St. Margaret Mary's bulletin for July 9, 2006, contained an odd warning:
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO PARISHIONERS: Our Lady Queen of Peace House of Prayer, that recently opened at 23700 Nameless Road in Leander, is doing so without the approval of Bishop Aymond. It should not be considered as sanctioned by the Catholic Church. Chancery officials have received several inquiries about its legitimacy and others have expressed concern regarding the situation. If you have any questions, please contact the Chancery at 476-4888.
A quick search online produced the Diocese of Austin's newsletter, the Friday E-Pistle for June 23, 2006, from which this warning was derived. It read:
Leander prayer house
Our Lady Queen of Peace House of Prayer, scheduled to open on June 23 at 23700 Nameless Road in Leander, is doing so without the approval of Bishop Aymond. It should NOT be considered as sanctioned by the Catholic Church. Chancery officials have received several inquiries about its legitimacy and others have expressed concern regarding the situation.
The house of prayer is associated with Ms. Christian Gallagher of the Tuam Archdiocese in Ireland. The Tuam Archdiocese does not recommend her or the House of Prayer as credible. We have also been informed that Father Gerald McGinnity, a priest of the Armaugh Archdiocese in Ireland, will accompany Ms. Gallagher to Austin. Father McGinnity has not been given permission to celebrate Mass at the House of Prayer and will not have faculties from the Austin Diocese to serve in any ministerial capacity.
I hope they realize such warnings encourage people like me to look deeper.
As it turns out, the woman behind all this is actually Christina Gallagher (not Christian), an Irish woman who claims to have been receiving visions of Our Lady for some time now, and to have received the stigmata, which is now for the most part invisible. She circulates a photograph of her visible stigmata, and it is available online. She also claims to have received orders to construct a medal called "the Matrix Medal." She has recently bought land here to build what is planned to be a series of Prayer Houses across the U.S. Back in Ireland, she is at the center of a great deal of controversy over money and whether or not her visions are legitimate. She is backed by her spiritual adviser, a doctor of Divinity named Fr. McGinnity. I'm not sure whether he's in Texas now -- I don't believe he is. She is not, though she came out for the dedication of the house on June 23, 2006.
The land she's bought sits in unincorporated county near Leander and Cedar Park, next to a war games or survivalist facility. (A sign in the parking lot warns the reader not to park too close to the boundary line, lest one's "vehical" (sic) be damaged by flying debris. Measures have been taken to prevent projectiles from flying across the grounds, one is told.) A stone wall and metal gate, bearing the image of the Matrix Medal, have already been constructed.
A building which contains the gift shop has been built. It appears to be a home for volunteers. It also holds a temporary chapel in what appears to be a living room. A relic of St. Anthony of Padua stands on the mantlepiece. A makeshift altar stood at one end of the room, with photos of Christina Gallagher standing around a large image of Our Lady, Queen of Peace in Ms Gallagher's own style.
I visited the place less than two hours ago with my brother, justanothersean, and my mother. When we entered the temporary chapel, three women, a small child, and a man sat within. As it turns out, we knew one of the women -- a former parishioner of St. Margaret Mary's. It was just a few minutes from the five o'clock prayers, and we wanted to see the gift shop, so I headed towards the door. As it turns out, we weren't the only curious visitors who were confused about things -- the former parishioner and another women and the child got up to join us, and a man stood up and told us the other woman would open the gift shop for us. This man seemed to call the shots; we learnt nothing else about him.
We looked about the gift shop, and had the chance to chat with the other visitors and the woman, Joan. Joan told us that she is from Florida, but she spoke with a hint of a northeastern accent. It seems she was running a Marian apostolate there for some time, but she tells us she was trained in Ireland to come here. I bought a book -- Out of Ecstacy & Onto the Cross: Biography of Christina Gallagher -- and then asked her, "Why is it that the Diocese isn't involved in all this." I knew it may be a little rude, but I knew she had to have an answer.
She told us that all visionaries are disbelieved at first, and that it takes a long time for the Church to recognize them. Look at Medjugorje, she told us. From what I understand, the visionaries at Medjugorje have been condemned by the local bishop, but are supported by the Franciscan provincial in charge of the church the visionaries attended. Medjugorje has a great deal of support in the Church, including that of many priests, though it does not have the support of the Church.
Given the warnings in the bulletin, I found it ironic that the front page of St. Margaret Mary's bulletin was stapled to the sign board inside the bookstore. Joan said she now attends St. Margaret Mary's, and it will be interesting to see what relationship forms between the church and the prayer house. The pastor, Fr. Le-Minh Pham, is a big supporter of Medjugorje, and even brought back a medal for each family in the church when he went on pilgrimage there some years ago.
As it turns out, the woman from our church who was there had never heard of Christina Gallagher, which seemed to surprise and even hurt the woman at the cash register. Nevertheless, she was very uncritical of her visions, and saw the establishment of this prayer house as one in a number of foundations which would make this a more spiritual place. I'm sure the prayer house is intending to draw Catholics like her, who accept the existence of the prayer house uncritically, but can then be swayed to accept the validity of the visions -- and the agenda of the visionary.
The woman wanted a holy water bottle, but she was sold a small bottle with water already in it. I asked the woman who blessed the water -- whether it was Fr. McGinnity. She told me it was special holy water from Ireland, "blessed by Our Lady."
Gallagher is following a formula common today: a middle age married woman who claims to have visions and stigmata, who receives a picture and a medal and special water. In the past, there were a number of visionaries supported by the Church who each received something new. St. Margaret Mary was given the image of the Sacred Heart. St. Bernardette was told to dig -- and found a spring in a barren place, which has flowed at Lourdes ever since. St. Catherine Labourne was given the Miraculous Medal. The children at Fatima were given a series of secrets or revelations, the last of which was made public by Pope John Paul II shortly before his death. Modern individuals who claim to be visionaries often combine all of these -- just as Christina Gallagher claims to have received all of them. For that very reason, her visions ring false with me.
It will be interesting to see how all this plays out, in Ireland and in the US. A great deal of controversy already surrounds Gallagher, and her detractors allege she misappropriates funds. Nevertheless, she seems to be one of the more mainstream of the many apparitions supposed to be occurring today. It should be remembered that Lourdes was originally condemned by the local bishop -- but that St. Bernardette did not then set up a multinational organization to support her claims. Fortunately, the Church has ruled that there will never be a new revelation necessary for salvation, and that no individual must believe in any apparition, even those like Fatima and Lourdes which the Church supports.