Emmitsburg woman brings message from Mary to Maryland's faithful

FOLLOWING THE VISION OF THE VIRGIN

June 26, 1994|By Greg Tasker and Mary Gail Hare | Greg Tasker and Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writers

EMMITSBURG -- Gianna Talone-Sullivan says visions she experiences almost daily of the Virgin Mary make her grateful, although attention being generated as a result of them is "a great cross to bear."

The 37-year-old pharmacologist said also in a two-hour interview that her apparitions -- word of which has drawn growing, overflow crowds to a small Roman Catholic church here in recent months -- are the last that will occur in a period of time she cannot define.

She also said that in the six years she's been having the religious visions, she also has infrequently seen Jesus himself, as a man and as an infant. And she said she has received messages she cannot yet reveal.

The visions -- similar to those described by others in various places worldwide for many years -- have changed her life fundamentally, said Dr. Talone-Sullivan, to the point where she has virtually given up her career, attends daily Mass and prays three hours each day. Because she was asked to do so during one visitation, she said, she moved in November across the country from her native Arizona to Emmitsburg, far from her family and friends.

The visions began in 1988 after she visited a well-known shrine in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, but she has no explanation for why they began or continue. They are "not anything I merited," she said. "God chose me, and I feel blessed."

She described herself as having once been a "Sunday Catholic" and "affluent yuppie" focused on the pursuit of prestige and power.

"I was doing what I had to, to get ahead," Dr. Talone-Sullivan said. From 1989 to 1992, she was in charge of the geriatric pharmaceutical section of St. Joseph Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz. She got her pharmacology degree from the University of Southern California after undergraduate study at Arizona State University.

Believers and the curious have traveled to Emmitsburg from as far away as Florida and Ontario to catch a glimpse of Dr. Talone-Sullivan in the front pew of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church during Thursday evening prayers, in which Dr. Talone-Sullivan says she sees and receives a message from Mary -- a message she later shares in writing with the congregation.

"I'm simply an instrument, and I live life for others and do not interpret Our Lady's message," she said. "I unite with her in prayer."

Mary, the mother of Jesus and one of the most important figures in Christianity, is especially revered by Roman Catholics.

Crowds spill from the gray stucco, 152-year-old church, and officials there are installing speakers on the grounds to accommodate them. Thursday, people began arriving in early afternoon for the evening services, which began with dozens kneeling outside the church because all the seats inside were filled.

After the Thursday service, hundreds line the aisles seeking a blessing from her. An increasing number are ill or disabled. Dr. Talone-Sullivan does not claim to be a healer, but hopes her prayers "offer a greater healing" of the spirit.

People wait outside the door of the sacristry, the area behind the altar, hoping for a word with her. She only occasionally attends a reception in the parish hall after the Thursday services because the crowd is overwhelming.

Dr. Talone-Sullivan, who says she is a "private person," eschews the public, taking phone calls only through St. Joseph's rectory, and she guards her personal life. She won't divulge where she lives or where she works.

"I use prudence, especially to guard myself against spiritual pride," she said.

She said she sees visions of the Virgin Mary every day during evening prayer except Fridays, the day by tradition that Christ died.

Dr. Talone-Sullivan said she never heard of Emmitsburg before she and her husband visited the town's Grotto of Lourdes -- a replica of the more famous grotto of the same name in France -- before their marriage a year ago. There, unexpectedly, she received a vision from Mary asking her to move to Emmitsburg to do "good work."

She said she cannot divulge the extent of that work, but it includes the "Mission of Mercy," a mobile health clinic that will help the poor and homeless in several Western Maryland towns.

"It hurt me to leave my friends, family and spiritual community, but I was challenged to change," she said. At one point several years ago, she began preparations to be a nun, but she gave that up to marry about a year ago.

Her father, John Talone, who owns a real estate firm, mortgage company and other businesses in the Phoenix area, corroborated her assertion that moving to Maryland had been difficult.

And, he said, he has believed his daughter from the beginning.

"My children were brought up right," said Mr. Talone, who also has a son and another daughter. "They had a wonderful education. We've given them everything we possibly could. I would never doubt any of my children. My children are not phonies."

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