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Bob and Michael with the statue of St. Joseph at the Holy Family Shrine on Eden Hill.
The Mulligans during their trip to the hills of western Massachusetts.
Ah, the old fall foliage trick. Works all the time.
It goes something like this: You want to visit the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, but you're with people who aren't into all that "church stuff." So you lure them by the promise of that resplendent decay of chlorophyll-challenged leaves: fall foliage in the hills of New England. Guarded but curious, they come along with you, and then before you know it, miracles happen.
Mary Ellen Mulligan had it all planned out, everything except for "the miracles." She never expected those, though she'd been praying for them for years.
She, her husband, Bob, and son, Michael, visited the Shrine in Stockbridge, Mass., on Monday, Sept. 22. They had attended a wedding in Pennsylvania two days prior, and Mary Ellen convinced the two to travel to Stockbridge before heading home to Florida.
Once they arrived at the Shrine, everything seemed to go according to plan. The foliage held up its end of the bargain. Bob and Michael enjoyed walking the grounds of the Shrine. Bob even brought a book with him, hoping to find a peaceful corner somewhere on the grounds where he would read while his wife went into the Shrine for the recitation of the Rosary, Holy Mass, and praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy.
But before she headed into the Shrine, the three visited the Holy Family Shrine, located near the main Shrine. It's a favorite spot for pilgrims to prayerfully seek the guidance and protection of the Holy Family or simply thank God for the gift of family. Much to her surprise, when Mary Ellen told Bob and Michael she wanted to light candles for them, they both suggested they light the candles instead. This was peculiar. Lighting candles wasn't the sort of thing they did.
At best, both were lukewarm in their faith. Bob hadn't been to confession in more than 40 years, despite his wife's protestations. And her son Michael only attended Mass sporadically after many troublesome years in which he had abandoned his Catholic faith all together.
When it was time to go into the Shrine, Mary Ellen was in for another surprise. Instead of staying behind, both Bob and Michael decided to go in. That's when the surprise of all surprises occurred. As Mary Ellen puts it, "two miracles happened."
One involved her husband of 34 years. The other involved her 33-year-old son.
"I have been praying for both of them for many years," Mary Ellen explains. "I have been praying for their conversions. I prayed many, many Rosaries, offered many, many Masses, prayed many, many chaplets, and offered much penance for this intention. Before the trip, while in Adoration at my parish of St. Paul, I entrusted their souls to Our Lady and invoked the Divine Mercy of our Lord." She also prayed to the Marians' Founder, Blessed Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary Papczynski (1631-1701), a powerful intercessor.
As the three entered the Shrine, people were lining up for confession as others knelt in Eucharistic Adoration.
"I went to the front and knelt at the altar and bowed down in adoration and joy at being there," says Mary Ellen. "I also asked our Lord and [the Blessed Mother] to remember all my prayers. When I turned to go back to the pew where my husband was waiting, I noticed my son was in line for confession!
"I asked my husband if he wanted to go also, and he said yes. After he left to get in line, I couldn't get up. I was so happy, so moved, I broke down and cried in thanksgiving.
"You don't know how many conversations I have had with my husband through the years about the importance of confession," Mary Ellen continued. "I cannot put into words the elation running through me. How truly great and merciful is our God!"
Not only that, the two men stayed in the Shrine for two-and-a-half hours — reciting the Rosary, celebrating Holy Mass, and praying the chaplet.
"This is a record for them!" Mary Ellen says.
Mary Ellen is happy to report two month later that she has noticed many positive changes in both Bob and Michael. They are calmer, more pleasant, and more loving, she says.
"Bob pays more attention at Mass now and even discusses the gospel and sermon with me now," she says.
"I asked both of them what made them go to confession, and both said the same thing: When they entered the church, it was so beautiful and they could feel the presence of God and just felt moved to go."
She knows what moved them: the Holy Spirit. Following confession, Michael even went to the front pew "to draw closer to Christ," said Mary Ellen.
Mary Ellen, who learned about Divine Mercy two years ago through pro-life work she does in Florida, says she still has a lot of praying left to do: prayers of thanksgiving, prayers that her loved ones continue to feel the love and presence of the Merciful Lord, and prayers for the Marians and their ministry here at the Shrine and throughout the world.
"I think God was leading us to the Shrine," she says. "What the Marians are doing, spreading the message of Divine Mercy, it's working."