Something About Mary

Kettle River is the only place in Minnesota where reports of Marian locutions and promised appearances, as reported by local Stephen Marino, were extensively investigated by the Catholic Diocese. Like every other reported Marian apparition in this country, the Kettle River claims were rejected as inauthentic by the Church.

After receiving his locutions from Mary in the 1990s, Stephen Marino founded Communitas Dei Patris (Families of God Our Father), a “private association of the Christian faithful and consecrated religious living a community-centered life… under the guidance of the Holy Virgin Mother of God.” Marino also initiated Kettle River’s Global Apostolate of Family Prayer Night Devotions, one of a growing number of Marian lay movements around the world. These lay communities are dedicated to the virtues of Mary and are not officially associated with or recognized by the Catholic church, despite the fact that some have had ordained priests in residence. Marino’s community promotes prayer and fasting for the universal healing and restoration of families, and an end to divorce, contraception, and abortion. The grounds of Communitas Dei Patris look just like any other rural Minnesotan setting, with homes dotting a narrow dirt road—except for the statutes of the Virgin perched atop inverted five-gallon plastic laundry detergent buckets.

Reached on the telephone, Marino wouldn’t comment. “I’ve never spoken to anybody about this and I’m not going to start now.” But he did do a great deal of talking to the general public in the 90s, so much so that the Bishop of Duluth at the time, Roger Schwietz, warned him expressly to stop publishing the contents of his Marian messages in the Duluth Diocese. Marino, however, claims (on his web site, Kettleriverusa .com) that Bishop Schwietz told him in a “private meeting” that the locutions were “from God.”

“I don’t believe that’s what was said,” cautions Father Dale Nau from the Diocese of Duluth. “The locutions were investigated and the conclusion was that they were not of supernatural origin. In fact, the content of the locutions was at least partly in direct contradiction to the teachings of traditional Catholic theology. The group in Kettle River has never had any official Church sanction. In fact, the Bishop advised Catholics to stay away from the predicted Kettle River appearance.”

Father Bill Fournier, also of Duluth, had over 100 conversations with Marino over 14 months in the early 90s, and he’s more direct about Bishop Schwietz’s supposed private endorsement of the Kettle River appearances. “Believe me, that’s not true,” Fournier says. “We had somebody look into the locutions and they were in no way of divine origin.”

Still, the Bishop’s sharp public disavowal didn’t stop 3,000 people from gathering on a snow-covered field in Kettle River on Easter, 1993, for a promised (but ultimately unfulfilled) appearance of the Virgin in the sky.

Mary Kaye Medinger, director of Wisdom Ways Resource Center for Spirituality, sponsored by the College of St. Catherine and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, steps back from the issue of apparitions and carefully steers toward a broader context. “Mary means many things to many people today. There is definitely a revival of interest in this person.” Medinger has been doing workshops, lectures, and retreats on Mary since 1986, and she is eloquent in her expression of Mary’s role in the culture. She’s equally eloquent in her silence on the subject of apparitions.

“What I find,” says Medinger, “is that many people are coming back to look at this woman with very different eyes and with very new questions. I’m also finding an increased interest among all sorts of people, not just Catholics. Mary does not belong to the Catholics. The women’s movement is playing an important role in recovering her. They are using their own experience and doing some very fine academic, scholarly work.”

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