Our Lady of Fatima, and a flash to my past

This is the book that first introduced me to Our Lady of Fatima, whose feast we celebrate on May 13th.

I first came across this book in the library of my Catholic elementary school.  It became an object of fascination for me, one that I checked out often  (if you looked at the checkout card tucked in the front cover, you’d find VIRGINIA KUBITZ written many times, in loose childish penmanship).  Marian apparition stories were always fascinating to me — so mysterious and deliciously unsettling.  This particular book really appealed to me, with its colorful, innocent 1950s illustrations (even as a child, I had a taste for all things retro).  I admired the Mary in the book, who looked beautiful and queenly — kind of like Grace Kelly — with a rosary draped over her folded hands.

On another level, though, this book spoke to me because it was primarily about the children.   So many of the stories we read in religion classes were about grownups.  This one was not.  It was so easy to imagine myself as Lucy or Jacinta, those shepherd girls who saw Mary in a field and who followed her request to pray for peace.  For a while there, I even tried to be holier than usual during Mass –  to live up to the part, so to speak.

In fact, a few years later, when the Daughters of St. Paul (who published this book back in 1955) paid a visit to the school to sell their books, I found that they were selling this one.  Though I was in sixth or seventh grade at the time, I bought it, thrilled to be able to own a copy of the book that had so fascinated me.  I had the book for years; then, when I was in college and my mother was teaching in a Catholic school, I gave her a bunch of books to use in her classroom.   Somewhere along the way the book was lost.  I mourned its passing.

But, thanks to the miracle that is Ebay, I found another copy.  This one has an old inscription inside the front cover: it was given to a girl named Ann, for her First Holy Communion.  I wonder if that Ann loved the book as much as I did.  I wonder if she too pored over the illustrations, practically committing them to memory.   Maybe, just maybe, the story of Mary’s love for the three peasant children made her act a little bit holier, too.

I wouldn’t be surprised.

Credit Where It’s Due: The Children of Fatima, written by Frank Gaquere and illustrated by C. Ruffinelli.  Published by the The Daughters of St. Paul, 1955.

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