In the spring of 2017, I instituted the St. Francis de Sales Writing Contest at my alma mater, Saratoga Central Catholic (SCC) . The contest focuses on the intersection of faith and writing through the chosen topic; for this, its second year (2018), the topic was: “Which of the following Marian apparitions is your favorite, and why: Our Lady of Fatima (1917), Our Lady of Lourdes (1858), Our Lady of Guadalupe (1531)?”
The contest was open to eleventh- and twelfth-grade students, and these articles were provided as trustworthy sources: Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe. (You can read last year’s first-place and second-place essays.)
The contest was judged by Ms. Kate Blain, editor of the Albany, NY diocesan newspaper The Evangelist; Mr. Giovanni Virgiglio, Superintendent of Schools for the Albany Diocese; and Fr. Larry Anderson, OFM, chaplain at Siena College. The judges conveyed what a hard decision it was, and how thoughtful the students were in their essays.
The first place winner received $100 and publication of his essay at CatholicMom.com, presented here; the second place winner’s essay will be published at CatholicMom.com next month. Please note that this year’s first-place winner also has the distinction of having been last year’s first-place winner!
First Place Winner: Joseph Frankowski
An apparition has many definitions and meanings depending on who you ask, however it is commonly defined as a ghost or ghostlike image or person; an appearance that seems almost unworldly. In the Catholic church, it is described rather as an appearance of something remarkable or life-changing, comparable to a miracle. The Marian Apparitions are described as supernatural appearances by the Blessed Virgin Mary and are commonly named after the town that the event occurred. Such as Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Walsingham and many more. All the apparitions tend to appear only to one person or a select number of few, although there have been reports of thousands claiming to have witnessed the same apparition. I view this type of miracle as a form of divine intervention that carries a message to God’s people and results in a change in an increase of the overall faith. My favorite apparition is Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 A.D.
The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego four times. The first time was on a hill known as Tepeyac in current day Mexico City. When he reached the bottom of the hill he heard what is described as the sounds of songbirds. As he approached the top he saw the figure of a woman standing in the midst of a cloud. She was draped in traditional Aztec apparel and resembles an Aztec Princess. The Virgin Mary said, “Know and understand well, you the most humble of my son, that I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows.” She then ordered Juan to go to a Franciscan Bishop named Juan de Zumarraga and to tell him that he has been selected to construct this church.
Juan left to go see the bishop in his palace but returned sorrowfully as the bishop ignored his message. The Virgin Mary sent Juan out again but was turned back by the bishop after he demanded to be shown a sign that the news he brought was indeed true. Juan returned to Mary who said that she would give him a sign to show the Bishop. The next day the Mother Mary appeared a fourth time. Juan’s uncle became sick and wanted a priest to hear his last confessions. As Juan began to leave for the city the Virgin Mary appeared to him and healed his uncle just before telling him to climb the hill once more. At the top were roses that were growing among the brush in the middle of the winter. Juan cut them and placed them in his tilma. When he arrived at the Bishop’s palace he opened his tilma allowing the roses to fall to the floor. The bishop dropped to his knees when he saw the image of The Virgin Mary that was left on his tilma. He immediately apologized for doubting Her and took the cloth to be placed in his chapel. He then accepted the mission of building the temple at Tepeyac, which is named Guadalupe. To this day the cloth that bears the picture of Mary that can still be viewed and remains in pristine condition. Science says that the cloth should have started to deteriorate after 20 years but is still in the same conditions after 487 years later defying all possible explanations.
This account of Our Lady of Guadalupe is my favorite account of all the Marian Apparitions. To me, it is extremely symbolic and connects to my personal experiences. The Virgin Mary appears to Juan Diego out of nowhere and without any previous warnings or signs. This is symbolic of how The Mother Mary or God is always with us and can intervene in our lives at the most unexpected times whether we are ready or not, and it is up to us to answer that call. Juan listens to Her demands and goes off to spread her word and even though he is rejected, he still returns to her. At some point, Juan feels as if he has failed and even goes as far as to avoid her when all hope seems to be lost. Alas, despite Juan’s efforts the Virgin Mary still finds a way to intervene and put Juan on the right path. She helps him overcome the sickness of his uncle to fulfill what God planned for him. I feel that this is an extremely important aspect of the account to remember. Even when things get tough and seem to not have an end in sight, God is always with us. I’m someone who has had to deal with burdens both mental and physical throughout the years, some that even exists to this day and that frequently suppress my hope that things will get better. I find myself doubting what I believe in, but time and time again, I’m always able to reach out to God and ask for help. Our Lady of Guadalupe acts as a symbol of how if we accept God’s calling and direction it can bring us peace in our lives and the picture of the apparition is a symbol of God’s everlasting love and how he is always with us on this earth, willing to help and guide, just like Our Lady of Guadalupe did for Juan Diego.
Essay copyright 2018 Joseph Frankowski; printed here with the kind permission of the author and his parents.
About the author: Joseph is a rising senior at Saratoga Central Catholic in Saratoga Springs, NY. He is a High Honors student, member of Peer Ministry, the SCC Players and Envirothon clubs, and will be serving as Class Treasurer in the fall.
Copyright 2018 Katherine Morna Towne