelt alone in the rain praying the rosary before a statue of the Immaculate Conception outside her church. Here, Mary appeared to Lueken and instructed her that she was a bride of Christ, that she wept for the sins of the world, and that everyone must return to saying the rosary. Lueken announced that a national shrine should be built on the church grounds and that Mary would henceforth appear there on every Catholic feast day. Over the next two years, a small body of followers joined Lueken in her vigils in front of the statue. At each appearance, Lueken would deliver a “message from heaven,” spoken through her by Mary as well as a growing cast of saints and angels. These messages typically included jeremiads about the weight of America’s sins and warnings of a coming chastisement (Lueken 1998: vol. 1).

In 1973, Lueken’s visions attracted the attention of The Pilgrims of Saint Michael, a conservative Catholic movement from Quebec. The Pilgrims were also known as “the White Berets” for the hats they wore. Like Lueken, they were disturbed by the reforms of Vatican II. The White Berets declared Lueken to be “the seer of the age” and printed her messages from heaven in their newsletter. They also began organizing buses that transported hundreds of pilgrims to attend vigils in front of Lueken’s parish church. Lueken’s messages began to hint at global conspiracies, a coming nuclear war, and a celestial body called “The Fiery Ball of Redemption” that would soon strike the Earth, causing planet-wide destruction.

Church authorities had tolerated Lueken’s activities for three years, but her growing movement was creating a crisis. St. Robert Bellarmine’s church was surrounded by private homes on all sides and The Bayside Hills Civic Association (BHCA) was horrified by the crowds of pilgrims that had descended on their quiet neighborhood. The residents objected to the vigils that often lasted until midnight. Pilgrims, they claimed, were trampling their manicured lawns and driving down the property values of their homes. The BHCA put immense pressure on the parish and the Diocese of Brooklyn to bring Lueken and her followers to heel (Caulfield 1974).

When a hurried investigation by the diocese reported that her experiences were not supernatural, Lueken was asked to cease holding her vigils at St. Robert Bellarmine’s. When she refused, diocesan officials began interrupting her vigils with a bullhorn, reading a letter from the bishop and ordering all loyal Catholics not to participate. Lueken and her followers responded that such tactics only proved how far a Satanic conspiracy had spread through the Church since Vatican II. The BHCA began holding counter vigils and heckling pilgrims. The situation became dangerous and growing numbers of police were dispatched to keep the peace. Several residents were arrested for disorderly conduct and assaulting police officers. A few were even hospitalized after violent confrontations with police or pilgrims. These events came to be called “The Battle of Bayside” (Cowley 1975). The situation was finally resolved in 1975 when the Supreme Court of New York issued an injunction barring Lueken from holding her vigils near St. Robert Bellarmine’s (Thomas 1975; Everett 1975). The night before agreeing to the injunction, Lueken received a message from Mary and Jesus to relocate the vigils to Flushing Meadows Corona Park (Lueken 1998 vol. 3, pp. 106-07).

The new vigil site was a monument marking where the Vatican Pavilion had stood during the World’s Fair. Followers had

purchased a fiberglass statue of the Virgin Mary that was brought to the park for vigils. The crowds only continued to grow. The Pilgrims of Saint Michael eventually withdrew their support and returned to Canada. But by this time Lueken’s followers had created their own organized mission. The movement created the corporation “Our Lady of the Roses Shrine,” which managed an international mailing list of thousands. A group called the Order of St. Michael led the movement’s missionary efforts. Members of the Order, which included former members of the Pilgrims of Saint Michael, lived in community and devoted all of their time to the shrine. On June 18, 1983, fifteen thousand pilgrims from around the world gathered in Flushing Meadows Park for the thirteenth anniversary of the apparition at Bayside.

Catholics who believed in Lueken’s messages came to call themselves “Baysiders” after the original location of the apparition. Ironically, the residents of Bayside, New York, also referred to themselves as “Baysiders.” They regarded the pilgrims as an invading and foreign force and were confused that they would claim this title for themselves. During the 1980s, independent Baysider chapters were established across the United States and in Canada. Lueken’s messages were translated into many languages and disseminated to Catholic communities on every continent.

The Baysiders professed to be traditional Catholics loyal to canon law and the Holy See. However, their defiance of the Brooklyn diocese caused many Catholics to regard them as an insubordinate and schismatic movement. Shortly after arriving in Flushing Meadows, Lueken delivered a revelation that resolved this paradox, at least for her followers. Pope Paul VI, who had endorsed the reforms of Vatican II, was an imposter. The true pope was kept heavily sedated by the conspirators, and the man now claiming to be Paul VI was actually a communist doppelganger created with plastic surgery. The Baysiders were not in rebellion against their Church, they were only questioning the orders of conspirators and imposters who had infiltrated the Church hierarchy (Lueken 1998 vol. 3, p. 241).

In 1986, Francis J. Mugavero, bishop of Brooklyn, made an announcement reiterating that Lueken’s visions were false andcontradicted Catholic doctrine (Goldman 1987). Mugavero’s findings were sent to three hundred bishops throughout the United States and one hundred conferences of bishops around the world. Despite this censure from Church authorities, Lueken’s followers still identify as Catholics in good standing and they defend their views citing canon law. They contend that Lueken’s visions never received a proper investigation led by a bishop, and that the diocese’s dismissal of Lueken is therefore not legitimate. If anyone has violated Church law, they argue, it is the modernists whom Lueken condemned for receiving communion in the hand and other ritual transgressions that go against long-established Catholic tradition.

Lueken continued to give regular messages from heaven until her death in 1995. In total, Mary, Jesus, and a variety of other heavenly beings spoke to her over 300 times. These messages were consolidated into a canon known as the Bayside Prophecies. Although the crowds are nowhere near the size they were before Lueken’s death, Baysiders still travel to Flushing Meadows from as far away as India and Malaysia. On the Internet, Lueken’s messages have become part of a larger milieu of conspiracy theories and millennial speculation. Baysiders still await “The Chastisement” described in Lueken’s messages. Many Baysiders believe that when God punishes mankind for its sins, the chastisement will take two forms, World War III (which will include a large-scale nuclear exchange) and a fiery comet that will collide with Earth and devastate the planet.

After Lueken’s death, Our Lady of the Roses Shrine continued to hold vigils, promote the Bayside Prophecies, and coordinate
pilgrimages to Flushing Meadows with followers from around the world. But in 1997, a schism occurred between the shrine’s director, Michael Mangan, and Lueken’s widower, Arthur Lueken. A judge ruled in favor of Arthur Lueken, declaring him president of Our Lady of the Roses Shrine (OLR) and awarding him all of the organization’s assets and facilities. Undaunted, Mangan formed his own group, Saint Michael’s World Apostolate (SMWA). Both groups continued to arrive at the movement’s sacred site in Flushing Meadows where they held rival vigils. Once again, police were sent out to keep the peace (Kilgannon 2003). Today, this conflict has thawed into a detente. Their celebrations of Catholic feast days are sometimes timed such that only one group will be present in the park on a given day. For events where both groups must be present, such as Sunday morning holy hour, they alternate which group will have access to the monument. One group may set its statue of the Virgin Mary on the Vatican Monument, the other must use a nearby traffic island. The rival groups have decided it is in everyone’s interests to appear professional while in the park.


The Bayside Prophecies fill six volumes and contain hundreds of messages. Critics have noted that some of this material seems quite fantastic, containing apparent references to such topics as UFOs, Soviet death rays, and vampires. However, like any religious movement with a sacred text, most Baysiders do not interpret all of the prophecies literally or place equal emphasis on every message. Instead, the prophecies are a resource that Baysiders draw upon to make sense of the world. Many Baysiders interpret current events as an unfolding of predictions described in the Bayside prophecies.

The most important belief for Baysiders is that Veronica Lueken was a special woman and that the monument in Flushing Meadows Park is a holy place where vigils should be held. Baysiders also believe that the reforms of Vatican II was either a grave mistake or a deliberate attempt to undermine the Church, and that America is in a state of moral decline. Additionally, most believe that their freedoms as Americans and Catholics are threatened by a Satanic global conspiracy (Martin 2011). While Lueken stated that a communist agent successfully impersonated Paul VI, this belief is not essential to the Baysider worldview (Laycock 2014).

The Bayside Prophecies also describe an apocalyptic scenario described as “the Chastisement.” Warnings of imminent disasters have been a trope in Marian apparitions since the nineteenth century. Lueken’s visions repeatedly described a fiery celestial object called “The Ball of Redemption” (possibly a comet, although this is not clear), that will collide with the Earth, killing much of the population. Her visions also describe World War III, which will include a full nuclear exchange. Horrifying descriptions of nuclear war have also been common in Marian Apparitions since the start of the Cold War. Unlike Protestant dispensationalism, Baysiders believe that the Chastisement can be postponed through prayer. When prophecies do not come to pass, Baysiders often take credit for earning the world a reprieve from judgment.

Some of Lueken’s messages also allude to a “Rapture” in which the faithful will be taken up to heaven and spared the Chastisement (Lueken 1998 vol. 4:458). Representatives from Saint Michael’s World Apostolate have explained that this idea is not the same as Protestant notions of the Rapture derived from John Nelson Darby. While most Baysiders believe that the Chastisement will eventually happen as prophesied, they do not build bomb shelters or stockpile supplies. Some have even suggested that the Chastisement may not happen in their own lifetimes (Laycock 2014).


The Baysiders continue to hold vigils in Flushing Meadows Park on all Catholic feast days. They also hold a “Sunday Morning HolyHour” every Sunday that is dedicated to prayer for the priesthood. These events are held around a monument built in Flushing Meadows Park as part of the Vatican Pavilion during the 1964 World’s Fair. The monument, known as The Excedra, is a simple curved bench resembling an unrolling scroll. During vigils, the monument is transformed into a shrine. A fiberglass statue of Mary is ensconced on top of the bench and surrounded with by candles, flags representing the United States and the Vatican, and other ritual objects. The grounds are also consecrated with holy water.

During these meetings, pilgrims pray a special version of the rosary that includes the Prayer to Saint Michael and the Fatima Prayer. They also recite Catholic litanies. As they pray, pilgrims are encouraged to kneel but may stand, sit, or pace. Many pilgrims bring their own chairs to the park or soft objects such as carpet samples to use as kneelers.

Vigils culminate in a ritual during which rosaries are held up to be blessed by Mary and Jesus. During this part of the ritual, Jesus and Mary are regarded as being physically present in the park. As such, everyone who is capable of kneeling is encouraged to do so. There is an awed silence as Baysiders hold out their rosaries to be blessed.

After this, everyone is given a candle and a long-stemmed rose. (Roses are donated by Baysiders before each vigil). The pilgrims raise their candle at arm’s length above their head and say, “Mary, light of the world, pray for us.” The candles are lowered until they are even with the face and the group says, “Our Lady of the Roses, pray for us.” Then the candles are lowered again until they are level with the heart and the group says, “Mary, Help of Mothers, pray for us.” This pattern is repeated several times. This ritual has continued since vigils were held at St. Robert Bellarmine’s (Laycock 2014).

After the vigils, the rosaries and roses are regarded as blessed. Blessed rose petals are often pressed and used for healing. Many Baysiders give them to friends who are sick or spiritually troubled. A few Baysiders have even eaten the rose petals following the ritual, which is regarded as a respectful way to dispose of a blessed object.

Typical attendance for a vigil may be only a dozen to three dozen people. However, some vigils, especially the anniversary vigil held every June 18, still attract hundreds of pilgrims, some of whom come from around the world. Priests are often present during larger vigils. These priests usually are traditionalists who have travelled to Flushing Meadows Park from another diocese. They will often set up folding chairs behind The Exedra where they take confession during the vigil.

In addition to vigils, another important aspect of Baysider culture concerns “miraculous photographs.” The formation of Lueken’s movement coincided with the development of Polaroid cameras. Many pilgrims took Polaroids during the vigils and found anomalies in the film. Most of these effects are easily attributable to user error or to ambient light sources like candles or car lights. Some, however, are more spectacular and difficult to explain. These anomalies were regarded as messages from heaven (Wojcik 1996, 2009). While Lueken was alive, people could bring her their “miraculous Polaroids” and she would interpret the streaks and blurs that appeared on the film, finding their symbolic significance (Chute and Simpson 1976). Today, ordinary Baysiders have developed codes to interpret the anomalies. During vigils, pilgrims take many photos and continue to find anomalies. While digital cameras are used, some Pilgrims prefer to use vintage Polaroid cameras like those used during the original vigils. Discovering a “message from heaven” in a photograph can be a source of great personal meaning for some Baysiders.


Since the schism of 1997, the Baysiders have been split between two rival factions who must share access to Flushing Meadows Park. Saint Michael’s World Apostolate is the larger group, which is led by Michael Mangan. Although a court awarded the name “Our Lady of the Roses Shrine” to Veronica Lueken’s widower, Mangan’s group had more support from pilgrims and acquired more infrastructure. When Our Lady of the Roses Shrine was unable to maintain their printing presses, Mangan’s group arranged to buy them. Saint Michael’s World Apostolate is headed by a group of men called the Lay Order of Saint Michael, who live together in a religious community. They are supported by numerous shrine workers who help to raise funds, disseminate the messages, and organize vigils.

The smaller group is run by Vivian Hanratty, who originally supported Lueken’s movement by producing videos for the New York UHF television channel. She became the leader of the group after Arthur Lueken’s death. Her leadership is somewhat surprising as most Baysiders advocate traditional gender roles and strongly oppose women leading religious services. Our Lady of the Roses Shrine believes that one day church authorities will realize they were mistaken about Lueken’s prophecies. At that point, the shrine will be handed over to the church and lay leadership will no longer be necessary (Laycock 2014).


Baysiders are politically active and join other conservative Catholics in such causes as picketing abortion clinics, picketing films that they regard as sacrilegious, and protesting the Affordable Care Act. They also continue to adapt a conspiratorial worldview. Recently, Saint Michael’s World Apostolate has organized a series of talks on the United Nations, which they regard as tool for creating a Satanic one world government.

The Baysiders still hope that one day they will be taken seriously by church authorities. They hope that a more detailed inquiry will be done into Veronica Lueken and her visions, as well as the conversions and miraculous healings that have allegedly occurred in connection to the apparitions at Bayside and in Flushing Meadows Park.


Caulfield, William. 1974. “The Vigils.” Bayside Hills Beacon, September, p. 3.

Chute, Suzann Weekly and Ellen Simpson. 1976. “Pilgrimage to Bayside: ‘Our Lady of the Roses’ Comes to Flushing Meadow.” Paper presented at the American Folklore Society Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA, November 11.

Cowley, Susan Cheever. 1975. “Our Lady of Bayside Hills.” Newsweek, June 2, p. 46.

Cuneo, Michael. 1997. The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Everett, Arthur. 1975. “Religious Street Vigils in N.Y. Ended.” St. Petersburg Times, May 24, p. 4-A.

Garvey, Mark. 2003. Waiting for Mary: America in Search of a Miracle. Cincinnati, OH: Emis Books.

Goldman, Ari L. 1987. “Bishop Rejects Apparition Claims.” New York Times, February 15. Accessed from http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/15/nyregion/religion-notes-for-cardinal-wiesel-visit-proved-a-calm-in-storm-over-trip.html on 11 April 2014.

Laycock, Joseph. 2014. The Seer of Bayside: Veronica Lueken and the Struggle for Catholicism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kilgannon, Corey. 2003. “Visions of Doom Endure in Queens; Prophecy, and a Rift, at a Shrine.” New York Times , October 9. Accessed from http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/09/nyregion/visions-of-doom-endure-in-queens-prophecy-and-a-rift-at-a-shrine.html on 11 April 2014.

Lueken, Veronica. 1998. Virgin Mary’s Bayside Prophecies: A Gift of Love, Volumes 1-6. Lowell, MI: These Last Days Ministries.

Martin, Daniel. 2011. Vatican II: A Historic Turning Point. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

Price, Jo-Anne. 1973. “Church Removes Statue in Dispute Over Visions.” The New York Times, December 2, p. 158.

Thomas, Robert McG Jr. 1975. “Woman Agrees to Change Site of Virgin Mary Vigils.” The New York Times, May 23, p. 41.

Wojcik, Daniel. 1996. The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America. New York: New York University Press.

Wojcik, Daniel. 1996. “Polaroids from Heaven: Photography, Folk Religion, and the Miraculous Image Tradition at a Marian Apparition Site.” Journal of American Folklore , 109:129-48.

Wojcik, Daniel. 2000. “Bayside (Our Lady of the Roses).” Pp. 85-93 in Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements , edited by Richard A. Landes. New York: Routledge.

Wojcik, Daniel. 2009. “Spirits, Apparitions, and Traditions of Supernatural Photography.” Visual Resources: An International Journal of Documentation 25:109-36.

Joseph Laycock

Post Date:
4 April 2014




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





1953 (September 27) Ammachi was born Sudhamani Idamannel in Kerala, India.

1975 Ammachi experienced an identification with Sri Krishna ( Krishnabhava) and with Devi (Devi bhava).

1981 An ashram, Amritapuri, was established in India.

1987 Ammachi visited the U.S. and became very popular with Western religious seekers.

1989 An ashram was established in San Ramon, California.

1993 Ammachi delivered a speech at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.

2002 Ammachi received the Gandhi-King Award for Non-Violence.


Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, also known as Amma or Ammachi, was born Sudhamani (“Pure Jewel”) Idamannel on September 27, 1953, as the fourth child to a poor fishing family in Kerala, India. Sudhamani suspended her formal education during the fourth grade at the age of nine to raise her younger siblings and assist with domestic tasks in her family’s household after her mother became ill. She never married. Beyond these few basic facts, information on Sudhamani’s early life is almost exclusively drawn from hagiographic accounts, with Amritaswarupanada (1994) being the primary source.

In the hagiographic accounts, Sudhamani is depicted as spiritual from birth, having chosen a self-sacrificial way of life, and
possessing extraordinary powers. According to these accounts, the signs of Sudhamani’s future spirituality began prior to her birth. During pregnancy her mother “began having strange visions. Sometimes she had wonderful dreams of Lord Krishna. At others she beheld the divine play of Lord Shiva and Devi, the Divine Mother” (Amritaswarupanada 1994:13). When Sudhamani was born she had a dark blue complexion and would lay in the lotus position of hatha yoga (chinmudra). By the time that she was six months old “she began speaking in her native tongue, and at the age of two began singing devotional songs to Sri Krishna…[E]even at an early age Sudhamani exhibited certain mystical and suprahuman traits, including compassion for the destitute. In her late teens, she developed an intense devotion to and longing for Krishna…sometimes she danced in spiritual ecstasy, and at other times she wept bitterly at the separation from her beloved Krishna” (Raj 2004:206). Sudhanami reportedly was so absorbed with Lord Krishna that “If she suddenly realized she had taken several steps without remembering Krishna, she would run back and walk those steps again, repeating the Lord’s name” (Johnsen 1994:95).

Sudhamani’s childhood is described as very difficult. According to Johnsen (1994:95) she was “the victim of years of physical and psychological abuse.” Her duties in taking care of her mother reduced her to a virtual “house slave” who was “beaten and treated as a servant” (Associated Press 2009). Sudhamani demonstrated great compassion for the suffering and poverty that she encountered in her hometown, and she began comforting and hugging the impoverished and ill, even those deemed untouchable by society. As a result, she was regarded by her family as mentally ill, and her brother is said to have attacked her with a knife for the embarrassment she was causing the family. Sudhamani’s parents attempted to arrange a marriage for her, but Sudhamani had decided not to marry and vigorously rejected their initiative (Raj 2004:206). As a result of these various difficulties, Sudhamani ran away from home on occasion and even considered drowning herself.

The transformational moments during which Sudhamani moved toward her spiritual identity as Ammachi began in September, 1975. As she was returning home after tending cattle, she reported having had a “spiritual rapture” and became aware of her identification and oneness with Krishna (Raj 2004:206). For the next two years Ammachi was said to be in the mood of Krishna ( Krishnabhava). Just six months after her initial rapture she had a second rapture in which she experienced oneness with Devi, the divine mother (Devi bhava). It is this latter identity as the Divine Mother that she has continued to express. By the late 1970s Ammachi was gathering a coterie of disciples. In 1978, a young man named Balu became one of Ammachi’s first disciples, followed in 1979 by two Westerners, an American, now Swami Amritswarupananda, and an Australian, now Armritswarupananda. The movement created its first formal ashram, Amritapuri, in 1981. Ammachi first visited the U.S. in 1987; she was enthusiastically received and gathered a devoted following of religious seekers who consider her a personal guru. Every year Ammachi makes an annual tour to nations around the world. There are now santangs in over thirty countries.


Ammachi’s followers consider her both a manifestation of the Divine Mother goddess and a guru. According to Kremer (2009:5), “Devotees look to Ammachi, not to scriptures, ideas, philosophy, or traditional theology. Ammachi is their foundation, their ideal to strive for, their lens to view other religious ideas and texts through, and their example for moral action. Ammachi is the ultimate authority, and as a living symbol and mother goddess incarnated, she is the base for divine knowledge.” Despite her lack of formal training, Ammachi is believed by her followers to be a true spiritual master (satguru).

Ammachi’s primary teaching to her followers is to seek liberation by serving God and surrendering ego and desire. It is devotion to God that leads to a loss of ego. Devotees seek this goal through meditation, recitation, and community service. As an incarnation of the Divine on earth ( avatar), Ammachi is believed to have completely eliminated her ego, a separate sense of selfhood (Edelstein 2000). As Ammachi has put it: “Reasoning is necessary, but we should not let it swallow the faith in us. We should not allow the intellect to eat up our heart. Too much knowledge means nothing but a big ego. The ego is a burden, and a big ego is a big burden” (Johnsen 1994:99). She teaches that “The love of awakened motherhood is a love and compassion felt not only towards one’s own children, but towards all people … to all of nature,” she says. “This motherhood is Divine Love – and that is God” (Lampman 2006). The ideal of “universal awakened motherhood” is one of Ammachi’s central tenets. She exalts motherhood, love and compassion, and exhorts her followers to be true mothers, regardless of their gender, by exhibiting these maternal qualities to all of creation.

Gender equality plays a major role in Ammachi’s doctrines. She seeks to empower women through her spiritual practices and teachings. In her scripture Awaken, Children!, Ammachi proclaims that “spiritual realization is easier for a woman to attain than for a man, provided she has the proper discrimination and determination” and that “women are the repositories of infinite power. In spiritual matters they can surpass what many men attempt to do; therefore, do not think that women are lower than men” (Kremer 2009:10). Ammachi “teaches men to see their wives as the Divine Mother and women to see their husbands as the Lord of the World, and also to serve their families, the community, and the world. Humility and service are her constant themes” (Johnsen 1994:101).


Ammachi’s central ritual is the Devi bhava darshan, which allows a devotee to experience a mystical connection with a deity by seeing and being seen by the deity. Ammachi’s darshan features hugging, which is atypical since physical contact is generally eschewed by Hindu gurus. This has led to Ammachi’s sobriquet, “the hugging saint.” Ammachi reportedly developed and then ritualized this practice in the course of soothing those who came to her for advice and consolation.

Ammachi’s Devi bhava is elaborate and highly ritualized. She is seated on a floor mat, often decorated with flowers, and attendedby a female disciple who performs the ritual foot worship (pada puja) by sprinkling water on Ammachi’s feet, then placing sandal paste and flowers on them. Two monks recite from the Sanskritic slokas, followed by the ceremonial waving of a lamp. Another devotee decorates Ammachi with a garland. There is a lecture on Ammachi’s message and spirituality. Finally, Ammachi and an Indian band lead the devotional singing (bhajan). After a period of meditation, Ammachi’s devotees are invited to approach her individually for her trademark embrace.

Each devotee receives a hug from Ammachi, as well as words of comfort (Ammachi speaks her native language, Malayalam, and has limited fluency in English). She then presents each follower with a small token piece of chocolate, rose petals and sacred ash. Each hug is treated as “a hug from the mother goddess herself” as Ammachi is understood to be “a vessel for the goddess to communicate through her” and “a passive recipient of a transcendent deity” (Kremer 2009:3). Ammachi has reportedly administered over thirty million hugs in sessions that can last up to twenty hours. Vasudha Narayanan, director of the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions at the University of Florida, described Ammachi’s hugs as “a sermon,” and the “experience so moves some that they give up their lives to follow the guru” (Associated Press 2009). Johnsen points out that “Many teachers emphasize the importance of love, but Ammachi’s words have particularly potent impact on so many who have met her because they see that she walks her talk” (Johnsen 1994:100). Ammachi herself has described the hugs as having great spiritual significance: “Amma’s hugs and kisses should not be considered ordinary. When Amma embraces or kisses someone, it is a process of purification and inner healing. Amma is transmitting a part of Her pure vital energy into Her children. It also allows them to experience unconditional love. When Amma holds someone it can help to awaken the dormant spiritual energy within them, which will eventually take them to the ultimate goal of Self-realization” (Raj 2005:136-7). One of Ammachi’s devotees communicates the power of this encounter as follows: “Ammachi gives all the time, twenty four hours a day…She lavishes her love freely on everyone who comes to her. She may be firm with them, but she always radiates unconditional love. That’s why people are so shaken after they meet her. She’s a living example of what she teaches, of what all the scriptures teach” (Johnsen 1994:100).

During the early years Ammachi would give hugs to as many as one thousand visitors each day, with double that number receiving hugs on Devi Bhava nights. In India the hugs sometime lasted for ten minutes. As the ritual has become institutionalized and the size of audiences has increased dramatically, each individual has received less personal time with Ammachi, now only a few seconds to a few minutes. Devotees receive a personal initiation and mantra from Ammachi. Consistent with “one Truth” message, Ammachi’s devotees are allowed to select a Hindu, Devi, Christian, Buddhist mantra, or even one in which the deity is not specified.


Amachi has never been initiated as a guru but is treated as a perfect spiritual master (sat guru) by her devotees, one who is capable of achieving god realization. Her devotees credit her with extraordinary powers. Reportedly she eats very little and often sleeps only a few hours a night. Her spokesman, Rob Sidon, remarks that ”We can’t keep up with her. I have to go to bed. She keeps going. You wake up and she’s still at it. After 15 hours she’s radiant” (Reuters 2001). Her powers are said to include levitation, clairvoyance, being in two locations simultaneously (bilocation), healing of both physical and emotional disorders; creating children for childless couples and absorbing or inhaling devotees’ negative karma” (Raj 2004:207). Some of Ammachi’s most famous miracles include turning water to milk, healing a leper, and permitting “a poisonous cobra to flick its tongue against her own” (Associated Press 2009). Ammachi’s first Western disciple, Neal Rosner, related the story of Ammachi healing a leper by “lick[ing] the pus out of his sores’” until the leprosy disappeared except for one sore (Johnsen 1994:106). Ammachi herself refers to such power: “If you were to really see Amma as She is, it would overwhelm you – you couldn’t possible bear it. Because of this, Amma always covers herself with a thick layer of Maya (illusion)” (Raj 2005:127). In addition to spiritual leadership, Ammachi oversees the movement’s extensive charitable activities.

In the late 1970s Ammachi and her small group of devotees established her first ashram, a simple thatched hut near her home. Two years later Amritapuri, her first formal ashram, was constructed. The ashram has continued to grow and now includes a temple a large dormitory. There are several hundred permanent residents and several hundred more visitors along with a small coterie of initiated, renunciate sannyasis and sannyasinis. The permanent residents at Ammachi’s ashrams, brahmacharins, follow a strict program of discipline (tapas), which “stipulates eight hours of meditation daily in addition to constant social service activities.

Ammachi first visited the U.S. in 1987, and an ashram that became her headquarters in the U.S. was established in San Ramon, California in 1989 on land donated by a devotee. This ashram houses a group of celibate devotees who practice meditation, recitation, and community service. Local chapters have been established in a number of large cities around the U.S. that are administered primarily by volunteers. American devotees are predominantly Caucasian and female, and women occupy the majority of local leadership positions. According to Raj (2005:130), “Western disciples seem more attracted to the asceticism of Ammachi’s spirituality….Indians seem more drawn to the devotional tradition Ammachi embodies.” The highest levels of movement leadership continue to be held by male renunciant devotees. Converts from Siddha Yoga and Transcendental Meditation are commonplace (Raj 2004:210).

Ammachi also operates a number of charitable organizations, including “four hospitals, 33 schools, 12 temples, 25,000 houses for the poor, an orphanage, pensions for 50,000 destitute women, a home for senior citizens, a battered women’s shelter and various technical education projects” (Reuters 2001). The Mata Amritanandamayi (M.A.) Center in the U.S. donated one million dollars to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. And Ammachi committed $23 million for rebuilding after the South Asian tsunami (Lampman 2006). Visitors are not charged for darshan or for receiving mantras; instead the movement supports its charitable activity through donations and sale of a variety of souvenir items.


Ammachi has generated only a modest amount of controversy (Falk 2009). Predictably, there have been Christian critiques of her teachings (Jones 2009). Other critics have taken issue with her directives to separate couples as part of their spiritual practice (sadhana) in order to “put pressure on their egos,” to maintain celibacy, and to engage in long periods of meditation with limited hours of sleep (Edelstein 2000). They dismiss Ammachi’s following as a personality cult and “they question the finances of her organization or even claim it is linked to radical groups” (Associated Press 2009). The legitimacy of Ammachi’s miracles also has been challenged, particularly in India where the tensions between traditionalist Hindus and secular rationalists remain high (Pattahanam 1985). Her followers claim that opponents have made several attempts on her life (Kremer 2009:7).

Some members of the traditional Hindu community resist Ammachi’s egalitarian teachings and practices as they violate traditional Hindu purity/pollution and gender norms. She allows menstruating women, who are considered impure, to participate in her darshan. She has elevated the status of women by allowing them to be priests within her movement. Ammachi also rarely holds gatherings in Hindu temples, preferring secular venues that are accessible to and comfortable for Western devotees. At the same time she requires modest dress for women and uses women as models of selfless service. It is the combination of her empowerment of women together with her commitment to the Hindu tradition and a divine mother model for women that is the source of her enormous appeal to women caught between traditional and modern worlds.

These various criticisms of Ammachi have been far outweighed by the adulation she continues to receive from disciples, the honors that she has received, the support of influentials around the world, and the popularity she enjoys on her annual world tours. She was invited to speak at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1993. She was invited to speak at the UN’s 50th anniversary in 1995 and at the Millennium World Peace Summit in 2000. In 2002, Ammachi won the Gandhi-King Award for her promotion of nonviolence. In the same year she delivered the keynote address at The Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders. In 2006, Ammachi received an interfaith award that previously had been given to only the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu. She has been compared to Mother Teresa and heralded a mystic and a saint, and she is now “one of the most recognizable and popular Hindu female gurus in India” (Kremer 2009:8).


Amritaswarupananda, Swami. 1994. Ammachi: A Biography of Mata Amritanandamayi. San Ramon, CA: Mata Amritanandamayi Center.

Associated Press, 2009. “Millions Flock to India’s Hugging Guru.” AP. 8 March 2009. Accessed from http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/3/8/apworld/20090308082927&sec=apworld on February 5, 2012.

Edelstein, Amy. 2000. “Ammachi the ‘Mother of Immortal Bliss’.” EnlightenNext Magazine (Spring-Summer). Accessed at http://www.throughyourbody.com/fantastic-interview-with-mata-amritanandamayi-the-mother-of-immortal-bliss/ on 13 February 2012.

Falk, Geoffrey. 2009. Stripping the Gurus. Toronto: Million Monkeys Press.

Johnsen, Linda. 1994. “Ammachi: In the Lap of the Mother.” In Daughters of the Goddess: The Women Saints of India., 95-110. St. Paul, MN: Yes International Publishers.

Jones, Jovan. 2009. Chasing the Avatar. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image.

Kremer, Michael. 2009. Is The Guru a Feminist? Charismatic Female Leaders and Gender Roles in India. M.A. Thesis. Columbia: University of Missouri.

Lampman, Jane. 2006. “Hugging Saint is Compassion in Action.” Christian Science Monitor, July 27. Accessed from http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0727/p14s01-lire.html on 10 February 2012.

Pattahanam, Sreeni. 1985. Matha Amritanandamayi: Sacred Stories and Realities . Kollam, Kerala, India: Mass Publicationas.

Raj, Selva J. 2005. “Passage to America: Ammachi on American Soil.” In Gurus in America, edited by Thomas Forsthoefel and Cynthia Ann Humes, 123-46. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Raj, Selva J. 2004. “Ammachi, the Mother of Compassion.” In The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States, edited by Karen Pechilis, 203-17. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tippit, Sarah. 2001. “Indian Guru Seeks to Love the World Personally.” Reuters. 27 June 2001. Accessed from http://wwrn.org/articles/13398/?&place=united-states&section=hinduism on 5 February 2012.

David G. Bromley
Stephanie Edelman

Post Date:
15 March 2012




Santa Muerte

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R. Andrew Chesnut, “Santa Muerte: The Skeleton Saint’s Deadly American Debut”
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R. Andrew Chesnut, “Death to Santa Muerte: The Vatican vs. the Skeleton Saint”
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