A few years ago while recovering from the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and subsequently learning of the life and works of Sister Marie De Mandat-Grancey, I became convinced that Sister Marie is a woman for our time. My husband Anthony and I have lived all our lives in the New York City area on Long Island where we met, married in 1981, and have raised six children. On September 11, Anthony, who has commuted to work in New York City for twenty-five years, stood on the street at the foot of the World Trade Center viewing with unspeakable horror as two planes attacked our city; our nation. He had recently left his employment at One World Trade Center in a career move. Tragically, in a matter of minutes, among the thousands who perished, many of Anthony's previous co-workers and friends were brutally taken from this world. He returned to work a few months later to be haunted daily by the view from his new office window; a dark and desolate hole.
At this same time, my friend Erin introduced me to a nun from the 1800's who had captured her interest while she had visited Ephesus, Turkey; Sister Marie, the hidden nun who is Foundress of Mary's House in Ephesus. This house is the once hidden holy place where Mary, Mother of Jesus, not only spent Her final years on this earth but was assumed into Heaven. My friend had been diligently working for the cause of Sister Marie's beatification. As we parted, she pressed Sister Marie's prayer card into my hand.
Sister Marie, the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Charity, is responsible for acquiring and thereby protecting for all time the House of the Mother of God at Ephesus, Meryem Ana Evi, where Our Lady lived with St. John until Her Dormition and Assumption. Now in this new millennium she, like her beloved Mary's house, is no longer hidden. But why?
Later that year, my friend and I met to discuss Sister Marie, and a connection formed in my mind between the recent tragedy of September 11, 2001 and Sister Marie. The few pieces of Sister Marie's story with which I had become familiar and the role of Mary's House as a gathering place for Muslims and Christians added up in my mind to a beautiful possibility. I recall saying to Erin that day, "This isn't only about recognizing a woman's holiness; this is about world peace!"
Later that evening, the date being 1/19, thinking about our discussion, it occurred to me that our meeting date of 1/19 was the exact reverse number of 9/11, the date of tragedy. Could the hatred of 9/11 be reversed with forgiveness and prayer through the intercession of Sister Marie, just like those numbers?
The "Why Now?" question was answered. The world was ripe for healing in these times after 9/11, and the need for peace between Muslims and Christians was all too obvious. But to unwrap the answer to the "Why Sister Marie?" question would require some more study and prayer. What was clear, however, was that Sister Marie was the reason my friends and I were in discussion and prayer about the subject at all.
Sister Marie's love for Our Lady and Her house at Ephesus is shared with the Muslims. I was intrigued to learn that Mary's House is a common pilgrimage destination for both faiths where they join in peaceful prayer; a place where Christians and Muslims pray together in their own way to God the Father while honoring Jesus'Mother, Mary. Muslims honor Mary as God's only creature, along with Jesus Christ, to be conceived without the stain of sin, just as we Catholics implore the Mother of God under the title of the Immaculate Conception.
Muslims visit this house to honor Mary, Mother of Jesus each August 15; coincidentally August 15 is the Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. The Assumption of Mary took place in this very house.
Another beautiful dimension to this story is that our Greek and Armenian, Orthodox brothers and sisters also visit this holy house to pray and honor Her whom they call Theotokos, Mother of God. The division between the Eastern left hand of Christian Orthodoxy and the Western right hand of Christian Catholicism is an unnatural continuous rent in the Body of Christ; but in Mary's house, Orthodox and Catholic kneel side by side.
Before She was the Mother of Our Savior, Mary was a devout Jewish maiden who was raised by Her mother and father, St. Anne and St. Joachim, to be a devout Jewish wife and mother. This Mother given to all God's children by Our Lord Jesus Christ from His holy cross calls all God's children home to Her house.
Clearly, Our Lady has established a common ground between different faiths of this world where She gathers them in a little place of peace. Even though some in the world may define different religions as enemies, God Our Father calls us all His children. The House at Ephesus can be thought of as an earthly symbol of Mary's Heart where She accomplishes this fraternity; where She fulfills Her mission as Mother of all.
Sister Marie's essential contribution to assist Our Lady by the acquisition and preservation of this house has been a crucial link in this story heretofore appreciated by very few. Thankfully, one such devotee kept a diary.
The Holy Virgin's House: The True Story of Its Discovery is the journal of Father Eugene Poulin, a Lazarist priest and contemporary of Sister Marie. At the outset of his record, we find Father Poulin a skeptic of what he calls "women visionaries," particularly A.C. Emmerich, the Catholic mystic whose detailed visions would later lead to the re-discovery of Mary's house at Ephesus. Sister Marie, on the other hand, already had a lively faith in Emmerich, convincing Father Poulin to read the mystic's vivid account of sacred history, particularly the passages relating to Our Lady's life in Ephesus while in the care of the Apostle John.
Not only was Father Poulin immediately (and some might say, "miraculously") impressed by Emmerich's compelling and inspired work, he agreed to assist Sister Marie in her search for the holy house, conducting an expedition using A.C. Emmerich's testimony as a "map." Within a few weeks, he had found the house, and Sister Marie was arranging for its purchase with the help of her generous family in France.
Father Poulin writes a most profound testimony to tell the world of Sister Marie's selfless generosity, her valiant persistence and dedication, and his debt of gratitude to her that he entreats us to share with him and all of Christendom. He offers us a compelling reason for our zeal for the cause of Sister Marie and her mission in these times. He writes:
"The Lord, who sees and organizes things, had taken care to put before us a soul in love with beauty and goodness, who was ready to give herself to everything good. A great soul, devoted, ardent, pious, and generous; the noble Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey. She was, as God had chosen her to be, the terrestrial Providence, like Panaghia's Mother! For twelve years she has been charged of this valiant religious enterprise; she has never failed.
"Oh! How happy I am to give her all the respect she merits! Also, could these writings make known to posterity, long after us, to whom France, the Catholic Church are in debt for Panaghia! The Lord gave me this opportunity to say loudly what I had in my heart for a long time, to acquit what I deemed to be a serious debt. It is done. Praise be to God!
"Sister Marie has opened the door of Mary's House so that all God's children might enter. Every time we pray with Sister Marie, our hearts and souls are united and placed inside the Home of Mary by the Foundress of Mary's House. Muslims, Orthodox, and Christians all joined together in the home of a Jewish Mother."
Is it any wonder the cause for beatification of Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey would be begun in New York, a city so recently devastated by murderous aggression cloaked in the guise of "religion?"
Let us thank God for Sister Marie without whom this beacon of peace, Mary's House, might have been forever lost. Just as the Holy House at Ephesus is a place of healing, brotherhood and peace, so will Sister Marie's intercessory prayer and rise to beatification bless our bruised and battered city, country, and indeed the whole world.
Out of that dark and desolate hole springs forth a flower of hope for all of God's children.
© 2007 By Lorraine Fusaro