"His Designs" - A Narrative on the Virgin Mary Images in Northern Saskatchewan



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His Designs
A Narrative on the Virgin Mary Images in Northern Saskatchewan.
by Joshua S. Caswell

Back to News Page: Saint Mary in Saskatchewan

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Note: The following story is based on real facts and is as accurate as possible.

In a small home in northern Canada, the soft murmur of prayers, in more than one tongue, rises from a group of young and old, some standing, some kneeling, in front of a living room window. A small shrine is situated below, adorned with plastic roses, holy pictures, prayer beads, votive candles and two small statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. On this cold evening the door unceasingly opens and closes as a perpetual stream of pilgrims file through the warm shelter. Outside, the surroundings are frigid yet serene, as many stand facing the window clutching prayer beads. Some hold modern camcorders, capturing the stirring scene in front of them. Quiet whispers ascend from the gathering, expressing awe and amazement at the beautiful picture before them. The crowd’s gaze is not fixed on the window, but neither is it fixed on what lies behind it. 

This has been a characteristic scene in several remote comminutes across northern Saskatchewan. So what is it that has drawn over 10,000 visitors to unpretentious homes in various communities? What causes throngs of pilgrims to come and touch or even kiss a window? What prompts hundreds to fill churches and prayer meetings when formerly they were scarcely attended?

 I. A Woman in a Greenhouse

 On the crisp autumn evening of September 9th, 2002, Andre Bouvier pulled into the driveway of his home, located in the small northern community of Ile-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan where something in the back of his yard caught his attention. It was his small greenhouse he had built of out of scrap wood and windows the year before. Something in it looked like a person, it was glowing. “Was it a ghost?” he wondered.

Startled, Andre got out of his truck and walked over to the greenhouse, where he was astonished to find a glowing full body likeness of a woman on the window. Her arms were spread open - as if in blessing. He suddenly was overcome by a scent of something sweet — “Roses! I smell roses,” he thought, “but how is that possible? There are only tomatoes growing inside the greenhouse!”

To Andre, the image looked like the Virgin Mary. “It is like the one of Fatima,” he thought. He began to wonder if someone was pulling a trick on him. He tried to scrub the image off the window, but the image seemed to become more distinct and looked as if it was sealed in between the panes.

By midnight hundreds of the community’s residents had heard the news of the Virgin Mary’s evident appearance. Neighbors had gotten up from their sleep and were gathered at the Bouvier’s, some still in their pajamas. The image now glowed with a cross in the centre. They all stared with disbelief and bewilderment at the image of what was evidently the Mother of Christ. A cross flashed in the unclouded night sky, which immediately prompted all those present to kneel. They began to pray the Rosary, a prayer that they had always known as a part of their faith and culture since the Grey Nuns came to Ile-a-la-Crosse over 100 years ago.

More than 50 miles away, on the Indian reserve of Patchunak, a group of teenagers, out for a late night walk, began pointing in the direction of Ile-a-la-Crosse where a glowing halo of soft light seems much different from the usual Northern Lights.

The following weeks, throngs of people, from across the province and beyond, visited the little greenhouse in Ile-a-la-Crosse who saw many holy figures and symbols. All who came were seeking a blessing, even though many were unbelievers before coming. A visit of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue from Fatima, which has been to many countries around the world, was scheduled to visit Ile-a-la-Crosse that coincided with these events. The statue, followed by a convoy of vehicles a mile long, came to Ile-a-la-Crosse and made an unscheduled stop at the Bouvier’s residence where the phenomena was still occurring. That night, after the statue had departed, an exact representation of the statue was visible on the window, seen by a crowd of over one thousand.

 II.  Rainbow” Colours

Not long after the images had ceased in Ile-a-la-Crosse similar phenomena in the small Indian reserve of Fond-du-Lac attracted the entire community of 900 to the living room window of John and Lillian Pacquette more than 500 km away. John, a champion dog-racer, noticed the images on October 31, but didn’t say anything as he was afraid people would think he was crazy.

On a cloudy Sunday afternoon, three days after John first noticed the image, he and his family returned from church services when his wife and daughter noticed the frosty likeness of the Virgin Mary. The sun came out unexpectedly and illuminated the image with rainbow colours. Bewildered, the Pacquette’s didn’t know what to do.

“I must go and talk to the elders,” John told his wife, “they will know what to do.”

Upon returning with an elder from the community, he found his house full of onlookers, all standing inside and outside of his house gazing at the image on his window. The amazed crowd began to pray in their native language.

During the next few weeks many people prayed incessantly in his home that was always open to visitors. The young people began to have a great interest in the faith of their parents. Church services now drew hundreds instead of the usual scant few who attended. Although Fond-du-Lac was inaccessible by road, flights were chartered from as far away as Yellowknife, N.W.T. specifically as pilgrimages to his living room for the purpose of receiving a spiritual blessing.

Photographs of the Virgin Mary on a window began to leak out of the community and were reproduced by printer and photocopier. Images were circulated throughout the province by email, internet and other ways of communication. The phenomena continued for the next few weeks but the images eventually faded... unlike the effect of the continuing faith and prayers.

People came from surrounding communities, including the community of Black Lake, only 30 miles from Fond-du-Lac. These people had seen the images in Fond-du-Lac, but why did they have a reason to think that the same things would happen to them?

 III. Churches Packed 

It was in the late afternoon on Saturday, November 23, when Mrs. Sandypoint of Black Lake first noticed the image on her living room window, that she herself believed was the Holy Mother. Excited, she promptly ran next door to her daughter’s house to let her know of the wonderful news.

“Marie! Marie! Come over to my house! There is something I want you too see,” Mrs. Sandypoint said eagerly in her native language of Dené.

Marie followed her mother to the next house.

“Look at the window. What do you see?” Mrs. Sandypoint asked.

Marie was bewildered, as she took a moment to take in such beautiful sight, but as clear as it was, she couldn’t believe.  “Don’t tell anyone until you know for sure what is going on,” she said, “do you want people to think you are crazy?”

The sun was beginning to set as Marie tried to scrub the image off from the inside and outside of the window this had no effect, as it seemed to grow larger the more she tried to remove it. As the last rays of the sun hit the window, it suddenly lit up with a display of colour catching the attention of the several children who were playing in the yard below the window.

“Look! It’s Mary!” shouted one small child.

Marie, noticing that the children were pointing excitedly at the image on the window quieted them and told them strictly not to say anything. She turned back to take another glance at the window and as she tried to say something else to the children, she realized, to her dismay, they had run off to tell the others who were already beginning to come and investigate what the ecstatic children had told them.

Frightened, Marie ran home and wouldn’t even answer the ringing phone. She thought people would think she was crazy for seeing the Virgin Mary on the window. But after gaining the courage to go outside, she saw to her overwhelming happiness that many people were gathered in front of her Mother’s house and they all were gazing at the Virgin! They sang hymns and prayed in Dené. “It is true then,” she thought, “she has come to Black Lake!”

The effect on the community of Black Lake after such an event proved to be more a miracle than the images themselves. Suffering grief from unexpected deaths due to drugs and alcoholism, many would return to their traditional Faith and the little Catholic church would become so packed people would spill out of the doors to hear the Mass. As the phenomenal images gradually faded, the prayers and hymns continued… while the faith increased.

After a quiet but prayer-filled December, people all over Saskatchewan had not thought that the Virgin Mary would show herself again, but they were not disappointed as they pondered the events of the last three months. How could they forget all the wonderful things they had heard and seen?

 IV. Multiple Images

In a little town of Beauval, not far from Ile-a-la-Crosse, Christmas came as it usually did. Many from the area had heard of the events in Black Lake and Fond-du-Lac but nobody had expected what would prove to be a multiple occurrence of the Virgin Mary images in their own vicinity.

On Monday night of January 7th, the following year, two separate images of the Virgin Mary appeared on two houses a block away from each other, attracting hundreds of onlookers who went back and forth between the two homes until the early hours of the morning. This was indeed the fourth place with the phenomena. One of the images had actually been appearing since December 22nd accompanied by the usual scent of roses.

On this particular Monday, Bertha Durocher was observing the images with the large number of onlookers who had gathered at Lillian Aubichon’s home to see the image of the Virgin Mary. It was almost 7:00, when she decided it was time to return home and make supper, but upon pulling into her driveway, she was surprised to find a glowing image of the Virgin Mary on her own living room window.

“Am I just seeing things?” she wondered. She decided to ignore it. “What if it was just a reflection or something?” she asked herself. After making supper she went back to Lillian’s home to pray, where many from Ile-a-la-Crosse were now present. Again she returned home to find the image glowing brighter. She wanted to ignore it, but she felt she had to ask somebody.

“It looks like the Virgin Mary,” said Bertha’s son, Jesse, as if he were stating a simple fact.

“You are probably just seeing your shadow,” others said skeptically.

Bertha decided she should just ignore the image and not talk about it. “Maybe, it will go away,” she thought. After a few hours, the glowing image became too noticeable to ignore. It wasn’t until shortly after midnight, that she decided to tell Lillian and those who had gathered at the nearby house.

Lillian entered the yard with Bertha and was astounded at the image that indeed looked like the one on her home. “Shut off the headlights.” she said, thinking that it might be a reflection; but the aurora coloured image glowed with its own light.

The crowd at Lillian’s soon became aware of a second appearance and rushed over to Bertha’s house with rosaries and cameras in hand. Many went to notify others who still continue to come and pray the rosary in these homes.

These were not the final images in Beauval, for more manifestations appeared on other windows. Intricate roses, as if etched by a heavenly artist, appeared below a full body outline of the Virgin Mary on a window not far from these events. Although all these cases were similar in their effect of prompting prayer, they were still interestingly unique. Yet one of the most unique displays of the images was yet to occur.

 V. “Stained Glass”

It didn’t come as a tremendous surprise, to those in Beauval, when the news of another case of the Virgin Mary images hit close to home. This time it was near the little community of Canoe Narrows. The colourful six-foot image appeared on a “French door” in the home of Billy Opekekiw who owns the confectionery/gas-station along the highway just before the little Indian reserve of Canoe Narrows.

Billy and his wife, upon returning home, walked into his living room where he was astonished to see his entire glass door, leading out to the deck, fully covered with flowing prism type colour with interesting curving shapes and designs. It almost looked like a stained glass window with the dark contrasting lines and bright areas of colour.

His wife suggested maybe the window was vandalized, “What else could it be? It wasn’t here before,” she said.

They began to clean the window with every possible solvent they could use, but it was no use. It was still there and it wasn’t going to come off. When the figures they noticed in the window started to show with surprising clarity, they began to wonder if this was the same thing that they had heard about in Beauval.

“People are going to think we are crazy,” thought Billy, “nobody will believe us!” He decided it was time to consult an elder, who when seeing the image, knew the Virgin Mary had indeed come again. The next day hundreds came to the house to see the figures of Mary and Jesus and saints. On the video recording, representations of five or six doves hover over the image of the Virgin Mary. The local priest came and thought the image of seemed to be that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the colourful woman who appeared to the Indians in Mexico in the 1500’s.

The unexpected phenomena in Canoe Narrows led the Opekekiws to shut down their store and gas station for more than a week to allow them to completely open their house for the hundreds of pilgrims who would come to pray in Cree, English, and French.

As in the other instances of the images, there were effects on faith, revealed by the 200 people who came to a prayer meeting in Canoe Narrows instead of the usual 20. People still come today to pray daily at Opekekiws home.

 VI. Faith, Hope, and Charity

The Images in Canoe Narrows were not the concluding images, and the experiences shared in this narrative, are only some of the innumerable that have touched the lives of many throughout Saskatchewan and beyond. So how does one conclude an account about continuing events? As the Virgin Mary images continue to spread, they inspire prayer and a return to faith, or for some, they bring new faith. These images deliver hope to many communities suffering from effects of alcoholism, drugs, abortion, sterilization, and juvenile crime. The hope wipes out hatred, un-forgiveness, and racial differences bringing compassion toward each other.

Faith is beleiving and trusting in what is not seen. So how do the visible images strengthen faith? They strengthen faith by bringing to light what is unseen or what is already present. These images show us that the holy figures depicted on windows are always present with us to hear our requests and prayers regardless of whether or not they are seen.

Hope originates by believing or trusting in what is not seen (faith). The multitudes that witness the images are hopeful that their prayers will be answered by God, whose designs they believe are on the window.

Charity (love) is to what faith and hope direct us. The many who had the grace of witnessing the images can, more easily, bring compassion to others since it is easier to love when one has experienced God’s love.

 "While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." —II Corinthians 4:18

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