Oldest Church in Pennsylvania becomes 'Church of Miracles'
Our Blessed Mother graced in escarchas.
One is always a bit wary of what seems too dramatic or “magical” and this is the case, perhaps, with holy gold or glitter or those rose petals that suddenly have very detailed holy images on them. The latter is a phenomenon particularly prevalent in the Philippines, where the first major report of such marvels — rose petals falling from the sky, with images of Jesus, Mary, the Holy Family, the Crucifixion on them — occurred at an apparition site, alternately approved and rejected by the Church, at Lipa. For this reason, we’ve kept a dutiful distance from many such reports. In many parts of the world or at least the West, those involved in devotional and charismatic practices have asserted that at times a strange “glitter” falls, like decorative manna. This is a particularly difficult phenomenon to accept in the way of its strangeness and glitziness, although it was reported during the apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, during 1917 in an ephemeral form which soon vanished, leaving no material. Some has been analyzed [see link to story at the bottom] and found to be plastic; others charge that it smacks of alchemy.
But what about when it’s a very credible and devout priest detailing the events for you? And what do you do when miracles appear to be erupting in your parish? If you’re Father Francis Groarke, pastor of [Old St. Thomas in Glenn Mills, Pennsylvania] about forty miles from Philadelphia — the oldest church in that state, and one of the largest (8,800 families) — you accept the graces and fruits and, using the sacraments, build around them. Father Groarke is not a man who has any doubt that what has been occurring is supernatural.
A year ago last August, the parish was visited by one [Carmelo Villanueva Cortez] of the Philippines, who conducted a service for 1,100 after Mass. “He had an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1991 and she told him to travel the world with the petals,” explains the priest. Cortez, of course, is not without controversies. Some believe he presses religious medals into blank rose petals before handing them out — thereby causing the “miraculous” imprint.
Don’t try and tell Father Frank that.
“We bought ten dozen roses and there were 1,100 people in church,” the pastor says. “There were three bottles of water and Carmelo told me and two deacons to drink it. Then he put it on a gauze and it changed colors and there was an aroma like roses. We took the two dozen roses and broke them into petals and put them in big bowl and took water and mixed it with the petals and then he put the petals under the necks of everyone. It took two-and-a-half hours. When held up, there were images: the Last Supper, Padre Pio, St. Michael, amazing.”
Most remarkably, Father says some of the petals transmuted into Communion bread. Manna! “I watched it do this in front of my eyes,” says Father Groarke. “There were four petals in my hand and before my eyes they became Communion hosts. I tasted it and it tasted just like a host.” He repeats:
“Before my eyes they changed.” Tough to believe. Listening to Father Groarke, hard to disbelieve.
Soon, even more extraordinary phenomena reportedly occurred.
The week after Carmelo’s visit, Father Frank visited with the local family that had hosted the Filipino mystic and has a “holy room” in their house, filled with statues that allegedly began to exude after encountering Carmelo years before. As the priest celebrated Mass with about fifteen people, “the whole place started smelling like roses,” Father Groarke was kind enough to inform us, “and all the statues were covered with gold glitter. They gave me a statue of a sleeping Saint Joseph and it was oozing perfumed oil and I brought it home and put it behind [a statue of] the Blessed Mother in church.”
The Blessed Mother — the Virgin of Grace and the Eucharist — was going to bless the church in a special way for a year, said the family, presenting it to him.
The Virgin exhibited what Saint Joseph had: a sort of “gold dust” that at times all but completely covered her, a glitter that comes and goes. Similar phenomena — known in Spanish-speaking countries as “escarchas” — has been reported elsewhere, including the Church-approved apparition site of Betania in Venezuela, where it was seen, among other places, on the face of mystic Maria Esperanza. At the Pennsylvania church, it “comes and goes, sometimes more than others,” testifies the priest.
When the church ordered four dozen roses [from Amazon, roses that came wrapped up from China], the smell of them immediately permeated the church — all over, says Father Groarke, with an implausible pervasiveness. “The virgin is just letting you know she is around,” remarks the priest.
“When, a year ago Christmas, a man from the parish gave father a larger version of the sleeping Saint Joseph, and it was brought to the “holy house,” it too was soon “completely covered with gold dust.
“The Virgin was supposed to go back and I also brought a statue of Saint Michael and when we returned, it too was covered with gold dust and the body was exuding oil loaded with salt,” says the priest, clearly still astounded by the events. “This is how God exorcises things,” he says. Does the Lord want that ritual brought back? An estimated twenty pounds of salt now have been blessed. “We used to use salt under baby’s tongue during baptism,” recalls the pastor.
The emphasis, with all the alleged miracles, is not an obsession with the phenomena but devotion, notes the priest — Carmelo’s message and mission.
Without those, marvels are fleeting wonders.
The church has kept the statue of Mary and, says Father Groarke, “This is more crazy: we’ve had four miraculous cures of cancerous tumors in seven months: brain, lung, two in the breast. They’re gone. The people who were healed attributed it the time they spent here.” “One of the petals that I got last summer was a petal of Our Lady of Fatima, plain as day; the next day it became a monstrance. It’s all kind of unfolding. I don’t understand how all this stuff works. I just see the fruit of what results.”
“Here’s a further manifestation,” adds Father Groarke. “One of my parishioners is from Wilkes-Barre and went up to visit family graves for November and on one of the graves is a statue of the Virgin Mary on a pedestal with four columns
“The statue was completely covered with gold dust.”
How could Carmelo cause all the glitter, all the vulnerary oil, that salt, after he had left? And that glitter on a statue 120 miles away?
Quite a lot going on, in this parish that was established in 1729 — half a century before the Declaration of Independence! (A message here also?)
This is a church that is alive with the Spirit. There are actually two churches in the parish, with six Masses on Sunday. The acronym for the main lesson is what they call “CARE”: Confession, Adoration, Rosary, Eucharist. “The bigger miracle is the people who have come back to the church,” he says.
“I have been a priest for 45 years and I’ve never been closer to the Lord,” says Father Groark.