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The Healing Project

In 1892, Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey, a Daughter of Charity, purchased and began restoring Meryemana Evi (Mary’s House) in Ephesus, Turkey, the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have lived her final years.

One hundred twenty years later, a Niagara University professor is hoping to discover why both Muslim and Christian pilgrims visit the sacred site. And her research just might help the beatification initiative for Sister Marie.

“As a student of Islam, what intrigued me about the house was that the pilgrims were predominantly Muslim,” says Dr. Amelia Gallagher, associate professor of religious studies. “Of course, there’s a prominent position of Mary in the Koran in Islam, and these kinds of shrine pilgrimage spots in Turkey tend to be really local, but I just found it interesting. I had since then read evidence here and there of people going there, proclaiming healings, and that is actually what my project is about: studying how Christians and Muslims approach the same place, known for the same sanctity, for the purposes of procuring healing for illness.”

Dr. Gallagher will leave for Turkey this summer and take a fall sabbatical to conduct her research. She has visited the site before and remembers thinking that it was a very beautiful place and being surprised that, despite being a student of religion, she had never heard of it before. But she was visiting friends at the time and paid little attention to the reasons why others were visiting the house. This time, she’s planning to investigate what is leading pilgrims, by the millions, to this small stone house on a mountain in Ephesus.

“There’s a spring at the house,” she notes. “A lot of these Marian sites are places of miraculous springs with water taps, and people drink from the water and bring the water back home to somebody who’s sick. Those are the kind of practices that I’m looking at.”

While Dr. Gallagher’s research is not directly focused on Sister Marie’s connection to the house, she admits the association adds to her interest in the project, because of its ties to the Vincentians and the fact Sister Marie was a nurse.

“Her story is quite compelling,” Dr. Gallagher says. “She just sort of gave up everything and chose to be a nurse in the strong Daughters of Charity tradition of nursing. That’s why I’m so glad I brought it back here.”

Sister Marie was born in 1837 to French aristocrats. In 1858, she joined the Daughters of Charity, and ultimately was stationed at a French hospital in Smyrna (now Izmir), Turkey. While there, she became aware of the visions of a German nun named Anne Catherine Emmerich, which suggested that the Virgin Mary accompanied the Apostle John to Ephesus and lived in a house in the mountains there. She encouraged Father Henri Jung and Father Eugene Pulin, two Lazarist (French Vincentian) priests, to investigate the site as detailed in the book The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich. The two priests came upon a first-century set of rooms on the mountain. Sister Marie subsequently purchased the mountain and spent the rest of her life and her considerable fortune restoring the site. This devotion earned her the distinction of Foundress of Mary’s House.

A year ago, Sister Marie’s case for canonization was opened by the Diocese of Kansas City. Although Dr. Gallagher is conducting her research independently of the historical commission working on the canonization efforts, the group has contacted her about her research of the site. Should she discover anything that establishes Sister Marie as a prominent figure in Ephesus, or finds someone who proclaims a healing that is attributed to Sister Marie, Dr. Gallagher will pass that information along.

“I’m not going to approach my research that way,” she explains, “but I would be intensely interested if anybody mentions her.”