We recently ran a commentary on the murder of a Wisconsin priest named Father Alfred Kunz in 1998. It is still an unsolved mystery. The priest — an expert on canon law and a traditionalist type who celebrated Mass in both English and Latin — was found slain in a hallway at St. Michael School just over a dozen miles from Madison.
In looking at his background, it was interesting to note the mystical proclivities of this man, including his involvement with exorcisms. Though there was no relation to the crime, Father Kunz also had a connection with a nearby (alleged) apparition site at Necedah, accepting devotees of it when the nearest church refused them entrance, an apparition we hadn’t heard much about in years but one that is interesting in other ways.
Denounced in 1955 by the Bishop of LaCrosse, it was tended to, at the time of Father Kunz’s ministry, by a couple hundred followers who refused the bishop’s rejection (claiming he had not exercised proper authority). In some cases living at the apparition site, they were placed under interdict in 1975 that forbade them from partaking of any sacrament except Confession. Faced with that, the seer, Mary Ann Van Hoof, and a small band of her followers apparently took refuge at places like Kunz’s and discussed building their own church.
Let’s take a quick look back at the alleged apparition.
It was back in 1949 that Van Hoof claimed her first full-blown mystical experiences, which continued, or so she said, for thirty-four years, and which included apparitions, visions, and also alleged stigmata that started during Lent in 1951 and 1952.
“Our Holy Mother often appeared to Mary Ann Van Hoof with the plea of ‘Wake Up America,'” notes a website dedicated to Necedah. “Holy Mother begs mankind to fight the evils that have crept into our country; and, to stand for the truth and love of God. Any change for the good of our Country can only come through prayer; a Constant Vigil of Prayer as she requested. So many evils and sins are being accepted in our laws, that this is no longer America the Beautiful. Can we truly ask of God to Bless America, if we don’t take a stand and fight?”
Some would find such missives of particular poignancy in our own time.
Mary Ann Van Hoof was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, according to another website. “She was one of seven children, and four of her siblings were still living in 1950 when her career as a seer began (Zimdars-Swartz 1989:40). Mary Ann was baptized Catholic but was not raised in the Church. Her childhood was an unhappy one and she was repeatedly beaten by her father. Several of her later messages from Mary appear to allude to this abuse. Regarding one message, Van Hoof stated, ‘She [Mary] said I was an unhappy child, always abused, misunderstood’ (Queen of the Holy Rosary, Mediatrix of Peace Shrine 2014:20).
“The family moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Anna Maria received an eighth-grade education. Her mother, Elizabeth, was a Hungarian immigrant and a Spiritualist. Elizabeth joined the Kenosha Assembly of Spiritualists and served as its vice president from 1945-1948. Although Anna Maria was never in the group’s membership rolls, she reportedly participated in Spiritualist gatherings (Zimdars-Swartz 1989:41).”
“Her mother would take her to spiritualist lodges where people would hold seances,” Joseph Laycock, a professor at Texas State University, who has written about Marian apparitions. “In Van Hoof’s later claims, you see a strange blending of Catholic tradition with spiritualism.”
The apparitions remain on the forbidden list and are categorized at the highest level of ecclesiastical rejection — actual condemnation — placing it alongside apparition sites in Queens, New York, that began in the late 1960s, with the Bishop of Brooklyn eventually dissuading followers by threatening them with excommunication; San Damiano, Italy; Ezkioga, Spain; and assorted other spots, especially in South America.
While we respect followers as generally good people of faith and prayer, negative Church decisions, especially condemnations — and especially if there seems to be a Spiritualist connection — must be obeyed; when not due to the background of the seer, condemnations often coming as the result of the messages.
What were some of the others from Necedah?
As the Washington Post reported: “The Virgin Mary was said to urge prayer, particularly for the conversion of Russia. ‘At Necedah, and in her subsequent apparitions in the United States, Mary took on the role of a Cold Warrior, responding to the frightening course of events that had occurred in the aftermath of World War II,’ writes Thomas Kselman, professor emeritus at Notre Dame.
Van Hoof said she continued to receive private revelations from the Virgin Mary until her death in 1984. In her later life, according to the newspaper, she also claimed visions of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc and others.
“Van Hoof was trying to firmly frame Catholics as American long before Kennedy was elected president,” said Joseph Laycock, a Texas religion scholar. “People were saying you can’t be a true American and follow the Pope. She was saying Catholics are truly American because they are fighting Communists.”
We certainly don’t pass judgment on followers, unless they directly contravene the Church. Many good people have followed sites that are deemed problematic. This same spiritualistic texture was also noted at equally controversial apparitions at San Damiano, as well as some elsewhere in the United States. We note that a close follower of the site at San Damiano was the father of Annilese Michele, whose possession by evil spirits became the subject of a major movie.
Was there a link?
It is why we must always pray, exercise obedience, and fast; spirits bad and good move in every aspect of life; without those components, there is inadequate discernment. There is also the prospect of real danger.
As for apparitions themselves, if they are real and good, they somehow survive. As Scripture says (Acts 5:39), “if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”