In the century that has passed since three young children described an unusual visitor as they tended their sheep in Fatima, Portugal, their account has remained one of lasting intrigue.
Millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike flock to Fatima each year, pausing in prayer or reflection at a shrine that honors Our Lady of Fatima, the title Catholics use to refer to Mary as she appeared to Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia on six occasions between May and October in 1917. And, even locally, parishioners at Saints Adalbert and Hedwig pray monthly devotions to Our Lady of Fatima.
As the Diocese of Toledo prepares to recognize the centennial anniversary of these apparitions, which are among just a handful throughout history that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes as authentic, Bishop Daniel Thomas was quick to acknowledge that Our Lady of Fatima is “fascinating for a lot of people.”
The anniversary of the apparitions contributes to a significant weekend within the Diocese of Toledo, which is simultaneously recognizing the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary, another title for Mary that holds particular significance for the diocese. It recognizes Our Lady of the Rosary as its principal patroness and the namesake for its cathedral in the Old West End.
The diocese is welcoming Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia, to commemorate the occasion with a Mass at Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral at 5 p.m. Saturday. It is open to the public, and will be preceded by a rosary at 4:30 p.m.
The cathedral is at 3525 Collingwood Blvd.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to do over the last few years is highlight the feast day of the diocese, because it’s not only the feast of the diocese, it’s the feast of the cathedral itself,” said Bishop Thomas, whose rosary novena, or nine days of prayer leading up to the feast day, have been shared through the diocesan social media accounts this week.
Cardinal Rigali will remain in Toledo on Sunday for a Red Mass, which recognizes the local legal community and continues a longstanding tradition within the Catholic Church. This year’s Red Mass will notably coincide with the inauguration of the St. Thomas More Society, a diocesan organization made up of judges, lawyers and others in the legal field.
Cardinals hold a lofty position within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, serving as the closest advisers to Pope Francis. This means Cardinal Rigali, who is retired and resides in Knoxville, Tenn., will be welcomed as an important guest.
“It’s not often that a cardinal of the Catholic Church comes to a diocese to visit,” Bishop Thomas said.
Our Lady in the Church
Mary will be a central figure on Saturday, as, perhaps, makes sense for the Catholic community. While Catholics do not “worship” Mary, as a common misconception holds, Bishop Thomas said that the mother of Jesus is honored as “first among saints.”
Supernatural appearances of Mary have been widely reported over the years, although, in the vast majority of these cases, they are not authenticated by the church. The University of Dayton-based International Marian Research Institute recorded 386 cases of Marian apparitions in the 20th century alone, with church officials offering "no decision" about the supernatural character of 299 cases and a “negative decision” in 79 cases.
That means that the apparitions at Fatima stand out, in part, because of the legitimacy they hold within the church. The Vatican describes a message that was both timeless, in advocating prayer and fasting, as well as politically significant within the context of World War I. Bishop Thomas suggested the message, and its legitimacy, account for the lasting interest.
“The church has authenticated that, in fact, there was is supernatural experience of Our Lady appearing to these children,” he said.
A procession at the Mass recognizing the anniversary will include three area children, dressed as the visionary shepherd children, as well as a statute from Saints Hedwig and Adalbert.
A Toledo tie
Native Toledoans might recall reports of supernatural apparitions in the 1990s, when Marvel “Sally” Steadman began relaying the often anti-abortion messages she claimed to receive from a Mary she could see and hear. In some cases, these messages were relayed in real-time to crowds who gathered at an Oregon property purchased in line with the supernatural instructions Ms. Steadman claims to have received.
Ms. Steadman’s visions do not appear among the 29 reported apparitions that the International Marian Research Institute has documented in the United States since World War II, and the Diocese of Toledo is not affiliated with Our Lady of Toledo Shrine, which operates as a nonprofit and which this month recognizes the 25th anniversary of Ms. Steadman’s first vision.
Our Lady of Toledo Shrine is “a place of peaceful reconciliation and healing for all those that have been involved in abortion,” said Rick Hicks, its president, who first heard Ms. Steadman speak in 1995. He said individuals have continued to find solace there well after Ms. Steadman relayed her last vision publically in 2004 and died in 2009.
Our Lady of Toledo Shrine will host a prayer service and 25th anniversary open house at the shrine, 655 S. Coy Road, Oregon, between noon and 4 p.m. Oct. 28.
While Mary will be a focal point on Saturday, on Sunday, it’s the legal community who will be recognized with a Red Mass. The tradition counts roots that stretch to the 13th century, when it would open the court term in Europe, and even today is celebrated in Washington, D.C., in advance of the Supreme Court term each October.
The “red” refers to the red garments that the celebrant traditionally wears.
“The Red Mass has been sort of a benchmark each year to remind attorneys why it is we’re doing what we’re doing and to ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we go forth and do our jobs,” said Judge Michael Goulding, a committee member.
This year’s Mass will stand out for the inauguration of the St. Thomas More Society, intended to be a group of Catholics and non-Catholics in the legal community who “ascribe to the ideals of St. Thomas More,” Judge Goulding said, referring to the theologian and chancellor of England who was tasked with upholding faith and law in the midst of the country’s divorce for Catholicism under the reign of King Henry VIII.
While the specific functions of the St. Thomas More Society are still taking shape, its members are expected to handle planning of future Red Masses and, perhaps, gather for fellowship or educational opportunities throughout the year.
The Rev. Monte Hoyles, chancellor for the diocese, described the society as “a means of forming individuals to be better stewards of the gifts that they’ve been given, to put them to the service of society.”
The Red Mass will be held at the cathedral at 10 a.m. The public is invited to attend.
Father Hoyles and Judge Goulding expressed enthusiasm about Cardinal Rigali’s participation, a first in the 11 years that the Red Mass has been hold locally.
“What a great way to kick off the St. Thomas More Society,” the judge said.
Contact Nicki Gorny at 419-724-6133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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