By Michael H. Brown

Last Saturday I was at St. Benedict Abbey in Still River, Massachusetts, when something occurred that I'll never forget. I was introduced to a little old nun who was at the front of the crowd.

Old is an understatement. She was born in 1899. She has now lived in part of three centuries. On February 11 (feast day of Lourdes), Sister Mary Zita Butler will be 103 years old. 

As you'll see in a moment -- and in coming days -- Sister Zita's trip to Still River was a mission. It was one of many she has undertaken since she first entered the novitiate in 1922. She is a Marist Missionary sister and has been a nun for nearly 80 years. She is currently in Waltham but spent many years in places like Fiji working in leper colonies. 

She exudes holiness. There is a brightness around her. It was like she had stepped from a reality entirely different than ours. Her eyes are sunken and she is thin but with amazing endurance. Despite her incredible age Sister Zita got to the retreat before 8 a.m. and didn't leave until that evening well after seven. Born in County Galway, Ireland, Sister Zita was born into a family that owned a farm and had a store. Sister Zita was only three when her mother dedicated her to the Virgin Mary. She still remembers the very onset of the age of automobiles. "They said one day you'll see a car instead of a horse, and a few years later when we saw the first one we got scared and ran into the bogs."

She lost a brother in World War One. She was 18 when the apparitions at Fatima occurred.  And she has a lot to say about current times; she believes they're even more treacherous than those that led up to the Second World War. "By prayer and prayer only" we will avert a major calamity, says Sister Zita in an unflinching voice. "They threw Jesus out of the school, and now we're reaping the results. The greatest problem is lack of respect and reverence for the Name of God. That's one. It's terrible, the way they use the Name Christ. Second we have to make reparation for blasphemies and a lack of respect and reverence for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament." 

Every night in her last prayer Sister Zita unites herself "with all the Masses, priests, and lay people who attend Mass all the night for reparation of the blasphemies against the Name of God. We must unite with all the angels who surround the tabernacles of the world."

Once in a while, says Sister Zita, she asks the Blessed Mother, "When am I coming home?" She says the Blessed Mother responds, "Child, you must wait." The missions come one after another. In the 1980s she formed a group to support the Marian Movement of Priests at Waltham and now she is interested in the cause of Our Lady of America -- the apparitions to another nun, Sister Mildred Mary Neuzil, in Ohio [see previous stories]. She is especially interested because, as it turns out, she carried forth a pen-pal relationship with the seer in that same period of the 1980s, and had come to give me the extraordinary notes.

This is what had brought her to Still River. She had those personal letters with her. She wants to see the apparition advanced. She has "no doubt" that it was authentic. She believes it's important right now for the U.S. Urgent. We'll be carrying excerpts from these letters.

There at Still River standing of her own strength was this woman who had been around before Einstein's theory of relativity, before the Zeppelin, before invention of the television -- coming to make a statement that should resound in the office of every bishop in this land. 

"Thank you especially, dear Sister, for your endeavors to promote Our Mother's cause," Sister Neuzil wrote Sister Zita on June 29, 1981. "She is distressed because most of her children are not taking her warnings seriously enough. We live in a wonderful age, but also an age of great peril and danger. Prayer and penance are needed now more than ever."

That letter was a week after the Virgin began to appear at Medjugorje in former Yugoslavia with similar warnings.

In 1983, the seer lamented "chaos" in the Church and a great lack of spiritual wisdom. Mysticism in its richest form had all but disappeared. "God has given us so many signs of His love," wrote the American seer. "Our Lady has told us so many times what we must do and yet we continue in some kind of strange blindness."

In April 1982, Sister Neuzil had written Sister Zita on the quickening events. 

 "I agree with you that time just goes too fast to be able to keep up with everything. Whatever I send you that the good God has graciously given to me you certainly may share with anyone you wish, after all they are all His, not mine.

"The enclosed is the last official message. What she tells me now is for my correction and growth. Yes, victory is in sight, and concerning pilgrimages to the shrine in Washington, D.C., it must be specifically to honor her, as 'Our Lady of America,' the Immaculate One."

This was a crucial request in the apparitions, which had the strong support Cincinnati Archbishop Paul F. Leibold (who not only edited Sister Neuzil's message book and lent his imprimatur but had a medal struck of the apparition and displayed a plaque of Our Lady of America in the chancery [see this story].

The enclosed message went on to lament the state of the Church and warn that the faithful were being led on a path that would bring "misery and wretchedness." There were prayers. There were other insights. In due course, we'll explore them. But for now the important point is that the Virgin -- Our Lady of America -- through Sister Neuzil, had warned that if America didn't protect its youth, return to purity, and lead the world in a spiritually good direction, it would suffer "punishments hitherto unknown" to it (the scourge of fire) -- as would the Church.

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