Herald of Our Lady of Good Success
by John Vennari
One night, not long after Mother Mariana’s entered her year of Novitiate, she was in prayer before the tabernacle. She suddenly heard an overpowering sound and the entire church became shrouded in darkness.
Not knowing what this was or why it happened, she reflected if perhaps her own sins were responsible for frightening prodigy. She had made her profession in Quito on October 4, 1579, was a model of prayer, kindness and religious observance, and took upon herself the most arduous penances. Yet in her humility, she thought perhaps it was through some fault of hers that darkness enveloped the Church.
Looking up, she then beheld the main altar illuminated, followed by a vision Jesus Crucified, along with Our Lady, Saint John and Saint Mary Magdalene. The suffering Christ began His death agony.
“My Lady, am I guilty?” asked Mother Mariana.
“You are not guilty,” responded the Virgin, ”but rather the sinful world,”
As Our Lord continued His agony, the little nun heard the voice of the Eternal Father, “This punishment will be for the twentieth century.”
Over the head of Our Lord, Mother Mariana saw three swords. On each was written, “I shall punish heresy, blasphemy and impurity.” She was given to understand these would be the great sins of that century.
Our Lady asked her, “My daughter, will you sacrifice yourself for the people of this time?” The little nun responded, “I will.” The three swords then moved from the suffering Christ and plunged into the heart of Mother Mariana, who fell dead to the ground.
Her sisters found her body cold, lifeless on the lower choir floor. Doctor Sancho was summoned. “Mother Mariana is dead,” exclaimed the tearful doctor, “Her beautiful soul has left the lovely abode of her body. Call an artist so that her portrait may might be painted before she is buried.”
News of the death immediately rippled through Quito. Theologians from the Franciscans, who were still overseeing the order, arrived on the scene along with the Abbess at the time, Mother Maria de Jesus Taboada. The mysterious nature of Mother Marianna’s death then began to emerge. The artist who had been called to paint her portrait arrived, but, in the words of her biographer Father Pereira, “could not enter, prevented by an inexplicable force.”
Though Mother Mariana had indeed died and had been presented before the judgment seat of Heaven, her work on earth was not yet over. The Father Superior, inspired by God, commanded, “Mother Mariana, I order you in the name of holy obedience, that if you are dead, your soul return to your body so that it may live and you may be able to tell us what happened.”
Immediately Mother Mariana resumed breathing and opened her eyes. Father Superior told her to relate everything that happened, to which the little nun recounted the remarkable happening.
At her death, Mother Mariana was presented before God’s judgment and found blameless. She then prostrated herself before the Most Blessed Trinity, and was given an elevated understanding of this ineffable mystery. As Father Pereira relates: “The Eternal Father rejoiced for having created her, the Divine Son for having redeemed her and taken her for His spouse, and the Holy Ghost for having sanctified her.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ presented Mother Mariana with two crowns: one of glory and unspeakable beauty, the other of lilies surrounded by thorns. “Choose one of these crowns,” Our Lord said to her. Mother Mariana understood that choosing the glorious crown would grant her immediate access to heaven, and choosing the crown of the thorns would mean her returning to the world.
At that moment she was given to understand remarkable details of the future; she would know of all the nuns at the convent from then until the end of time; their names and offices; those who would remain faithful and those would not; that she would become mistress of novices; that the Franciscan Friars would be removed from governing the convent and the anguish that would result, and countless other particulars about the convent until the end of time.
Our Lady said, “My daughter, I left the glories of Heaven and came down to earth in order to protect my children. I would like you to imitate me also in this and return to life, since your life is very necessary for the Order of my Conception. Woe to the Colony [Ecuador] in the twentieth century, in which this land will be blameworthy! If souls are not found to appease Divine Justice with their life of immolation and sacrifice, fire will rain from the sky, by consuming its inhabitants, the land of Ecuador will be purified.”
Mother Mariana believed she was not fit for the office of Novice Mistress, but Our Lady replied, “Daughter of my heart, Do not fear. You will not, strictly speaking, be the mistress. Through you I will transform your novices into religious saints…”
With this, Mother Mariana chose the crown of thorns and was returned to the world, having offered herself a victim soul to God for the sins of men, and in particular for the sins of the twentieth century.
We recall that elsewhere Our Lady warned Mother Mariana, “At the end of the nineteenth century and for a good part of the twentieth century, various heresies will be spread in this land,” and that “passions will erupt,” the “atmosphere will be saturated with the spirit of impurity,” “childhood innocence will scarcely be found,” and “the Church will suffer a dark night.” Mother Marina offered her life of suffering for those of us living in our time – and her suffering would be immense.
It is this understanding of Mother Mariana’s profound connection to our day that draws countless souls to Our Lady of Good Success, and to visit the Conceptionist convent in Ecuador.
As related last month, I was privileged to visit Quito from January 28 to February 4 earlier this year, to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Canonical Crowning of the Miraculous Statue. I was also privileged to visit the convent and venerate the incorrupt body of Mother Mariana.
We are now running a series of articles on this remarkable story not only for its own sake, but as a remedy to the chronic reports of scandal and heresy within our beloved Catholic Church. May this series provide a kind of spiritual oasis within pestilential desert of the post-Conciliar period. As prophesied by these apparitions, “Heresy, blasphemy and impurity” are the great sins of our age. The true stories we relate hear are meant to refresh and inspire, and give us a break from the constant stream of bad news.
Though these episodes are inspiring for us, they were often difficult for those who lived through them, as we is evident in the sea voyage from Spain to the Quito.
The Call from Ecuador
The Order of the Immaculate Conception – the Conceptionist Order – was found by Saint Beatriz da Silva in Portugal in 1484, eight years before Columbus discovered the New World. The Conceptionists were founded in accord with the explicit desire of Our Lady who said, “Beatrice, I would like you to found a new Order in honor of My Immaculate Conception [whose religious will be] clothed with a white habit and a blue mantel, as I wear.”
Readers will recall from last month: Mother Mariana, at the time of her death, predicted that Saint Beatriz would be canonized in the 20th Century. This came to pass on October 3, 1976, when she was canonized by Pope Paul VI.
There was a Conceptionist Convent in Spain – the mother country of Ecuador – and the pious matrons of Quito knew it. In 1556, they petitioned civil and ecclesial authorities to establish an order of Conceptionist in their city. Quito itself was founded in 1534, and had already imported various religious orders such as the Franciscans, Mercedarians and Dominicans. Nonetheless the influential ladies of the city desired a Conceptionist Convent in their midst.
In 1575 the request was approved, and an appeal dispatched to King Phillip II of Spain who granted the petition. The Sovereign arranged five nuns from the Conceptionist convent in Galicia to travel to Quito. One of these nuns – the Superior – was the king’s cousin, Mother Maria de Jesus Taboada.
Perilous Sea Voyage
The group of Conceptionist set sail from Spain to South America in 1576, two hundred years before the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. According to the account by Father Pereira, along with them came a remarkable 13-year old named Marina Francesca Torres y Berriocha.
This young girl, who was the niece of Mother Taboada, had already been favored with supernatural manifestations. At age nine, when Mariana Francesca received First Communion, Our Lady communicated to her that she was destined to be a Conceptionist sister, and that Heaven wanted her to join the new convent in Ecuador. “Leave behind your country and the house of your parents,” Our Lord told her, “because the King of Heaven is enamored of your beauty.”
Young Marianna agreed to this sacrifice, and in 1576 set on voyage with the five founding Mothers.
A violent storm broke out at sea that threatened to destroy the ship. The nuns on board prayed for safety and deliverance. At one point young Mariana screamed and fainted, and the nuns continued to beseech Heaven in the face of the terrifying storm. When Mariana awoke, she heard a horrible voice shriek, “I shall not permit the foundation. I shall not permit it to go forward. I shall not permit it to endure until the end of time, and I shall persecute it unceasingly.”
Mariana later explained to the sisters that the shout came from a colossal serpent, “a horrible, writhing creature.” She comforted the nuns saying, “I also saw a Lady of incomparable beauty, clothed in the sun and crowned with starts, carrying a beautiful child in her arms. Over the heart of this Lady was a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. In one of her hands she carried a large cross of gold, which at its end took the shape of a lance. With this she subdued the enormous serpent with its two-edged tongue. The Lady, who wielded the cross with the help of the Blessed Sacrament and the hand of the Child, struck the head of the serpent with such force that it was slashed to pieces. At that moment, this monstrous serpent cried out that it would not permit the foundation of the Order of the Immaculate Conception.”
Mother Maria Taboada, impressed with this vision, eventually arranged a picture drawn of this scene of the Virgin holding the Child Jesus, which would then be made into a cloth medallion that the Conceptions wear on their bosom of their habits.
At the time, however, Mother Taboada did not hide her consternation. If such hellish turmoil was in store, would it not be better they return to Spain and abandon the idea of a Quito foundation? Mariana responded that the Convent would receive the protection of Our Lady until the end of time.
The nuns persevered in their journey and arrived at Quito on December 30, 1576. The Convent was formally founded on January 13, 1577, under the Franciscan Friars. Soon young woman seeking religious life knocked at the convent door. Many of these women would be a blessing to the Order, but some would be a scourge.
Her Offices and Miracles
After Mother Mariana’s “first death” related earlier (for there would be a second in 1589, and then her final death in 1635) she continued in her religious life and was a model of goodness and virtue, which won her the admiration of the other sisters. Her life was one of constant miracles and extraordinary events. Father Periera, who tells her story, lists the various posts she held in the convent. There are miraculous occurrences attached to each of them.
When she held the office of Infirmarian, a young nun burnt her face and hand to the bone. Mother Mariana prayed assiduously and within a month, the burn was completely cured.
She then held the office of Bursar. At this time, Father Pereira writes, “When there was not enough bread for the convent inhabitants, what they had would be multiplied in her hands.” When the convent suffered from a material need, Mother Mariana would pray before the tabernacle. The convent would soon be the recipient of sufficient alms.
When she was Sacristan, her guardian angel once awoke her to report the tabernacle light had gone out. Mother Mariana immediately arose and relit the lamp.
When she was Portress, communicating with people at the convent turnstile, Mother Mariana was responsible for numerous and miraculous conversions.
She also fulfilled the office of Choir Mistress, and was a model of perfection in praying the Divine Office, always punctual and recollected. One day while she was cleaning the choir seats, deceased religious sisters appeared to her confessing they were being punished in Purgatory because they prayed little, or broke their silence in choir, or entertained distractions while in prayer. Mother Mariana prayed for them and their pains were alleviated.
In time, as she was foretold at her “first death,” Mother Mariana was appointed as Mistress of Novices. We recall the promise of Our Lady, ““Do not fear. You will not, strictly speaking, be the mistress. Through you I will transform your novices into religious saints…”
On becoming Mistress of Novices, she received three novices and four postulants, and guided them with supernatural care. She governed and formed souls so well that they quickly grew in virtue, and many more postulants sought entrance.
Mother Mariana had supernatural foreknowledge of her novices lives. She knew when and how each of them would die. To sisters whom she knew would die before her, she said, “My daughter, I shall not leave your bedside until I have delivered your soul into the hands of God Our Lord.” To those who would die after her, she would plead, “My daughter, when death approaches, do not forget your Mother.” She understood the interior of each of the novices placed in her care.
No sister could conceal a fault from Mother Mariana. With great sweetness, Mother Mariana would call such a soul aside to say, “My daughter you committed such-and-such a fault today, your broke silence in such-and-such a place, saying these words … Let us go now and do penance.” She would then kneel down with the sister to beg the Lord’s pardon. Mother Mariana was always the first in example, observing the Holy Rule in its strictest detail, and always radiating charity and sweetness to her novices and all the sisters.
First Apparition and Second “Death”
This brings us to what is called the First Apparition of Our Lady to Mother Mariana, February 2, 1589. The prodigy began in a frightening manner. Mother Mariana was in bed suffering both physical and spiritual anguish, undergoing an intense dark night of soul. She beheld the terrifying vision of serpent slithering upon the wall. The frightened religious cried out to Our Lady, “Star of the Saw, Mary Immaculate … Save me for I perish.”
She was immediately surrounded by a heavenly light, an affectionate hand touched her head. A Heavenly Lady said, “Why do you fear, my daughter? Do you not know that I am with you in tribulation? Rise up and look at me.”
Mother Mariana did so and asked, “Who are you, beautiful Lady?”
The vision responded, “I am the Mother of Heaven whom you invoke. I have come to dissipate the darkness of the night of your soul. You see now what Hell is, for you have experienced it, but you shall remain their no longer. I will place you in Purgatory that you may finish purifying your soul, for your Lord and God has destined you for great and auspicious things during your lifetime.”
Our Lady then revealed that Mariana’s dear Aunt, Mother Maria Taboada, would soon end her mortal life. “She will receive her reward for the many sacrifices and suffering she has endured over the foundation of this Convent, which I love with all my Heart.”
The Blessed Mother warned Mother Mariana of the persecution the convent would suffer in the future, but also foretold of many holy religious who would sustain the Convent and the rule. As promised, she then sent Mariana her mysterious “Purgatory” from which she suffered for seven months.
At 9:00 am, September 12, 1589, Mariana received Extreme Union and at 6:30 that evening the holy religious died. Doctor Sancho, the convent physician, bore witness to her death. The sisters prepared her body, funeral preparations were underway, great sadness enveloped the house.
The next morning, when the nuns entered the upper choir to chant the Little Office, they were stunned to behold Mother Mariana praying. This caused quite a stir. “Frightened,” writes Father Pereira, “the sisters began to take flight, but Mother Mariana called out to them, ‘I am alive. Why do you fear, you who have loved me so dearly?”
After a certain amount of calm was restored, Mother Mariana prayed with her aunt, assuring her she was indeed alive.
She then related to Mother Taboada and to her Franciscan confessor what happened during her death. Our Lord placed her in a spiritual Purgatory to undergo further expiation until 3:00 am, at which time her soul returned to her body “communicating to it all of her former vigor and health.” Those who behold her noted her rosy cheeks and healthy appearance.
Doctor Sancho was summoned to the convent but refused to go, believing the sisters had gone mad from exhaustion. He set out for the Franciscan monastery to urge the Friars to bury the body as soon as possible. Finding no one at the Friary, the doctor redirected his steps to the Conceptionist convent and was stunned to find Mother Mariana alive and strong. Father Peira writes that Doctor Sancho, “along with the Franciscan priests who were present and the Community of sisters, made a solemn oath of what had taken place. These testimonies are preserved in the archives of the Convent.”
All of these remarkable happenings occurred before the Virgin revealed herself as Our Lady of Good Success, before She requested the statue be made, and before the intense persecution Mariana would undergo inside the convent by non-observant sisters, led by a wayward nun who came to be known as El Capitana.
We have also yet to mention the repeated visitations of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael throughout Mariana’s life. These topics will be introduced next month.
– The material on these accounts comes from The Story of Our Lady of Good Success and Novena, An Abridgment of the book written by Rev. Father Manual Sousa Pereira [Dolores Press, 2013]; and The Admirable Life of Mother Mariana, Vol. I, Father Manual Sousa Pereira, translated by Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D., [Tradition in Action, 1999]. Father Pereira’s original work was written in Spanish in 1790. In all quotations, emphasis added by author.