ROME, ITALY (1842)
An Austrian Jew named Alphonse Ratisbonne was the youngest son of an important banking family in Strasbourg. Alphonse was a Jew by race and religion and was very well off in material possessions. He harbored a great hatred for Catholics and anything to do with the Catholic Church – largely due to his brother George converting and becoming a priest. He blamed the Catholic Church for “bewitching” his brother. A series of mishaps brought him to Rome, a city he had vowed to never visit. He became acquainted there with Baron Theodore de Bussieres, a very fervent Catholic.
One afternoon, during a raging argument with Bussieres in which Ratisbonne was ridiculing the superstitions of the Catholic religion, the Baron challenged him to submit to a simple test and wear the Miraculous Medal. Ratisbonne consented so that he could prove the ineffectiveness of such religious baubles. The Baron also added that Ratisbonne must recite the Memorare once a day. He promised that he would, saying, “If it does me no good, at least it can do me no harm.”
The Baron and a close circle of aristocratic friends increased their prayers for the skeptical Jew. One of them, Comte de la Ferronays, was a devout, but seriously ill, Catholic, who offered his life for the conversion of this young Jew. On that same day Comte entered the church and prayed 20 Memorares, then suffered a heart attack and died. Although Ratisbonne was ready to return the medal and leave Rome, the Baron asked Ratisbonne to accompany him the next day to the church while he was making funeral arrangements. Ratisbonne felt obligated – due to the dead man’s prayers.
While waiting for Bussieres, he wandered through the church, admiring the beautiful artwork, but then decided to turn to leave out the front door. A huge black dog suddenly appeared and blocked his path. The animal was vicious, baring his fangs. As Ratisbonne froze in his place, unable to move, the dog vanished and a brilliant light began glowing from a side chapel directly in front of him. As he stood before the altar dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, Our Lady suddenly appeared to him (January 20, 1842). She was wearing a crown and a simple long white tunic with a jeweled belt around her waist and blue-green mantle draped over her left shoulder. Her peaceful gaze reached deeply into his soul. Her hands were open, spreading rays of graces. The light coming from her was so brilliant that he had to look away from her enchanting face and captivating eyes. Her height and elegance gave the impression of a great lady, fully conscious of her own dignity. She transmitted both grandeur and mercy in an atmosphere of great peace. He said that her hands “expressed all the secrets of the Divine Pity.” Ratisbonne understood that he was in the presence of the Mother of God. Although Mary never said a word to him, he felt that he “understood all.” He fell to his knees, sobbing, and converted.
The Baron was surprised to find him praying fervently on his knees. Ratisbonne immediately asked to go to a confessor so that he could receive Baptism. Eleven days later he received Baptism, Confirmation, and his first Communion. The entire Catholic world became aware of this amazing conversion. Ratisbonne became a Jesuit priest and founded a religious group, the Daughters of Zion – to help with the conversion of Jews!