PART I: Origins of the Devotion
Our Lady of Rosa Mystica is a Marian advocation that goes back to the days of the Apostles. It refers to Mary as Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, or Mother of the Church. We can find this name in the Litany of Loreto and images as early as the 1300’s.
As Mother of the Church, Virgin Mary has been requesting a particular devotion for the protection and strengthening of priests and religious orders, and for the flourishing of vocations. This request was inspired first to Pierina Gilli in Italy in the 1940’s and more recently, through different prayer groups around the world, including in Evansville. The following pages give a brief history of the devotion and how it arrived to Evansville.
Pierina Gilli – Montichiari, Italy
(Extracted from Maria Rosa Mystica Fontanelle website: https://www.rosamisticafontanelle.it/en/home-en/)
Pierina was born in Montichiari in 1911. She grew devoted to family, work and prayer, bearing with patience their poverty and her weak health. Her father’s death intensified her sufferings and forced her to enter the orphanage in Montichiari, run by the Sisters of the Handmaids of Charity.
She developed a vocational inclination but her desire of entering the religious institute founded by Crocifissa di Rosa never came true, due to continuous delays caused by illnesses and severe misunderstandings.
When she was about 30 years old, Pierina Gilli became protagonist of deep spiritual experiences connected to the devotion to Mary Rosa Mystica, who at present is known all over the world, and in this faithful witnessing she received her definitive Cross, made of other several physical and moral sufferings.
Facts from 1946 until 1947
In the night between November 23rd and 24th 1946 – when her suffering reached a high point due to a serious illness- Pierina had the grace to understand in depth the spiritual experience of Maria Crocifissa di Rosa, the blessed foundress of the Sisters of the Handmaids of Charity and her particular preference for suffering.
Through the immersion in the spirituality of Maria Crocifissa di Rosa, Pierina understood she had to dedicate her life to the Virgin Mary, offering in particular “prayers, sacrifices and sufferings” to repair the sins of three categories of souls consecrated to God: the religious souls who betray their vocation; the religious souls in mortal sin; the souls of priests who betrayed their vocation becoming unworthy of their sacred ministry. Furthermore, Pierina understood she had to contribute to the sanctification of priests through prayer, sacrifice and penitence of the faithful.
On July 13th 1947, during the night prayer together with the Sisters hosting her, Pierina had the intuition of the image of the Virgin Mary, dressed in white, with three roses on Her breast: the white rose would have indicated the spirit of prayer, the red one the spirit of sacrifice and the yellow one, with golden reflections, the spirit of penitence. In that circumstance Pierina had the intuition that the 13th of each month, a day of Marian prayer with a special solemnity had to be celebrated.
In the following months, Pierina continued to deepen her intuitions in the light of Fatima’s spirituality. On occasion of the solemnity of the Immaculate, on December 8th, 1947, she understood that great spiritual fruits could come out from the celebration of what she called “hour of grace, penitence and prayer” in favor of conversions, especially for religious souls.
During that very day, in the Cathedral of Montichiari, Pierina understood she had to dedicate herself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, founding her own spirituality on the Marian title of “Rosa Mystica”.
Facts from 1947 until 1966
Due to Pierina’s persisting fragile state of health, a group of charitable persons took care of her lodging, and at last, she was temporarily accommodated at the Convent of the Franciscan Sisters of the Lily in Brescia on 20th May 1949. This temporariness lasted 19 years, during which Pierina deepened her Marian spirituality with particular attention to the devotion in the sanctuary of Lourdes, to the sick and to the intuitions she had in 1947, with reference to Mary, Rosa Mystica.
This sensibility will lead her to find in Fontanelle a place suitable for developing initiatives for outreach and prayers for the sick, to be dedicated to Mary, Rosa Mystica. On 17th April 1966, the first Sunday after Easter, Pierina has the intuition to invite all the sick to go to a miraculous spring that had appeared to receive mercy and consolation.
On May 13th, 1966 Pierina thought that this spring of water could be called “Fountain of Grace” and to build a pool around it to receive the sick.
During the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, on June 9th, 1966, in the fields of ripened wheat, Pierina had the intuition of the deep connection between the Marian spirituality and the Eucharist: the Eucharistic Bread was nourishment for so many repairing Communions. In the following Solemnity of the Transfiguration, on August 6th, 1966, Pierina had the intuition that on 13th October the world-wide day of the Repairing Communion could be celebrated.
Pierina lived humbly in her daily life and, while obeying always at the Ecclesiastical provisions, she remained a reference point for the more and more pilgrims arriving in Montichiari attracted by devotion to the Virgin Mary. Pierina welcomed them patiently in her small house near the new hospital, ready to intercede in favor of the persons who asked her prayers. She gave consolation and advices to many of them, and prepared a lot of hearts to conversion. Pierina helped in particular the sick, for many years.
On January 12th, 1991, Pierina died after a long purification of body and spirit. Her funeral was celebrated in the presence of a large crowd of faithful that had arrived for the final farewell. She was accompanied outside the Church to the cemetery, where she is still buried, with the sweet words: «Oh Mary, our hope, you help us and think of us…». The same words that the little nurse assistant had dared to sing on December 8th,1947 at 12 o’clock, illuminated by
Rosa Mystica, in the big Cathedral of Montichiari.
Our Lady Rosa Mystica Devotion Details:
Each rose in Mary’s statue has a meaning:
White: Prayer - Pray the Rosary and Adoration. Pray for others.
Yellow/Gold: Penance - Reparation, repentance of sins. Sacrament of reconciliation.
Red: Sacrifice - The act of giving up something in reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
These roses are to relieve the pain caused by three swords caused by consecrated souls betraying their vows, being in mortal sin, and abandoning their vows all together.
The devotion to Maria Rosa Mystica calls for the following:
A Novena which includes praying the Rosary and a special prayer for the whole Holy Church, for all mankind, but specially for priests and those dedicated to her service.
A special celebration and prayers the 13th of each month.
An hour of reparation from noon to 1 pm on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
A special celebration on July 13th, Rosa Mystica Feast Day.
PART II: The HISTORY OF THE ROSA MYSTICA CHAPEL – Edmeston, NY
(Extracted from Rosa Mystica of America website…written in the year 2000: http://www.rosamysticaofamerica.org/history--photos.html)
A member of the M.A.N. Foundation discovered an abandoned chapel in Edmeston, New York. She had been told that the chapel was built under the direction of Mother Elena Leonardi (now deceased) from Italy. Mother Leonardi was given coordinates by the Blessed Virgin Mary that led to Angel Hill, in Edmeston, New York.
In 1985, Franciscan monks from Canada built the chapel. After many trials and difficulties, the chapel was not completed and lay abandoned. The member of the M.A.N. Foundation then donated the funds to purchase the chapel. However, the beautiful statue of Mary, under the title of “Rosa Mystica,” was removed by the priest who was selling the chapel.
The first thing the foundation did was to raise $18,000 to have the statue returned. Anyone who ever laid eyes on the statue knew the chapel would never be the same until the magnificent 8.5-foot statue of Mary, carved in Montichiari, Italy, was returned.
The M.A.N. Foundation’s mission has always been to build Catholic churches, religious schoolhouses and convents in 3rd world countries as well as the promotion of the Rosary, education of seminarians and novitiates. However, Noreen Von Zwehl and the board of M.A.N. rather hesitantly decided to take on this challenge. When the repairs on the chapel were originally estimated, there was no heat, water, nor bathrooms, - not even an altar, statues, pews etc. The board met on the subject and everybody agreed, “Hand this chapel over to the religious order. This is out of our league.” Father William McCarthy of My Father's House in Moodus, Connecticut was recommended to us by FOCUS TV’s Archbishop Hannon to run the chapel. We all arranged to meet at the chapel and Father McCarthy agreed to take it over and conduct retreats there. The night before the contract was to be signed Father McCarthy was taken ill; consequently, he decided he could not undertake the responsibility.
When I got word of this, it immediately came to me that this was not what we should be doing with the chapel. We were passing the buck so to speak. I then had a strong feeling that the Blessed Mother wanted the M.A.N. Foundation to stay with the project, involve the religious and, find out what Mary’s message is under the title of Rosa Mystica.
Upon reading the literature on Rosa Mystica it became more apparent why we should be involved – very definitely involved. A good part of our work was in helping to build up the clergy in the Catholic Church. We had in fact just completed a library at Stella Maris seminary, South Vietnam, and we were on our way to educating 50 seminarians.
When the chapel was built nineteen years ago who would ever have thought that we would have seen what is happening with the priests of today? …everything started coming together. However, M.A.N. Foundation funds were still so limited – we had already raised funds to bring the statue back. How could we go out and ask sponsors for more money?
In discussing this with our board of directors, I said that I would put up the funds to complete the chapel - to show how strong my feelings were that this chapel should be completed. Perhaps others would then join in and see this as a place of healing, a place for the laity to come and for priests to come to Our Lady for deep reconciliation. It also came across my mind our mission – the poor will always be with us but without our priests there is no Eucharist, no Mass, no Catholic church. What could possibly be more important than such a mission?
“OUR PRIESTS MUST BE SAVED.”
Noreen Von Zwehl
Chairman of the Board, M.A.N. Foundation
PART III: DEVOTION OF ROSA MYSTICA IN EVANSVILLE
Preparing the Road: An amazing conversion story
My name is Alfonso Vidal, I am originally from Caracas, Venezuela and I came here to Evansville in 1997 after having a very strong and transformational spiritual experience back in Venezuela. While fishing with some friends in the southern part of the country we were kidnapped by the Colombian Guerrilla FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) and taken to the Colombian jungle for 11 days.
Before this experience, I was a happy-go-lucky 23-year old Engineering student that had grown spiritually cold; I even doubted the existence of God. Finding myself in the middle of the jungle with a machine gun to my head and unable to recall the Lord’s Prayer was eye opening. But God granted many miracles that led to my safe return. God also granted me the faith of Saint Thomas ---- I doubted and He gave me such proof that I could not refute.
The signs are many, it would be impossible for me to describe them here. Two signs are worth mentioning in this short story, one that broke my resistance and turned my obstinate heart toward God and the second one that confirmed these signs to my family. During our captivity in the jungle, my friend’s father, also the pilot of the small airplane we were in, had drawn a map in the sand to show us our location in case we would need to run. He immediately erased it from the ground and made us promise never to discuss it with anyone else for safety reasons. The picture was crude and consisted of two lines and three dots that represented two rivers and three cities. We never saw it again.
Meanwhile, back in Caracas, my family started experiencing some incredible heavenly intervention. Through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, they were asked to pray the rosary and surrender my life to God’s will. My father received many instructions on what to do while I was kidnapped. He is a very meticulous, note-taking engineer and kept notes of everything that was being revealed during each night’s prayer session.
The day that we were liberated the first thing that my father did after taking me home to see my extended family was to start an interrogation while reading his little notepad. I was intrigued about all these questions and surprised by the accuracy of each detail, which was simply impossible for them to know. However, I kept denying everything for safety concerns. Then he flips the page and there it was --- a crude drawing with two lines and three dots that he had overlooked because he didn’t know its meaning. It was the same drawing from the jungle. I asked him how did he have that and he asked what the drawing meant because he didn’t know. I explained and they were all in awe! Cleverly, they did not tell me how they got the information, instead they started to ask all the questions again and this time I answered truthfully. After all the questioning was completed they explained how these notes came in the prayer group through messages received from the Lord and Our Blessed Mother, regarding my situation and asking for the family to have a deep spiritual conversion.
The second sign that I want to mention is how the leader of the army that was helping us, and through the same prayer sessions, received precise instructions that saved his and his platoon’s lives. The instructions described in detail a place that they would arrive and how, hidden in the trees, there would be guerrilla scouts that would inform of their presence. When the leader of the army arrived to the place, he recognized the description and then looking up to the tree, there he was…the guerrilla scout just as they had been warned. This action probably saved their lives. The witness of the military leader was also impressive when one considers that this person was not a believer either and he was in awe when it happened.
There were many other signs like this one, factual proof that the power of prayer is real, prayer of surrender to the will of God, as was clearly asked by Our Lady herself. But my most transformational and faith-building sign was the fact that my mom and my wife were given many details of the exact moments when I wanted them to know that I was fine and of describing my feelings during my captivity that I had never shared with anyone.
Shortly thereafter, it was necessary for me to leave the country due to new dangers, so we came to Evansville. As time passed and life got in the way, the every-day Mass turned into barely Sunday Mass and the spiritual warmth turned into a dry and hardened heart. I started to get upset with the Lord because “I deserved better”, why would the Lord abandon me? Not realizing that I was abandoning Him! The more life “happened” the angrier I would be with the Lord.
Of course, the Lord never left me. My first call to Cursillo came through Mike Dugan, but I did not respond, I was still angry. In His eternal mercy, the Lord, through Phil Durcholz, asked me again and this time I said yes but not before canceling on the first weekend I was supposed to go. I finally showed up to my weekend, and it was the exact time my soul was ready for this experience. As always, all happens in the Lord’s time, and through Cursillo I was able to experience my “second” conversion.
To me the second conversion is the best example of God’s eternal, patient, and perfect mercy. How could he forgive me again, how could He bring me back to his faith? After all those graces and after making me a living proof of his Mother’s love for us, I denied him and I believed Him my equal, I challenged Him. But God never rejects a contrite heart! All I had to do was to humble myself and ask him for forgiveness. I have been so harsh with others and He so kind with me, it is embarrassing.
Please believe me when I say that without a doubt I am a sinner, I am nothing and God uses me as instrument, why? Well it is not for me to understand but to accept. For 21 years I have been afraid to tell my spiritual story because it was “my” story. But, that was an excuse, I was really afraid of the “culture” and being outside the “normal”, in a way I knew what God was asking of me, but my excuse was that my faith was mine and not to be shared. I was afraid, I am still afraid!
As I went through my weekend, I kept having a feeling that the Lord was calling me for something but I wasn’t sure what that was. I was restless! All of the sudden Father Jim Sauer looked at me on Sunday morning and just like that he declared, “You have to start Spanish Cursillo”. As soon as I heard these words, my heart leaped and I felt the Spirit fill me. At closing I prayed: ”I have received a calling to pray about starting Spanish Cursillo in the Evansville Diocese. I will surrender my burning will, burning desire and let the Holy Spirit show me the way”
This was a daunting undertaking, but our Virgin Mother had it all planned since the beginning. We received help from a traveling team from Lafayette, Indiana and we were able to put together the first ever bilingual team to experience together the first Spanish Cursillo in Evansville. Mercedes (Spanish Lay Director in Lafayette), during our first formation, gave us an image of the Rosa Mística and encourage us to offer this new movement to her. We didn’t know this advocation at the time, and didn’t even remember this image until 2 years later, but now looking back everything makes sense!
Spanish Cursillo – Many Conversions
The first Spanish Cursillo was held in the Summer of 2017. Through this movement, many dramatic conversions within the Spanish community were experienced. Several people were drawn to start living a life of constant prayer and surrender to the Lord. As time went by, more people joined to pray and started experiencing a much deeper personal conversion.
The Holy Spirit inspired the prayer group to walk down a path of prayer, penitence and sacrifice for the strengthening and protection of consecrated souls and religious orders. The group felt a calling to start the monthly Rosaries at the Grotto, which started on August 21st, 2019. Eventually, the St. Michael Archangel Warriors prayer group was formalized and a webpage was launched to share different reflections and meditations that were inspired through prayer. There was a strong calling to open and strengthen the hearts of people around the world through a life of grace and towards the path of Salvation, which is the ultimate goal of our faith.
St Michael Archangel Prayer Group and Rosa Mystica
As the prayer group grew stronger, there was an inspiration through Our Lady that we should bring the devotion requested by Our Lady Mystic Rose to Evansville, specifically to fulfill what she was asking in her apparition to Pierina Gilli in Italy in 1946, which was to pray, do penance and sacrifice for priests and consecrated souls.
Alfonso was skeptical at first of these inspirations and such specific instructions. He wanted to test the spirit and he challenged God by asking for a confirmation. He prayed in Mass for an indication that he was making the right decision on a business matter, and he didn’t tell this to anyone. A couple of hours later, through the prayer group, he received a response: “The Lord wants you to know that you are decision is correct.” No one but him knew what this meant. He was at awe and very humbled. And this confirmation also served for everyone in the group.
The first step in fulfilling this mission was to speak with the Bishop. We also needed to find a statue of Rosa Mystica. We were able to meet with Bishop Seigel in May where we presented a proposal to launch and promote this devotion through what we called a "Flower Tour" where we would take the Rosa Mystica statue and pray the rosary on the13th of each month in different parishes across the Diocese. And also prepare an annual celebration at the Cathedral on July 13, feast of Our Lady of Rosa Mystica.
Bishop Siegel was receptive to the proposal, but he advised us to first investigate what other dioceses in the United States were already doing this. He also asked us to start with a prayer group, like the mustard seed, to see if the devotion grows and gives fruit.
Prompted by this request, we came across the Rosa Mystica House of Prayer in Edmeston, NY, as they were preparing for the Rosa Mystica Feast Day celebration with the Bishop of Albany. We started reaching out to them but were unable to connect. We were also having a hard time finding a good statue for the devotion. However, we kept praying and felt sure that Our Lady would provide a path to make things happen.
Trip to Edmeston, NY
After several unsuccessful attempts to connect with the House of Prayer in NY through email and phone, it happened that Alfonso and Daniela Vidal and Pete and Jenny Barry were signed up to go the National Cursillo Encounter, which was to be held in Scranton, PA, only 2 hours south of Edmeston, a week after the Feast Day.
Daniela writes a small summary of the many wonderful things that happened during that trip: “During a break in the Cursillo Encounter, the four of us went to visit the Cathedral of San Peter in Scranton. I put myself in prayer and ask for the cause of being able to visit the Rosa Mystica House of Prayer. The weekend had a tight schedule and there was a 15 hour drive back home and we were traveling with Pete and Jenny, who knew nothing about the prayer group or Rosa Mystica, so it was unlikely that we would be able to go…but we were so close!
That night we met with Pete and Jenny and we told them about the prayer group, the Rosa Mystica and that we have a calling to bring this devotion to Evansville. I showed them pictures of the site in New York, so the Barry’s get excited and exclaimed: "Well, after all that, of course we have to go to that place tomorrow!"
We got up early on Sunday and took the 2-hour detour from our 15-hour drive back to Indiana. We were able to arrive just in time for Mass. It was a very beautiful Mass celebrated by a visiting priest from Africa. His message was that we should never refuse or not be open to the visits or calls made by the Lord through his messengers and always do everything for the Glory of God.
I was able to identify Noreen Von Zwehl, the founder of the M.A.N. Foundation, at the Mass. I approached her and told her why we were there. She tells me that it seems wonderful that this grows and spreads in more places and that God and the Virgin bless our efforts. I was also able to find Catalina, the new House of Prayer manager, whom I had finally connected with the day before. She is a very sweet lady from Spain that is also very excited to hear about our mission. She gives us a small tour of the place. There is so much to see and so many incredible happenings in this 153-acres!
Towards the end of our visit, we re-entered the chapel with Catalina to take a picture with the 8.5’ tall statue of Maria Rosa Mystica. As we were about to leave, Catalina looks up at the Virgin, then looks at us and points to a small, encased statue by the altar and says: ‘Do you want to take this Pilgrim Statue with you back to Evansville? I feel strongly inspired by Mary that you should take her with you. There is a waiting list, but I will take care of that…’
We couldn't believe it!! She explained we could take her for one year and the statue would travel from home to home every 10 days. There it was, the statue and the “Flower Tour” and the way to grow this devotion all in one!
We were in tears! For months we have looked for a proper Mystic Rose statue and we didn't get it anywhere. Somehow, we were certain that She would come to us ... but the moment was overwhelming. She really did come to us!
We already know how the mustard seed requested by the Bishop will flourish! What a miracle and what a great joy!
So, this is how Our Lady of the Mystical Rose comes to Evansville! We must return the statue to Angel Hill in Edmeston in a year, during the annual Feast Day on July 13th, 2020.
Let's grow this seed to bear all the fruits that Our Lord desires! And let's pray a lot for our priests and consecrated souls ... they need us!”