Juan Diego, a pious man and a widower, was prone to long periods of silence.

He walked every Saturday and Sunday to church, and on cold mornings, like other members of his Indian tribe, wore a woven cloth called a tilma, as a mantle.

On Saturday morning, Dec. 9, 1531, as he was walking to church, he heard the sound of birds singing on Tepeyac hill and someone calling his name. He ran up the hill, and saw Our Lady, dressed like an Aztec princess.

Our Lady spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native tongue. She called him “Xocoyte,” her little son. He responded by calling her “Xocoyata,” his littlest daughter.

Mary asked Juan Diego to tell the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumárraga, that she wanted a “teocalli,” a sacred little house, to be built on the spot where she stood.

Juan Diego obeyed the Virgin, and went immediately to the bishop's palace, but the bishop was doubtful and told Juan Diego he needed a sign.

Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac hill and explained to the Virgin that the bishop did not believe him.

He implored Our Lady to use another messenger, insisting he was not worthy. Mary insisted he return to the bishop.

On Sunday, Juan Diego did as Our Lady directed, but again the bishop asked for a sign. Later that day, the Virgin promised Juan Deigo she would give him a sign the following day.

Returning home that night to his Uncle Juan Bernadino's house, Juan Diego discovered his uncle seriously ill.

The next morning, Juan Diego decided not to meet with Our Lady, but to find a priest who could administer the last rites to his dying uncle. When he tried to skirt Tepeyac hill, Mary stopped him, assured him his uncle would not die, and asked him to climb the hill and gather flowers. It was December, and very cold; nevertheless, Juan Diego found an abundant number of roses, collected them into his tilma and brought them to the bishop's palace, at the Virgin's request.

When Juan Diego unfolded his tilma in the presence of the bishop the rare roses scattered on the floor and an image of Our Lady appeared miraculously on the humble Indian's garment.

Yet another sign occurred that day. As Our Lady promised, Juan Diego's uncle was cured.

Within two weeks, the bishop erected a small chapel on the spot where Our Lady appeared, entrusting the image to Juan Diego, who chose to live, until his death — on May 30, 1548 — in a small hermitage near the spot where Mary appeared to him.

— Mary Ann Sullivan