Virgin Mary, my mother’s mother

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

“True story.” 

That’s what I always say when I tell anyone about my encounter with the Virgin Mary.

I say it as much for myself as for other people, because I am still amazed by the experience. And it’s something I particularly reflect on every May, Mary’s month.  

The story really begins with my mother and her great devotion to Mary.

My grandmother died when my mother was a small child; my mother always said the Virgin Mary raised her. 

Throughout her life, Mom attended daily Mass and weekly Mother of Perpetual Help novenas. She said the rosary and put herself in the care of her Blessed Mother.

In return, Mary watched over my mother — even to the point of bringing my father home safely from the Korean War, helping him survive a Chinese prison camp. 

When my parents were married the following May, Mom had songs honoring Mary played at the wedding. 

In our home growing up, Mary reigned supreme. 

She was my mom’s only mother and we learned to depend on her as Mom had her whole life; she was our intercessor, our bridge to the Divine Son.

Because of our devotion, May was a joyful month in our home. As the world around us bloomed with springtime, we would build a May altar in Mary’s honor and cover it with fresh flowers from our garden.

Beyond that month, we kept Mary at the forefront with rosaries and weekly Mother of Perpetual Help devotions.

I still know those prayers and songs by heart.

And like my mother, I developed a deep devotion to Mary that I have instilled in my own children – Anna, named for Mary’s mother and John, named for her protector.

I’ve given the care of my children to Mary and am dedicated to sharing her power of intercession with others, leading a parent’s rosary at Holy Trinity Church in Lenexa every Wednesday now for almost 20 years.

Some time ago, I got a wonderful validation of my devotion, a true blessing from my mother’s only mother.

My husband and I were privileged to attend a Servite rosary led by Father Peter Mary Rookey, OSM, at Redemptorist Church in Kansas City, Missouri.

Father Rookey passed away in 2014, but he was known as a mystic healer and great campaigner for the intercessions of our Holy Mother.

When he recited the Seven Sorrows rosary, Father Rookey always gave a detailed description of each sorrow.

The day I attended, as he began the sixth sorrow, Father Rookey described Mary receiving the body of Jesus taken down from the cross.

At that moment, I became overwhelmed by an intense floral aroma — so strong I knew it must be artificial. I thought there was something in the church balcony blowing floral incense down on the crowd.

Father Rookey continued describing Mary anointing Jesus’ body with oils and flowers as she wrapped him in the burial cloth.

Then he told the crowd that sometimes, at this point in the rosary, people could smell the sent of the flowers Mary placed in the cloth.

I was already overpowered by the smell of flowers, and believed everyone else was too.

And I was disappointed that the renowned Father Rookey would pull such a cheap trick — filling the room with this heavy scent and then asking if his audience could smell it.

He invited those who could smell the flowers to raise a hand.

My hand went up immediately, and I was astonished to see that no one near me raised theirs.

I turned to my husband in shock and said “Can’t you smell those flowers?”

He looked at me as if I’d asked him to dance and said, “No.”

I looked around then and saw that only a few people throughout the church — filled with at least 500 devotees — had raised their hands.

It was the strangest moment of my life. It was like every flower I had ever placed on Mary’s May altar was coming back to me. And it was an incredible confirmation of her presence in my life, although I didn’t need it.

As we approach Mary’s month, I encourage you to take the time to set up a little altar in her honor, remembering that moment on the cross when Jesus entrusted her to St. John’s care and made her the mother of us all.

She is our example of humility and service. And believe me, she is a real presence in our lives.

She wants only to share the graces of God on our behalf.

3 Responses

  1. Kim Pitner-Keller at |

    Beautiful and encouraging story, thanks for sharing your experience.

    Reply
  2. Rev. Christopher L. Krymski, osm at |

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR BEAUTIFUL REFLECTION. I TOO SMELLED FLOWERS ON A RETREAT DAY AT THE SHRINE OF ST. TERESA OF THE LITTLE FLOWER IN DARIEN, IL.

    I AM THE DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL SHRINE OF ST. PEREGRINE, OSM AT OUR LADY OF SORROWS BASILICA IN CHICAGO, IL.
    I LIVED WITH FR. ROOKEY, OSM HERE AT SORROWS BEFORE HE DIED.
    900 PEOPLE CAME TO HIS FUNERAL MASS. MANY WONDERFUL SIGNS FROM GOD CAME THROUGH FR. ROOKEY, OSM, A REAL SERVANT OF MARY.
    THANK YOU FOR YOUR WITNESS.
    GOD BLESS,
    HAPPY EASTER,
    FR. CHRIS, OSM

    Reply
  3. Peter Finocchiaro at |

    My sister, Mona Snider, sent me Jill’s beautiful true story because Mona knows that I met Fr. Rookie about seven years ago through my wife. I live in Chicago and Fr. Rookie lived at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica here.

    My wife, Tracey, had been diagnosed with breast cancer and heard from one of our parishioners that Our Lady of Sorrows housed the national shrine of St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer sufferers, and that there was a Servite priest who had performed healing miracles for those in urgent need.

    I did not know what to think, other than to pray and support Tracey. She became a devoted volunteer to Our Lady of Sorrows (OLS) and as part of that answered the phones. The phones rang constantly with desperate pleas for Fr. Rookie and with an equal number of heartfelt thankful calls from those who had experienced healing miracles from his prayers and intervention. He was kind enough to pray over dear Tracey as well.

    I met him one night at OLS. I was nervous and certainly felt unworthy. He was wheelchair bound and could not get around very well, but he had such a sparkle in his eye and such a happy disposition. I had expected to see him in a holy glow but what I saw was the most modest, humble person. All he had was his little Servite cross, a plain cross around his neck and a plan black robe. He said something funny that I completely did not expect and that I was too nervous to remember.

    By then Tracey’s cancer had progressed such that she was on the last possible treatment, an obsolete therapy that the doctors thankfully did not tell us then could only last about six months. She became cancer free. Tracey and I and our young boys received two years of no tumors, no chemotherapy, no radiation, no sickness, no nothing. The doctors told us later that they had no explanation. We did, each day.

    Later the cancer did return and eventually Tracey died. By then Fr. Rookie also had died. We had Tracey’s funeral at OLS. At the end of the homily the pastor gave me something even more than prayers to help me get through the difficult days ahead. He gave me Fr. Rookie’s cross. It did get me and the boys through them. A few years ago I was able to give it back to the pastor who still has it and prays with it for others.

    Reply

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