Spirit Daily

 American Apparition Already Past First Stage Of Church Approval

By Michael H. Brown

Father Johann G. Roten, one of the world's foremost experts on Marian apparitions, told Spirit Daily Monday that revelations to a nun in Fostoria, Ohio, reached what he described as the "first stage" of Church approval.

This was constituted, he said, when the archbishop, Paul F. Leibold of Cincinnati, had a medal struck and a plaque commemorating the apparitions constructed.

There are two degrees of official recognition, said Father Roten. The second degree would be an explicit declaration -- something that did not occur with the Fostoria apparitions. It is the first time, however, that an American apparition has passed the first stage, according to the expert.

"There is the first degree in which the spiritual happening is recognized, the expression of faith," said Father Roten, who works at the Marian Library in Dayton Ohio -- the world's largest such library. "Then there is the second stage, recognition of the phenomena itself. A plaque would not qualify as that type of recognition but could qualify with the conditions of the first degree, and a medal too. It is a very tangible sign that the bishop is not against the apparition."

Throughout history approval of a vision, apparition, or miracle has been seen as indicated if the bishop with direct jurisdiction over the vicinity sanctions a painting or other rendering of the event; builds a chapel, church, or basilica at the spot of the occurrence; or issues a formal proclamation -- a set of actions that has cast the Ohio apparitions in a new light with word that Archbishop Leibold had authorized both a medal and a relief to commemorate apparitions to Sister Midred Mary Ephrem Neuzil. It the first known time that an American apparition with messages has been thus sanctioned by the official Church.

While the ultimate approval -- construction of a church, issuance of a formal proclamation, and a visit by the Pope -- has not occurred, the Ohio revelations are already at the level of hundreds of such historic instances in Europe.

The tradition dates back to the Virgin's first appearance to James the Apostle around A.D. 40 at Saragossa, Spain and has also been in evidence at ancient sites in both Le Puy, France, where Mary appeared in A.D. 47, and Ein Karim in Palestine, where miracles were associated during the first century with a drinking well rumored to have been used by Mary on her way to visit Elizabeth.

While in recent times the highest level of approval has been seen in the way of a Church declaration, for most of history approval has been indicated by the simple concurrence of the bishop that a miracle had occurred -- something that Archbishop Paul F. Leibold, as prelate of Cincinnati at the time of the Ohio apparitions, had clearly indicated. Indeed, he had served as the spiritual director to the seer, Sister Mildred Mary Ephrem Neuzil, for 32 years and according to his secretary believed totally in the revelation and depending on what procedure he believed was appropriate may well have added an official statement on authenticity in addition to an imprimatur that he granted on January 23, 1963, to Sister Mildred's messages.

Those messages were also given a nihil obstat by Daniel Pilarczyk -- then a priest but now current archbishop of Cincinnati.

A nihil obstat indicates that there are "no problems" or in a more technical interpretation of the Latin "nothing to hinder" release of a Catholic writing. It is an attestation by a Church censor that a book contains nothing damaging to faith or morals.

The matter of Sister Neuzil is now considered by some close to the cause of fulfilling final requests in the messages as in the hands of a national theologian they seek to have named or a group of bishops who they hope will have a statue based on the apparition placed at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. In the approved messages the Virgin had asked Sister Mildred to have the medal struck and while Archbishop Leibold had accomplished that, he had succumbed to an aneurism before he was able to complete a statue. He died with a letter from Sister Mildred in his hands.

After the archbishop's death a terrible dispute arose between two factions of sisters, and a small group that included Sister Mildred broke off from the mother house -- the Order of the Precious Blood, leading to years of turmoil that could well muddy the waters of a further approval. Accusing the order of turning too liberal and taking away the contemplative life, the smaller group moved to Fostoria and remade vows to a chaplain but the new order was not formally recognized by the diocese in Toledo, where Fostoria is located.

While that has cast a shadow on revelations that occurred after the archbishop's death in 1972, the main issue remains the requests that had Archbishop Leibold's official endorsement -- to dedicate a statue to the Virgin Mary's purity and install it in Washington.

The issuance by the archbishop of a medal is similar to what occurred in France during the "Miraculous Medal" apparitions in 1830 to St. Catherine Laboure, who began experiencing mystical events at 22 -- the precise age at which Sister Mildred had her first experiences. It was one of several startling parallels between the French and American apparitions. As in the Ohio case, where St. Joseph appeared, the Miraculous Medal involved Joseph when the Virgin appeared in a chapel on Rue du Bac in Paris near a picture of St. Joseph, and her dress was radiant white as in the alleged American apparition. In both cases a globe was at the bottom of the Virgin's feet and at one point, as in the case of St. Catherine Labore, the Virgin also held a globe -- though in Sister Mildred's case the Virgin cried as she did so and the tears fell on the globe, according to a vision on September 27, 1956.

Where in the Miraculous Medal case there was the inscription, "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee," in the approved part of the Fostoria revelations the Virgin taught Sister Mildred the little prayer, "By thy Holy and Immaculate Conception, O Mary, deliver us from evil."

And where the Miraculous Medal shows a heart pierced by a sword, so does the Fostoria case include a vision of a heart pierced by a sword. Where in the case of Fostoria Archbishop Leibold had a medal struck, with the Miraculous Medal it was Archbishop de Quelen of Paris.

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