Servant of God Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey (1837-1915) was a French nun of the Daughters of Charity who was determined to find the original house of Mary in Ephesus, Asia Minor, now Turkey.
According to Christian Tradition, Mary, the Mother of God — whose solemnity is Jan. 1 — came to Ephesus in Asia Minor with John the Apostle after the resurrection of Christ and lived there several years until she was assumed into heaven.
The house was hidden and unknown until Sister Marie worked to find and preserve it.
Sister Marie grew up in a holy, noble family, spending half the year in Burgundy and the other half in Paris. She entered the community of the Daughters of Charity (same community as St. Catherine Labouré, who received the Miraculous Medal from the Blessed Virgin Mary) and became a postulant in Paris at St. Sulpice parish in May 1857. She took the veil one year later, committed to work with the poor.
Her first assignment was at a French orphanage, where she, along with six other sisters, cared for 55 orphans. They ran a sewing workshop for 60 girls, some of whom came from the local town to join the resident girls. Many of the children had lice and scurvy from malnutrition and from living in unsanitary conditions.
Sister Marie had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and became head of the Association of the Children of Mary. With true passion and love, she taught of the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She encouraged the children to be closely united with Mary. She also advised them to diligently avoid all that can adversely affect one’s faith and dignity. Be like Mary, Sister Marie taught.
Ten years later, in 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, she was named superior at an orphanage outside of Paris. It was a chaotic and dangerous time, but Sister Marie never failed her orphans and her sisters. For 16 years, she remained at this orphanage, built another orphanage and used her own resources to pay for the necessities of the children and the other nuns.
She then responded to Pope Leo XIII’s call for French missionaries to help in the Middle East. In 1886, she was assigned to a French hospital in Smyrna (now Izmir), Turkey. After finding the hospital in a deplorable condition, she again used her own funds to make improvements for the patients and staff, while she lived in poverty. Sister Marie found a few classrooms and two sewing workshops were in a building attached to the hospital and used them to teach the young girls of the area.
It was during her time there that she read German mystic Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s writings on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John at Ephesus. Thus began her mission to find the house of Mary. Sister Marie would remain there, caring for Muslims and Christians, until her death.
Sister Marie urged her two priest friends to read Blessed Anne’s writings, as well. Once they read about Mary’s house, they were convinced that it existed just a short distance from where they were all providentially assigned.
The first search expedition took place in July 1891. The group used the book of private revelation of Blessed Anne as their map. On July 29, by donkey, these three Catholics, one Greek Orthodox and one Muslim finally found the house.
Under Sister Marie’s guidance, archaeologists identified the ruins of a first-century house, with a church from the fourth century having been built over it.
On Oct. 21, 1891, Sister Marie received permission to purchase the property in her name. Sister Marie restored the house, making it a place of pilgrimage.
She asked her father for the money needed to buy not only the house, but the whole mountain on which the house stands. The property was purchased on Nov. 15, 1892. During restoration, three stones from the hearth, built by the apostles, were found. The cornerstone was given to the de Mandat-Grancey family chapel in France to confirm Marie’s holy life, work and devotion to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Sister Marie lived a life of detachment, dedication, virtue, obedience and charity. Her cause of beatification was opened on Jan. 21, 2011, in the Diocese of St. Joseph-Kansas City, Mo. The cause was opened in Missouri because of the community’s devotion to Our Lady of Ephesus. A board member of the American Society of Ephesus, which finances the house of Mary in Ephesus, was living in Kansas City. Also, there was a community of Benedictine nuns with devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Ephesus. In addition, it was impossible for the Archdiocese of Smyrna to do all of the work required of the cause due to small staff, few resources and terror threats, so the Kansas City was asked to step in to help. On Sept. 13, 2014 — Sister Marie’s birthday — there was a closing Mass at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Kansas City to seal all of the documents in order to send to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome for her beatification cause.
Sister Marie’s discovery remains special to the faithful. Pope Leo XIII encouraged visits to the site, declaring it a place of pilgrimage. On Aug. 18, 1961, Pope St. John XXIII granted plenary indulgences upon Mary’s house for all time.
Today, the house is one of the holiest shrines in all of Christendom. Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict each made special trips there to worship, and more than 1 million people visit every year. For Christians and many others around the world, it is an important house to visit.
Patty Knap writes from
Long Island, New York.
Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey Foundation, SisterMarie.com
MARY’S HOUSE. The residence believed to be the home of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ephesus, Turkey, which was discovered by Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey. Shutterstock photo