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Van Hoof, Mary Ann (1909-1984)

Van Hoof, Mary Ann (1909-1984)

Mary Ann Van Hoof, who reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Necedah, Wisconsin, for a quarter of a century beginning in 1949, was born Mary Ann Bieder on July 31, 1909, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, in a German-speaking family and attended school only through the eighth grade. As a young woman she married Godfried Van Hoof, and together they had eight children. They moved to Necedah, Wisconsin, in 1942.

Van Hoof had her initial brief apparition of the Virgin on November 12, 1949, which happened to be the anniversary of the last apparition of a set of appearances by the Virgin that had occurred the previous year in Lipa, Philippines. The following spring, beginning on April 7 (Good Friday), Van Hoof experienced a set of apparitions that called for a large shrine to be established for Marian devotion. Subsequent apparitions occurred on May 28 (Pentecost Sunday), May 29 and 30, and June 6 (Trinity Sunday). By the time of the June apparition, many had heard of Van Hoof seeing the Virgin, and a large crowd gathered. With the announcement that Mary would return on August 15 (marked by Roman Catholics as the feast day of the Assumption of Mary into heaven) and October 1 (the feast day honoring the rosary), the story became news and articles began to appear in newspapers throughout the Midwest.

In the meantime, the local Roman Catholic priest became aware of the apparitions and sent an initial report to his bishop in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The bishop issued an initial statement decrying any sensationalism associated with the apparitions and launched a study of Van Hoof's claims. Van Hoof believed the apparition told her the American Catholics must rededicate themselves to prayer and peity, or the Korean War would be the beginning of the end for America. She also indicated that the Soviets would invade the United States and Alaska would be "the first stepping stone." Prior to the August apparition, the diocesan paper called them into question. In spite of many bishops discouraging the faithful from attending, crowds estimated in the tens of thousands were present for the last two apparitions of 1950. Over the next few years the apparitions continued, and not only did people travel long distances to be present, but several hundred relocated their residence to Necedah. An organization emerged and the shrine that began at the location of the apparitions grew into a set of related shrines.

In 1955 the bishop gave a more definitive ruling. He suggested that Van Hoof's claims to supernatural visitation were false and prohibited all religious worship at the shrine, now named after Mary's appearance as the Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, Mediatrix of Peace. Van Hoof and her supporters were disappointed but continued in hope of a reversal of the ruling. Reminiscent of the apparition of Catherine Labouré in 1830, in 1957 Van Hoof was shown the design of a medal for the unity of church, home, and school, which was later struck and distributed.

Finally, in 1975, the bishop of La Crosse placed Van Hoof and her followers under an interdict, one step short of excommunication. They were denied access to all sacraments except confession. The interdict did not stop work at the shrine. Two years later Van Hoof announced plans to build a large sanctuary on her property, which she had inherited when her husband died in 1960.

In 1979, the final break with the Roman Catholic Church came as Van Hoof developed a relationship with Edward Michael Stehlik, the archbishop of a small independent church, the American National Catholic Church. She also pushed ahead with plans to build a home for infants and organized an order of nuns. Stehlik consecrated the shrine, which had grown into a sizable place of pilgrimage, but two years later Stehlik left the shrine. He denounced Van Hoof as a fraud and returned to the Roman Catholic Church. The scandal accompanying Stehlik's departure hurt Van Hoof, but did not affect many who had come to support her apparitions. Her visions of the Virgin continued, the work of the shrine grew, and several books appeared with texts of the apparitions and accounts of Van Hoof by her supporters.

In 1978, Van Hoof married Raymond Hirt. By this time, a pattern of pilgrimages to the shrine on the anniversaries of the 1950 apparitions had been established. Van Hoof died on March 18, 1984. She was buried at the shrine her visions inspired.

Sources:

Revelations and Messages as Given to Mary Ann Van Hoof. 2 vols. Necedah, Wis.: For My God and My Country, Inc., 1971, 1978.

Swan, Henry. My Work at Necedah. 4 vols. Necedah, Wis.: For My God and My Country, Inc., 1959.

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