Vi­sions of Mary scholar dies at 99

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OBITUARIES - HAR­RI­SON SMITH

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

René Lau­rentin

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