For every authentic apparition of the Mother of God there are a hundred pretended ones. Some of the latter are diabolic, where the devil, “the ape of God,” actually takes on the appearance of the Blessed Virgin in order to deceive by false doctrine or some other aberration. Others are just the delusionary imaginings of those suffering from varying degrees of psychoses. Since there have been so many false apparitions in our own country, especially in the last half of the twentieth century, it would be easy to pass off what was alleged to have happened in the convent of the Precious Blood Sisters at Rome City, Indiana, in the 1950s, as the illusions of a disturbed religious.
That would be easy, were it not for the facts of the case. The sister who was the recipient of these locutions, which later became apparitions, was a well-balanced soul, intelligent, humble, cheerful, and perfectly obedient to her superiors. The messages, which she received from Our Lord, Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. Michael, and St. Gabriel were in total conformity with Catholic doctrine and morals, emphasizing “penance, penance” and spiritual renewal. And – what is also a criterion for the authenticity of Marian apparitions in this day and age – the messages complemented those of Fatima in their prophetic content, chasteness, gravity, maternal solicitude, and conditional hopefulness. The words speak for themselves. There is nothing whatsoever in the messages that is even slightly capricious or unsupportive of other approved Marian apparitions, such as at Medjugorje, for example, where, in mockery of Fatima, the devil shows his hoofs by passing out “secrets” by the dozens to the six “visionaries” and where he spews forth his disdain for the defined doctrine of “No Salvation Outside the Church” by informing them how pleased God is with all the religions of the world. Did you know that Our Lady’s birthday is not that traditionally celebrated by the Catholic Church on September 8? No. It was revealed at Medjugorje that the real date of Mary’s birth was August 5.
Mildred Neutzil was born in 1916 in Brooklyn, New York. When she was only thirteen she joined an active religious community in Ohio, the Sisters of the Precious Blood, taking the name Sister Mary Ephrem. Nine years later, in 1938, she began to have mystical experiences, which, sometime later, she was put under obedience to record in a diary. As a young sister her duties were usually domestic tasks in various houses of the order, and from 1951-1954 she taught kindergarten children at a parish school in Indiana.
During these years, the interior communications, or locutions, went on increasing in frequency and specific detail. Our Lord was pleased to call her His “Little White Dove” and the “Little Secretary of [His] Heart.” “Do you know what I find most lacking in the world today?” she heard Jesus ask, “It is Faith. There are so few souls that believe in Me and My love. . . . Their hearts are cold, for without faith there can be no love.” Just as He did in His mortal life, Jesus speaks of woes and blessings, but in words directed towards parents and children and easily translatable to our time. In 1958, Sister Mary Ephrem received permission to join a newly founded contemplative branch of her order in New Riegel, Ohio. From her cloistered cell here she wrote her diary.
Our Lady of America, Immaculate Virgin
Soon the messages began to reveal a program of Marian devotion. To begin the process of approval Our Lady directed Sister Mary Ephrem to speak to her ordinary, Bishop Paul F. Liebold, later to be made Archbishop of Cincinnati. Long before he was ordained Bishop of Evansville, Indiana, in 1958 and, soon afterwards, Auxiliary Bishop of Cincinnati, Father Liebold, had taken an interest in the visionary, personally hearing her confessions and giving her spiritual direction. This pious and well-respected shepherd was convinced early on that the locutions were truly from heaven. In fact, from his first year as a priest, that is from 1940, until his death in 1972, Bishop Liebold was the seer’s spiritual director.
Our Lady first appeared visibly to Sister Mary Ephrem on September 25, 1956 at her convent in Rome City, Indiana. She appeared as she did at Lourdes. Her message was a promise of “great miracles of the soul” for her children in the United States if they would heed her call to repentance. In particular she expressed her pleasure for the honor the Church in America had given her by dedicating the national shrine in Washington D.C. to her Immaculate Conception.
It was the next day, after Mass, that the Mother of God came to the “White Dove” in the figure of Our Lady of America, all in white, with a high crown of gold, and a lily in her right hand. Her Immaculate Heart was encircled by red roses and flames shot out from it. She was smiling as she said: “I am Our Lady of America, Immaculate Virgin. I desire that my children honor me, especially by the purity of their lives.” This was the central message of the apparitions: that we, in the Unites States, be children of her Most Pure Heart. If her request is obeyed, she would form an army, especially among the American young, who would be called “Torchbearers of the Queen,” carrying her message of faith and purity to all other nations of the world. If her requests were obeyed she promised to grant peace to the United States and use our faithful to spread the peace of Christ throughout the world. If her message is unheeded America will suffer along with the rest of the world in a chastisement that will be horribly severe. Our Lady chose to deliver this message on the feast of the eight North American martyrs, September 26, 1956.
Time is Short, Eternity Forever
The messages that followed contained many warnings of terrible chastisements to come in this world and everlasting suffering in the next for those who refuse her admonitions and the merciful love of her Son. She instructed her messenger to give this warning to her bishop and have him tell all the bishops that they must give a voice to her pleadings. “Hurry, my son, for the time is short but the punishment will be long, and for many, forever. Tell the bishops of the United States . . . to make known the longings of my Immaculate Heart to establish the reign of my divine Son in the hearts of men and thus save them from the scourge of heaven both now and hereafter.”
A Mother’s Sorrow
If one were to try to capture the heart of these messages as they continued to be delivered, primarily on Marian feast days through the 1950s, it was the agony of a Mother who wishes her children to behold her Immaculate Heart pierced by the indifference and ingratitude of Christians who prefer darkness to light. In fact, she specifically refers to our times as “the darkest.” On the eve of the feast of her apparition at Lourdes, February 10, Our Lady spoke these sorrowful words to her messenger: “Beloved daughter, you wonder at the sword and the deep wound it has made in my Heart. It is the sword of grief plunged therein by my children who refuse to let me teach them the true way. There is only one way to the Father, my child, only one way to eternal union. It is the way of the divine humanity. It is through my Son, the Only-Begotten of the Father, that souls attain perfect union with the Divinity, as perfect as human nature is capable of, aided by grace.”
Our Lady also asked that a medal be struck in the form of a shield with these words arched around her image: “By thy Holy and Immaculate Conception, O Mary, deliver us from evil.” On the reverse side of the medal Our Lady requested a coat of arms for the Catholic family, which symbolized the Indwelling of the Trinity in the devout home. Those who wear the medal with great faith and fervent devotion to Mary will receive the grace of “intense purity of heart . . . sinners will receive the grace of repentance and the spiritual strength to live as true children of Mary . . . it will be a shield to protect them against the evil spirits . . . and St. Michael himself will be at their side to allay their fears at the hour of death.”
We Will Come to Him and Make Our Abode With Him (John 14:23)
One of the most sublime of the messages communicated by Our Lady to the seer, was her unique privilege of being the chosen and most perfect Tabernacle of the Indwelling Holy Trinity. “All the beauty of the king’s daughter is within,” she said as she repeated the scripture verse that was fulfilled in her, then she crossed her arms and bowed her head in adoration of the Three Divine Persons. Our Lady stressed that this life-giving Indwelling of the Trinity is our inheritance if we maintain and grow in the state of grace. Then she expressed her grief that so many of her children reject this divine Indwelling by their attachment to vice; they shut God out, for He will not dwell in unholy tabernacles.
Our Lady’s Basilica and the Enthronment
A beautiful statue has been carved to the exact specifications of Sister Mary Ephrem’s visions. It was Our Lady’s request that the bishops of our country solemnly enthrone this statue in her basilica in the nation’s capital. Since this is one of probably only a few Marian shrines in the world that was not built to honor any particular apparition, but specifically her unique privilege of being the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Mother wishes that she be honored at this holy place as “Our Lady of America, Immaculate Virgin.”
This in no way conflicts with the title, Empress of the Americas, given by Pope Pius XII to Our Lady of Guadalupe, which title includes North, Central, and South America. This title specifically applies to her patronage over her children in the United States.
The contemplative branch of the Sisters of the Precious Blood did not survive as a congregation. They were suppressed in 1979. However, Sister Mary Ephrem continued to live a contemplative life with another sister in Fostoria, Ohio, until her death on January 10, 2000.
You can find out more about Our Lady of America from the following links:
- Archbishop Raymond Burke’s Canonical Opinion on the Status of the Message
- Sermons on the Messages (especially recommended are the sermons by Fr. Peter Damian Mary Fehlner F.I. and Fr. Angelo Mary Geiger F.I.)
- Some of the Messages themselves