Terese Piccola suffered under so many secrets.

“On the outside, I was the perfect mother, the perfect wife,” she said. “Inside, however, I was broken — and what is worse, I thought I deserved it.”

Speaking exclusively with the Register over the last three months, Piccola related details of her life growing up in an Italian-American home in the suburbs of New York, her marriage and motherhood raising four children, and her activism in the pro-life movement and in her parish — all while quietly enduring years of psychological and emotional torture and unexplained physical ailments.

Her world was turned upside down when extraordinary diabolical phenomena began to manifest themselves as attacks not directly on her, but initially on her children. Her plight ended only after an excruciating year and a half-long battle under the guidance of a clinical psychologist — an expert in possession cases — and through the solemn rite of exorcism.

 

Open Doors

Piccola related that sexual abuse was the entry point for what would later manifest as demonic possession.

“When I was 6 or 7 years old I was sexually abused on two different occasions,” she said. “I was so ashamed and scared of getting in trouble so I never told my parents. When I was 13, I was raped repeatedly. I would [later] find out the man who raped me had molested a young boy.”

Like many abuse victims, Piccola sought out ways to escape from the reality of her abuse. Encouraged by friends, she began to dabble in the occult.

“I participated in séances and hypnotisms with friends, but I believe the most defining activity happened with the Ouija board when I was 18 years old,” she said. “My sisters and I used it late one night in the house, and something seemed to interfere with the movement of the dial. After that event many strange occurrences happened in the house — water turning on and off, footsteps on the stairs and furniture moved while no one was home.”

“Later, my curiosity for the occult expanded to reading horoscopes, going to fortunetellers, and [having] tarot cards read to me,” Piccola said. “Even when coming back to the Church before getting married, I never confessed these things. I suppose I didn’t realize they were sinful and certainly didn’t think they were portals to evil.”

Abortion was another “open door” for Piccola.

“I had an abortion when I was 17 years old,” she told the Register. “I was a senior in high school and never told my parents. After carrying so much shame with me from childhood, I couldn’t bear to tell them that I was sexually active and pregnant. After my abortion, I became bulimic, sexually promiscuous, depressed, more obsessed with the occult.”

Years later, after marrying and giving birth to her four children, Piccola said she still often felt entirely alone and isolated. Seeking to “atone” for her abortion, she volunteered in pro-life activism and at her church.

Things began to turn for the worse, however, when her youngest son began having violent, unexplainable nightmares. Piccola and her husband asked their parish priest to bless their home. The dreams subsided for a time, but would again revisit her son — so much so, their priest advised them to connect with the diocesan exorcist. It was through this exorcist, during a healing Mass, that Piccola discovered she was the conduit of the demonic oppressions of her family.

 

Possession

“First of all, I can only speak to my experience,” Piccola said, “but Hollywood loves to depict a possessed person in a very dramatic way. I think this is not good as the enemy loves to be in the spotlight and glamorized. We give way too much attention to him. I can assure you that my eyes never bled, my head never spun around and I didn’t look like I was in a state of psychosis.”

“Quite frankly, outside of the extreme exhaustion — which made my face look drawn — no one would have known I was under such terrible bondage,” she said.

She continued, “Much of what happened for me was internal. I was always in a state of unrest and loneliness. I would sometimes manifest during Mass when my body would shake and tremble terribly, but not to the extent where it caused a large scene.”

Piccola would undergo the solemn rite of exorcism once per week for more than 18 months, in sessions lasting up to three hours. On those days, she and the deliverance team (which included the clinical psychologist and a group of laymen who were there to pray and support — at times, physically — the exorcist in his work) would always begin by going to Mass. After Mass, they would pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Piccola said she was unable to pray this prayer, and the inability to do this would grate on her — the demonic seeking to drive her to despair before the rite of exorcism would even begin.

After additional prayers of protection for the group, the exorcist would lead them in the Litany of the Saints. It was here, Terese said, that the demons that possessed her would begin to manifest themselves. Later, they were to learn that such manifestations would indicate which saint would come to assist her during the rite.

“When sessions first started, I was in and out of awareness,” Piccola continued. “It’s hard to explain, but I was not actually unconscious. I think the closest thing to compare it to is when you take a medication before a surgical procedure and it puts you in a twilight state.”

“During sessions, when the demons would manifest, I exhibited strength beyond my capabilities, my eyes rolled back, my voice changed — these are all accurate depictions in the movies,” she said. “I would often feel or hear these things happening, but the demons would have control over my body and I couldn’t stop things from happening.”

“I felt trapped inside myself, and that was terrifying,” Piccola said. “In the very beginning, I was frightened by it, but then I realized nothing was happening that God didn’t allow, so this gave me peace. I learned how to keep my thoughts hidden so I could pray to Jesus, Mary and the saints during my sessions.”

Piccola said God allowed her to participate in the spiritual battle in a limited way.

“I only remember bits and pieces of the first few sessions,” she said. “Then it shifted, and I noticed I had much more awareness of things. Once prayers began, I had no ability to move or respond except when father spoke directly to me, but I could hear and see things. As my relationship with the Lord grew, and I surrendered more intentionally, I had more control over my movements and words, even exposing things that I could sense with the demons.”

Piccola described, again, how helpless she felt at times, when her body was no longer under her control.

“The demons would seize my body and voice to manifest,” she said. “No matter how hard I tried to regain control, I would just exhaust myself. My voice would change as certain demons manifested, and I could feel it change in my vocal chords.”

“Sometimes it was so painful as the force to expel sound was great,” she said. “I often knew when some major movement was about to happen. I could somehow sense it and would try so hard to fight against it, but then suddenly I would thrust up or my head would shake back and forth aggressively. There were times when I thought my body would just break apart.”

Piccola told the Register she was never physically injured during the often-violent sessions.

“God is so good and never allowed anything that I couldn’t handle,” she said. “By his grace, I was never severely injured. Once I got over the shock of what was happening, I would try to focus on looking at the crucifix, and if my eyes were closed, I would imagine it in my mind. As things were happening on the outside, I prayed and cooperated as much as I could on the inside.”

 

Liberation

Piccola told the Register that because of the spiritual, mental and physical wounds she had experienced in her life, taking control of what she could was her survival technique. An attitude of control and unforgiveness was a hindrance to her liberation. She had to come to realize she had to relinquish control in her life to God.

“Ultimately,” she said, “I had to accept that this was not my fight. I had to cooperate with Jesus, letting him take control. It was very hard. It is a daily, sometimes hourly commitment to not give up, to surrender, to trust.”

“The real challenge of possession was to reject all the things that had separated me from God,” Piccola said. “Liberation happens when and if there is a willingness to change. The person must want to be liberated. The movies lack this very important piece. It’s not some magic trick where a priest enters dramatically and scares the demons away. It takes full rejection of evil and desire for good. God wants us fully restored.”

Piccola spoke with the Register of having been assisted by saints and angels during her spiritual warfare — bringing in the full understanding of the Church teaching that those who dwell in heaven intercede for the faithful on earth.

Piccola experienced this firsthand.

“I only saw (with my eyes) one saint — St. Michael the Archangel — and only once,” she said. “He appeared as a tall red and white light. He did come to other sessions, but I could only feel his presence, based on the reaction of the demons. There was a terrible fear when he was there. I think the Blessed Mother was the first saint who ever appeared, however. Normally when a saint appeared, I first felt it in my heart and somehow it translated into an image, and then the revelation of the saint. Other times the demons would call out the saint before I even knew. They did this with St. Padre Pio. They feared and despised him.”

“On two different occasions, St. John Paul II came — once as a young pope, and another time as he looked right before he died,” Piccola said. “When he appeared the second time, he was wearing his mitre and had his hand over me praying the prayers with father. He only remained briefly.”

“St. Gemma Galgani came as well. I never knew her before these sessions, but she was insistent on being friends,” Piccola said. “The demons hated her and would spit at pictures of her, as well as [those of] St. Gabriel Possenti. She became a spiritual sister to me, remaining with me to the very end, always prompting me in small ways.”

“Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko was another frequent visitor,” she said. “I had never heard of him prior to my sessions. Others came briefly. The Blessed Mother came several more times after the first visit. One time as I was being tormented, I felt her extend her arms out to me, drawing my heart into her embrace.” 

 

A Message of Mercy

Piccola was fully liberated from demonic possession last year, with what she said is a special mission entrusted to her by God to pray for priests. When asked what message she had for Catholics, she responded, “Jesus himself tells us that some demons may only be expelled through prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). I experienced that, daily. As my relationship with God grew, I learned that I had a part to play in this — God expected me to cooperate, do my part and fight.”

“This is the same, for the Church. Humility is the key,” Piccola said. “When we are broken — such as I was wounded and broken — we must learn how to forgive and not just others, but ourselves. We likewise must look to the Church as the wounded Body of Christ. We have the power to pray, and through that prayer to heal and repair. In doing so, however, there has to be an acceptance of responsibility — especially when scandal has occurred. No one is beyond God’s Mercy. Everyone has a unique purpose. We bind God’s hands, however, through rejection of his mercy.”