Visions of Mary scholar dies at 99
IN THE past few centuries the Catholic Church has authenticated just over a dozen apparitions, visions of the Virgin Mary that have appeared to French nuns and schoolchildren, Portuguese shepherds and Rwandan youth, and inspired millions of pilgrims to visit shrines and churches scattered in small towns across the world.
Mary appeared 18 times at Lourdes, in southern France, in 1858. She revealed herself to a group of children six times in Fatima, near Portugal’s western coast, in 1917. In all, according to the Catholic priest René Laurentin, Mary has reportedly appeared more than
2 400 times since the Middle Ages, in visions described by children in the former Yugoslavia and by a man in New Jersey who said he saw the mother of Jesus while seated on a plastic bucket in his backyard.
Father Laurentin, a French theologian who died on September 10 at the age of 99, was perhaps Catholicism’s pre-eminent scholar of contemporary miracles and Marian apparitions. A student of the French philosophers Jacques Maritain and Henri Bergson, he combined a sense of academic rigour with a religious faith shaped by World War II, when he was captured by Nazi forces in Belgium and imprisoned for five years.
“He possessed the solidity of the theologian, the seriousness of the historian (and) the agility of the journalist,” wrote Lourdes rector André Cabes in a brief on his death.
Laurentin specialised in Mariology, the study of the Virgin Mary, but his columns for France’s Le Figaro newspaper and his scores of books often ranged far afield. He investigated the story of Richard Thomas, a priest in Texas who supposedly multiplied tins of condensed milk to feed the masses.
Laurentin spent more than a decade combing the archives for documents surrounding 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous, who said she had been instructed by Mary to build a chapel at a cave near the town, and presenting the story of the apparitions in a way that balanced scholarship with literary style. The effort proved remarkably successful, at least in the eyes of the bishop.
“Nothing so beautiful or luminous has ever been written,” Théas wrote after reading Laurentin’s first volume, The Meaning of Lourdes (1955).
“Really, after reading you, we know better the solidity and the seriousness of the pilgrimage. You reveal the mystery of Lourdes and its place in the life of the Church.”
René Laurentin was born in Tours on October 19, 1917, to an architect father. Laurentin – who was ordained in 1946 – studied Thomist philosophy at the Catholic University of Paris and philosophy at the Sorbonne. He received a doctorate from each school after his army service, for which he received the War Cross and later served as a professor of theology at the Catholic University of Paris and the Catholic University of the West in Angers. – The Washington Post