In the small town of Perryville on the eastern side of Missouri, about an hour south of St. Louis, something inspirational has been happening every month since June of 2003. It began with a farmer and part-time construction worker named Neal. This humble, hard-working man in his late forties came from a family of eleven children; he had six brothers and four sisters. Neal has lived in Perryville all of his life, attending all 12 years of Catholic school. He has two children from a failed, “Godless” marriage and eight children from his present marriage of the past 17 years.
His mother was a devoted Catholic who constantly reminded him, “If you don’t have God in your life, you have nothing.” In second grade he wanted to become a priest – and “played Mass” in his basement by rolling out the bread to make the host and using a metallic shot glass of his father’s for the chalice. But, as he advanced into high school, he became distracted by sports, girls, partying, and activities with his friends. By his young adult years, he had strayed far from the Church and is not proud of those days. And his Mom kept reminding him that he did not have God in his life.
Then things began to happen. In 1995, his brother showed him a fascinating picture that he had taken of a nun in a parking lot – and in the sun was the image of a Miraculous Medal! Neal thought that this was amazing. About four months later, a Catholic prayers book appeared on the seat of his truck. Thumbing through it one day, its prayers started triggering memories of his devoted days, years ago, as a young Catholic. But when he came to the “Hail Mary,” he had a vivid flashback to his first Communion. He became overwhelmed, emotionally, realizing how far he had strayed from his Faith. At that moment he began praying the Rosary again on a regular basis.
Then, other things began happening. His mother’s religious friends from her prayer circle (whom he had called “Holy Rollers”) started running into him everywhere he went, often giving him a direct message or piece of information about prayer groups, parish missions, or religious presentations. August 11, 2000 will stick in his memory forever; a friend of his became adamant and persistent about his attending a special presentation on Mary at another parish, 12 miles away from his own, on the Feast Day of the Assumption. He had politely agreed to attend several times, knowing that he probably wouldn’t – until his friend took his arm, looked him in the eyes, and insisted one last time. Neal felt God in his actions at that moment – and sincerely agreed to attend. Much to his surprise, his wife easily agreed to attend the event with him at this distant parish.
Strange things began happening to Neal as the anticipated event began. As the speaker began, Neal felt a force pressing him forward and his emotions building within, until he could not hold back the tears any longer – fearing that he would disturb others around him. When he looked up at the speaker, the church appeared “smoke-filled” – and he could only see the speaker and his wife. They both had halos over their heads “just like you see in pictures of the saints.” The more the speaker talked about Mary, the brighter the halos became, until they were as bright as the sun! The light became a full image behind the speaker, and then the image of Mary in this bright light leaned her head forward for Neal to see for the first time in his life. She did not speak, but Neal said,
“She was dressed fully in white, enclosed like in the sun – bright as the sun, yet it didn’t hurt your eyes to look at her. She did not say one word, yet everything became infused and known to me in that moment. Our Lady wants us to know that God is real. And he loves each and every one of you. He has Mercy for each and every one of you, but we have to ask for His Mercy. We also have to live our life according to God’s Will. We have to give ourselves to God. We cannot sit idle. We have to always present ourselves in a charitable, meek gentleness towards each other and even to those we don’t even know. God wants others to see Christ in us.”
“St. Joseph was obedient in every way to God. The Blessed Mother wants you to know that Joseph is the role model for men. Wives, be submissive to your husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives as Jesus loved the Church. God flourishes in such a marriage. The man must bring the church into the home. Honor and respect help keep a balance – along with including God in the marriage.”
In 2002, Neal had an opportunity to go to Medjugorje with a group, but his wife needed to stay home. He felt a great sense of being “homesick” after he arrived and wished that she had been able to come with him. Suddenly, he was calmed by this message,
“While you are here – and whatever I ask you to do from here on, you need to give it your best effort – and all of yourself to others …”
Around 7:00 p.m. on the last night there, Neal and a few others decided to make one last trek on the long, rugged path up Cross Mountain, stopping at the various Stations of the Cross along the way. At the fourth station (where Jesus sees his Mother), Neal suddenly was overwhelmed by a strong scent of roses – “so intense that you could almost taste them!” He fell down on the large rocks as if unconscious, but suffered no cuts, bruises, or injuries. He had an intense desire at that moment to be with Mary and Jesus in heaven. He felt like “a million bits of information were being dispersed all at once.” Then he heard Blessed Mary say to him,
“I have much for you to do … Never waste a moment to serve God.”
Back in Missouri, in June of 2003, Neal was working in the fields when he again experienced a strong scent of roses and felt that Blessed Mary was nearby. She asked him to begin praying at the Grotto on the 13th of every month for the next 13 months. The grotto that she was referring to happened to be on the grounds of the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal – right there in Perryville! The Vincentian community of priests resides there – one of whom is Father Oscar Lukefahr, a well-known writer of Catholic educational materials. The church, St. Mary’s of the Barrens, was founded in 1818. The Shrine was built in 1929 to honor Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. The Grotto was built on the beautiful grounds by seminarians during World War I with completion in 1920. The statue of Mary, for a niche high in the rock wall of the Grotto, arrived on August 5 (Mary’s actual birth date!) of that same year.
Neal prayed the Rosary at the Grotto for three months by himself. He placed some of her messages to him, anonymously, in the local paper, potentially for anyone’s inspiration. After the three months, Mary asked him to bring five friends – and stated that a television station would eventually be involved later on. By June of 2004, Neal made it public about what was happening at the Grotto. Sure enough, Channel 12 TV from Cape Girardeau appeared during December of 2004 to do a story about the events at the Grotto for their 10:00 p.m. newscast. When that first 13 months had passed, Mary indicated to Neal that she was pleased with the devotions and prayers taking place at the Grotto – and asked him to keep coming on the 13th of every month, indefinitely.
In June of 2013, ten years later, Neal has never missed a month and still receives a message from Our Lady on each occasion. He continues to be faithful and devoted to her requests, never knowing if there will be an endpoint to it all. When asked if it is hard to keep this dedication going, he replied,
“When the Mother of God asks you to do something, you feel compelled to listen!”
Neal describes Our Lady as coming to him in a vision, surrounded by clouds and mist. She wears a long white gown with gold trim and a gold sash. There appear to be stars on her gown, but Neal says that they are actually floating just above her dress and all around her. She has long, wavy, brown hair with a gold crown on top of her head. The crown appears to have dark green emeralds encircling it and twelve little crosses around the top, representing the twelve apostles. She has a blue mantle over her white gown. Neal feels disconnected from everything and everyone else around him when she comes – “I only see Mary.” Sometimes, there are saints or angels with her.
Neal states that when she comes, he can see her and know exactly where she is without looking around for her. “I don’t know how heaven does that, but that’s what I see.” He says that she will often walk through the praying crowd, blessing them, and hearing their thoughts. At times, she will tell him, “A woman in the crowd is wondering about …(some issue); tell her …(Mary’s reply).” Blessed Mary told Neal this:
“Darkness has filled the earth. If the prayer of St. Gertrude is prayed between each decade in union with the Rosary, a thousand souls will be released from Purgatory for each Hail Mary.”
I had the opportunity to personally visit this Grotto to pray with the group and talk with Neal on May 13 (first Fatima apparition) and October 13 (Fatima’s Miracle of the Sun) in 2013. As a psychiatric therapist, I can attest to Neal’s grounded, sane, and humble manner – free of any obvious disorder or delusions. Some members of the Marian Association attend the Shrine every month. We all have had the experience of “smelling the roses that are not present” and feeling a great peace and unity while praying the Rosary there. Some have captured some fascinating photos of the sun with doves, crosses, and especially rose petals appearing in the photographs.
Perryville is in the diocese of St. Louis; the archbishop and area priests are aware of Neal allegedly receiving messages from Our Blessed Mother. They are accepting of the activities going on at the Grotto but have neither condemned nor officially approved of them at this point in time. Decide for yourself what is happening in Perryville – as it is within driving distance for most of us. Here are just a few of the messages from those visits:
May 13, 2013:
“Our world is full of much darkness. It seems that Evil is prevailing. My people, for those who are faithful to God, who hold true to His Word, those are devoted to my Immaculate Heart, St. Joseph’s Most Chaste Heart, and Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart, you will prevail in everything. Evil will not succumb you. We must remain true to God in all things, living our everyday life for God. You are to be that Torch of Light to others in a world of darkness. You have nothing to fear if you keep your eyes on Christ at all times. You are to reflect the Holy Family. I am calling on all of you to carry that torch of Christ’s light to the whole world.”
“So many wonder what tomorrow may bring. Tomorrow will take care of itself. You just need to live in the present of each and every day. Never deny Jesus. Men, devote yourself to St. Joseph. He was obedient to God in all things; learn this obedience so that you can be good priests of your households. As a good mother I come here each and every month to encourage you, to guide you in wisdom and truth. Learn the true faith of the Church. God will never fail you. God is in control of all things, and He knows all things. He sees the hearts and minds and souls of all of you.”
“God sees good here. If you saw what your prayers are doing – and the power of your prayers, you would never cease praying.”