The Glory of Knock
It was a dreary, rainy evening. Two women wearing simple peasant dresses clutched their shawls tightly in an effort to stay warm. Walking past the quaint, parish church on their way home, one of them noticed three life-sized statues situated near the church wall. Even though it was past 7:00 p.m. and clouds covered the sky, light was inexplicably shining on these works of art—or was the light coming from the statues? As the women stepped closer, they realized that they were not seeing statues at all; they were seeing people. And the woman standing in the center of the group was clearly the Blessed Mother.
The Virgin Mary was resplendent, with a golden crown on her head and a long, white cloak that fastened at her neck. She gazed heavenwards with her hands lifted in prayer. St. Joseph stood on her right, and St. John the Evangelist on her left. Yet it was the lamb, surrounded by angels and standing on an altar that radiated the most light. Silence shrouded the vision. There were no requests and no messages—only mysterious light that emanated from the vision, light that was seen more than a half mile away.
What happened over the course of the next three hours would forever transform this poor, rural village into one of the most revered and beloved pilgrimage sites in Ireland. As other villagers heard of the vision, they left their cottages to stand in the rain and pray the rosary. Although it had been raining all day, the ground upon which the heavenly visitors stood was dry.
One woman dared to get close enough to kneel and try to kiss Mary’s feet. Her efforts were futile; no matter how much she tried, she was unable to touch our Blessed Mother’s feet. None of the heavenly visitors were transparent; they appeared as solid as the church wall. Yet this woman’s hand passed through our Blessed Mother; she felt nothing but the hard ground and the gable wall.
Thirty villagers, men, women, and children, of various ages reported seeing the heavenly vision. Later, they realized that this revelation occurred on the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption.
Although the great Potato Famine had occurred 30 years earlier, the people in this small village of Knock, Ireland, still suffered from hunger and deprivation. Yet, the visit from their Mother and the Lamb of God revitalized their faith, strengthened them, and brought them comfort.
During and after the Famine, many Irish came to Philadelphia and brought with them their abiding devotion to Mary. And, with their time and money, they helped build the Miraculous Medal Shrine.
Today, as we celebrate the 140th anniversary of Our Lady of Knock, we still have a deep connection with the Irish community, and the chaplain of the Donegal Association of Philadelphia is none other than our own Fr. Michael Shea, CM. Our devotees have a passionate desire to preserve this beautiful Shrine and create a special prayer and meditation space in honor of Our Lady of Knock.
Similar to Knock, Mary comes down from heaven to earth at the Shrine, and, without uttering a word, she invites us to draw closer to her Son. Working together with our faith community and Irish cultural leaders in the tristate area, we will build a shrine to Our Lady of Knock—one that will envelope the silence of Knock, and allow our Blessed Mother to communicate to us in ways that are heart-felt and comforting. Wherever Mary is truly welcomed, lives and communities are transformed.
No one knows this better than Andy Cooney. Raised in an Irish-American home with eight siblings, he experienced a traditional Catholic upbringing: grace before meals, weekly Mass attendance, Catholic schools, and an occasional family rosary.
Many of his earliest memories involve his grandfather singing old Irish classics at family events. Frequently, “little Andy” would join him for a song or two; it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with music and performing. As a young child, Andy started playing the piano ‘by ear,’ knowing naturally which keys to play. “I hear the music,” he says, “and my brain tells my fingers which keys to hit.” Eventually, he took lessons, but the gift of hearing a song and knowing intuitively which keys to play has served him well in his career.
When he was in his early teens, the Vincentians visited his school and asked if anyone was interested in attending St. Joseph’s Preparatory in New Jersey. Andy was intrigued and asked his parents if he could go. It was a powerful experience for the young boy, who had never been away from his Long Island home for any length of time. The days carried with them a rhythmic pattern: the Angelus, morning prayer, Mass, breakfast, school, study hour, evening prayer, and recreation. The schedule gave him a solid foundation and taught him the beauty of a life lived with a prayerful tempo. After “lights out” at 9:00 p.m., Andy would lie in bed and turn to God in prayer.
Although he spent only one year at St. Joseph’s, he fondly remembers Frs. Michael Carroll, CM, and Charlie Strollo, CM, who not only gave him a first-class education, but lived the Vincentian virtues while doing so.
At the tender age of 17, Andy got his first professional gig, playing the piano at Kennedy’s on Second Ave. in Manhattan. His career was budding, but in his late twenties, he discovered his Mother had cancer. Writing Immaculate Heart during this difficult period, he was able to give the song to her before she died.
“She had a great devotion to Our Lady,” recalls Andy. He then shares the story of a pilgrimage she took to Lourdes, seeking relief. After arriving, she realized that she accidentally left her feeding tube behind. While that would normally be a life-threatening crisis, in her case, it was a life-affirming blessing. “She had her own miracle,” he says. Before the pilgrimage, Andy’s mother had been given a few months to live. But when she returned, not only did she live two more years, she never needed her feeding tube again.
After she died, Andy discovered that her will provided the allotted funds for him and his wife to take a trip to Medjugorje, another pilgrimage site his mother had visited when she had cancer. He describes that trip as “a gift from Mom.” And, in his case, that word, “Mom,” takes on two meanings. It was in Medjugorje that he returned more fully to the faith of his childhood and our Blessed Mother.
“When you’re open to it,” he reflects, “your faith will get stronger. God’s gifts come in abundance.”
There’s a strong Marian rhythm to Andy’s life now. While he juggles the typical chores of paying a mortgage, raising a family, and working, he tries to incorporate faith more into his life. “I ask our Blessed Mother for help and inspiration in everything I do, so I know everything will be okay. She’s listening.”
At Knock and at the Miraculous Medal Shrine, Mary listens to our prayers and speaks to our hearts in silence. If we pay attention to what she is trying to teach us, our lives can be as transformed as the poor, rural village of Knock—into places that give honor to our Blessed Mother and glory to her Son—and our communities can become strong and vibrant.
The Miraculous Medal Shrine is part of an Archdiocesan collaboration of the seven shrines in the Philadelphia area. Our Shrine will be the first to be featured via Facebook, beginning August 1. Be sure to watch as Fr. Francis Sacks, CM, and Mary Jo Timlin-Hoag, CEO of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal, serve as tour guides for the video, which was recorded by the social media team from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.