Berks County, PA – MINERSVILLE — They came — to an alley behind the nondenominational Church of Broken Pieces — armed with faith and hoping to see the mother of God.
Some in the crowd of 250 clutched rosary beads and whispered the prayer “Hail Mary, full of grace ….”
In silence, the crowd stood transfixed in front of an ordinary garage door.
An apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, had reportedly appeared several times on the garage door in recent days.
Hundreds had seen the ghostly white shadow that surrounded the outline of a woman in blue, flowing robes.
“It was so clear on Sunday,” insisted Martha Wasser, 73, of Minersville. “I saw the Blessed Mother on that garage door.”
Wasser thought it providential that the day before she saw the apparition she received a photograph of the Blessed Mother in the mail. It came from a group supporting Our Lady of Fatima, the name given Mary when she was said to have appeared to children in Portugal in 1917.
“The letter said there could be a miracle in your house,” said Wasser, who clutched a rosary and wore an Our Lady of Fatima medal around her neck. “Well, it happened on my street, that’s close enough.”
The Rev. Eric J. Gruber, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Minersville, said the Allentown Diocese is aware of the vision’s appearances but plans no investigation.
Gruber, who has had inquiries from some of his parishioners, has not visited the site.
“It’s great that people respond with faith,” he said, “while others are more skeptical.”
Donna Hashin, who has seen the image five times since Aug. 24, had no doubt that a miracle had occurred in the heart of the coal region.
With her arms outstretched as if in prayer, Hashin, 54, described a glowing vision that started at the bottom of the garage door and gradually moved upward. It appeared around 6 p.m. and lasted about an hour, she said.
She had no doubt that it was a miracle, though she could not explain it.
“You just know it’s her,” said Hashin, who’s Catholic, referring to the Blessed Mother.
Those who saw it say the image first appeared Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the day Catholics believe she was taken up into Heaven. Some of those gathered on Lewis Street, a narrow lane a block off Minersville’s business district, believe the apparition will last until Sept. 8, Mary’s birthday.
On Thursday, as believers and sightseers formed a crowded semi-circle around the garage door, the image did not appear.
However, the image did reappear Friday and Saturday. Big crowds of faithful turned out again to watch.
On Thursday, the crowd had gotten too large and was standing too close to the garage some who had seen the image said. Their exhortations for the crowd to move back went unheeded.
Even those who believe think the image has something to do with the setting sun. Coming as the sun sets, they think it may be a reflection from the casement windows of an abandoned four-story factory nearby.
On this day, the sky was overcast and the sun but a blurred image of itself fading in the western sky.
But, they wonder, if it’s a reflection, why the white aura around the blue silhouette? Why would it be so perfectly formed in the image of a woman in blue?
“Everyone has their own version,” said Hashin, a day care worker.
So they came, each for their own reasons, to see the miracle on the door of a garage whose only occupant is a vintage 1957 Plymouth that was never driven by its owner, a Minersville man who became disabled shortly after buying it brand new.
Joe Echo, 84, steadying himself with a cane, stood inches away from the garage in the front row. Cancer had invaded his vocal cords, and he could speak in but a whisper.
It had taken 65 radiation treatments, but Echo had beaten the cancer in his throat. Now it was in his bladder. He was to have been operated on the day before, but the surgery was postponed at the last minute.
He came to ask for divine intervention.
“I pray that the Blessed Mother will help me somehow,” said Echo, of Mahanoy City, another small Schuylkill County town.
Alyssa Dulkowski, cradling her 9-month-old son, James, had a revelation upon hearing of the apparition. She had not seen it, but it had already affected her young life.
“I had stopped believing,” confessed Dulkowski, who lives a few blocks away. “This is crazy, it’s like a sign or something.”
Judy Faust of Deer Lake is Protestant, yet she embraced the image as a spiritual message to a world sorely in need of a savior.
“It’s definitely a sign for the times,” said Faust, a nurse.
It mattered not whether the image appeared, said Faust, whose T-shirt read “Everyone needs to believe in someone, I believe in Jesus.”
“God is alive and doing well in the hearts of the people,” she said. “Just look around and you can see the joy in their faces.”
Standing next to Faust was Harvir Dhaliwal, 12, whose father runs the Minersville General Store around the corner.
Dhaliwal, a student at Blue Mountain Middle School in Orwigsburg, worships at the Sikh Society of Blue Mountain in Bethel.
“God is amongst us,” the boy said with the conviction of a preacher. “You can tell by the many believers who have gathered here.”
Stunned by the boy’s maturity and eloquence, Faust crossed her arms on her chest, as if to hug the boy. After all, Jesus was 12 when he lectured the elders in the temple in Jerusalem.
“I come from a different culture, and we call it by a different name,” Dhaliwal continued. “But it’s all the same God.”
Standing nearby, Michele Scribbick sighed in amazement, her eyes welling.
She hadn’t seen the apparition but was not dismayed when it did not appear.
“You really don’t have to see to believe,” said Scribbick, 43, an educational consultant at McCann Business School in Mahanoy City.
“To have seen it would have strengthened everybody’s faith,” said Scribbick. “I love the idea of it, seeing it would have been incredible.”
Michael Weiss, 17, a senior at Nativity BVM High in Pottsville, would loved to have seen the image. After all, BVM in his school’s name stands for Blessed Virgin Mary.
“I think it’s real, I believe in her,” said Weiss, who plans to study writing at Penn State University. “The world is getting pretty bad, and she’s trying to tell us to stop all this war.”
Christine Starr of Pottsville, 47, a private-duty nurse, has seen her share of miracles. Tending the sick, she said she has witnessed courage in the face of death.
“I believe in it,” said Starr.
“I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s the Blessed Mother,” she continued. “She’s here because of the strong beliefs in this town.”
Although the image was not visible to most, Starr insisted she saw it momentarily. She managed to snap a photo with her cell phone. It looked as if there was something there, a misty oval that stood out from the white background of the garage door.
“It’s here,” screamed Starr, showing the photo to onlookers.
Larry Delinski, 25, Shamokin, an amateur photographer, wasn’t as lucky. He didn’t catch an image on his sophisticated digital camera.
Somewhat of a skeptic, Delinski could not rule out the notion that whatever was on the garage door was, indeed, the Blessed Mother.
He recalled that some weeks ago someone had spray-painted racist epithets and a swastika on a church in Minersville. Maybe that had something to do with why the image appeared in Minersville, he thought.
“I guess,” Delinski mused, “this would be an appropriate place for a miracle to happen.”
•Contact reporter Ron Devlin at 610-371-5030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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