Something About Mary

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
A Special Media Moment

Who wouldn't raise an eyebrow over an organization featuring victim newsgroups like alt.food.waffle-house, and whose members' home pages feature passages such as "We see the bride-to-be tonight wearing a wide-brim sombrero and sunglasses, a shredded shirt with the words on it WHO FARTED?, and a pair of Dingo cowboy boots."
Five years ago today in Suck.


Spend a little time looking into the story of Bayside, New York, and Michael Six's concerns about satanically-inspired Mary apparitions begin to make sense. Where the Fatima messages have a soothing pastoral setting and some of the oracular poetry of Nostradamus (a name, we needn't point out, that means "Our Lady"), the Madonna who appeared in Bayside, under the title Our Lady of the Roses: Mary, Help of Mothers, is all urban paranoia, literal-minded menace and right-wing American fury. Her messages are uniformly grim, the extensive documentary record of her appearances is filled with unconvincing but frightening gimmicks, and the overpowering sensation you get is of unholy dread and pity for poor Veronica Lueken, the Bayside housewife who had to endure the Blessed Mother's harangues over a 25-year period, from 1970 until Lueken's death in 1995.

Not that this sense is shared by the surviving Baysiders, for whom the Roses apparitions were events of great truth and beauty. "When Our Lady would appear, you'd see all these lights come down from Heaven," says Ann Ferguson, who served as Veronica Lueken's secretary and witnessed several miracles and one appearance of the Madonna, though she never received any messages. "When Jesus would appear, the sky would turn the most beautiful shade of pink, and there'd be these luminous birds — they formed a big J over Our Lady's statue. Veronica saw many things we didn't: She could tell you what Mary was wearing, what Jesus and the saints were wearing."

If Our Lady bestowed any blessings on Veronica, they must be coming in the next world; her life as a Marian seer was one of seemingly unbroken hardship. The Diocese of Brooklyn quickly dismissed her claim of a miraculous intervention, condemned her cult, and continues to discourage her followers. Her husband feared for her sanity. Her sixteen-year-old son Raymond was shot to death in a "mysterious accident" in 1974. (In partial consolation, Raymond's spirit began visiting his mother during her Marian ecstasies); one of her grandchildren died a few years later. She was wracked by pain from a disintegrated vertebrae. Unruly Queens teenagers pelted Veronica's followers with apples and rocks, and her neighbors succeeded in getting a court order forbidding gatherings at the original site of the miracles. (Fortunately, Mary advised Veronica in a dream to comply with the order, and the visitations continued in Flushing Meadows Park).

As if in revenge for the church's dismissal of her miracle, Veronica began spilling ever more damaging secrets — of satan-worshiping priests, of secret pacts between the Cardinals and the Illuminati, and in 1975 the news that an Impostor Pope was sitting on the Throne of Peter while Paul VI remained locked in a Vatican dungeon. (This last claim was backed up by photographic evidence showing that the fake pope's ears were the wrong size.)

In his book The Cult of the Virgin Mary, University of Western Ontario professor Michael P. Carroll makes a compelling case that the Bayside apparitions were modeled on Mary Ann Van Hoof's Necedah apparitions, in particular borrowing Van Hoof's obsession with Soviet submarines. But as Veronica's visions grew steadily less disciplined and more outlandish — accommodating messages from various saints, Jesus Christ and the Pope — they became a kind of map of the moral hysteria of the last quarter of the twentieth century. Along with a methodical rebuke to every Catholic reform measure of the time — the English-language mass, altar girls, communion in the hand, etc. — Our Lady of Bayside serves up a rightist's banquet of domestic terrors: missing children, the coming race war, the divine scourge of AIDS, Arab plots to undermine Israel and the United States ("dark-skinned" and "hook-nosed" agents of Old Scratch figure heavily in Bayside demonology). After the Oscar-winning actress Susan Hayward refused to acknowledge Our Lady of Bayside as the cause of a remission in her brain tumor, Mary, in a characteristically punitive mood, caused the tumor to recur, this time fatally.

But the gravest threat named at Bayside remains the insidious communist menace. "The plan of...communism is to overthrow the rule in the Eternal City, gain control in politics in a manner to control the world," Our Lady of Bayside announced in 1976. "They seek to overthrow Rome, these agents of hell and atheism, My child; they seek to overthrow Rome and gain control of the power of the House of My Son throughout the world. They will subvert it from within."


The Bayside revelations are broad enough that at some point they take on a life of their own, and probably would have survived even without the continued support of Mary. They link up with the wider body of conspiracy literature that flowed throughout those years. By the time Veronica died, her message was playing on the X-Files (or more probably that show's counterhistorical imitator Dark Skies), and in literature like Fatima and the Great Conspiracy by Mrs. Deirdre Manifold, a "Galway housewife" who among other things fingers David Rockefeller in the downfall of Nikita Krushchev and traces the decline of the West back to the Protestant Reformation.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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