Sunday, June 14, 2015

Connecting through Mary

image shows interior of church with shadows, light, that present an outline of Virgin Mary
The lighting and shadows form what some believe is an image of Mary.
One of the early 20th century parishes established in Florida was St. Mary of the Lakes in Eustis, in 1912. Joyce E. Welch wrote a compact history, In the Beginning, which is an enjoyable read and is the source for historical elements of this post, with page numbers in parentheses.

My salient points, for this blog post, concern:

  • the church's naming in the early 1900s;
  • the mission church in Mount Dora that grew from the Eustis parish in the 1960s;
  • a photo that may or may not show a Marian apparition in the former mission's current church in 2013.
Our Lady's influence is the thread tying them together, in my view.

Before I go any further, let me note that the Catholic Church has a very conservative stance about apparitions. Supposed sightings undergo a rigorous review and investigation process that stretches years. Very few reported sightings are deemed authentic. I'm writing as a Christian-romance author with a vivid imagination who enjoys considering the "what ifs".

We begin with Eustis's first Catholic settler, Charles G. Megargee. He arrived in the mid-1880s. Several years later, another Catholic named Jerry Ott settled in Eustis. Both were from the Philadelphia area. They would journey to Sanford to attend Mass - a 40-mile round trip that took up to eight hours total (15). Think about that the next time it seems like too much effort to get to Mass.

These two businessman were instrumental in establishing the Eustis church. They funded the land purchase personally, and raised money needed to build a  50x25-foot church debt-free in 1911 (18). As I've found with other Florida pioneer Catholic church stories I've researched, non-Catholics were generous in support.

Megargee and Ott drove parish formation and church construction, but not the parish/church name. A local donor secured a substantial contribution from a Northern relative. It came with strings attached: the church had to be named in honor of St. Mary (18). I don't often refer to Our Lady as St. Mary, but that is one of her titles.

The donation amount was $1,500. Had it been given in 1913, a few years later, it would compare to  an astonishing $35,848 today, according to the government's inflation calculator. That's quite a bit of money, and I assume the donor had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Fast forward to the 1960s. The Eustis parish that started with about 50 Catholics overflowed even the enlarged church in place by that time. The Eustis parish established a mission church in Mt. Dora, which grew to become St. Patrick's parish.

Fast forward again to 2013. A friend from work sent me a smart phone image forwarded to her by the person who took the photo. The story: Our Lady had appeared in the Mt. Dora church right after morning rosary on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  I stared and stared at the photo and saw nothing but an empty church. After my friend pointed Mary out to me, I could see nothing else.

Even today, when I look at the image, I find it hard to see anything other than Our Lady. Did she appear? Who knows. The image isn't doctored, except where I drew an arrow pointing to the appearance area. But the photo is blurry. Light, shadow, angles, soft focus  - all can distort reality.

The Mt. Dora church sprang from the roots of the Eustis parish, which started with - and continues to have - a dedication to Mary. As do I.  Our Lady led me back to my faith after I lapsed. We'll likely never know if an apparition materialized. But Mary appears to my eyes in the image. And that's what matters.

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