by Louis Guido
Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey, D. C. arrived at the Naval Hospital in Smyrna, Turkey, in 1886. The facility, which had been so active during the Crimean War (1854-1856) had become neglected by the French and by this time was dilapidated and under equipped. It could not continue to function as a hospital without new equipment. Sr. Marie, with the Daughters of Charity, set about making matters more comfortable for the patients from the navy and for those doctors and sisters who cared for them. It was Sr. Marie with her direction and strong will who set about using her own financial resources to rebuild the hospital.
In the process of restoration, Sr. Marie had additional rooms built to keep young girls off the streets and to establish a small classroom for sick children. This addition soon burgeoned into workshops and a full-fledged school. By the time she became the Superior, Sr. Marie had established the Children of Mary in order to catechize the children in her charge. All this effort was costly and depleted Sr. Marie’s fortune so that later, when the opportunity arose to acquire the property containing Mary’s House, she needed financial assistance from her father. In all her endeavors Sr. Marie manifested a missionary spirit, even establishing again the Children of Mary in order to catechize her young girls.
Throughout the remainder of her life, which was to be spent at Smyrna, either through direct instruction or by example, Sr. Marie proclaimed the message of the protection of the Immaculate Mother of God. Both younger and older girls, alike, gave witness to the fact that when she spoke of Mary’s Immaculate Heart or her Immaculate Conception, her face radiated a beautiful smile. Mary drew her closer to her motherly heart.
In 1890, Sr. Marie became the Superior of the Community at Smyrna. One evening shortly thereafter, Sr. Marie asked a visiting Vincentian Father to choose a spiritual reading for the community during dinner. The priest chose a passage from a volume containing the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, a 38 year old Augustinian nun. This nun was confined to her bed during the time of the Napoleonic wars and had been granted the gift of visions of the life and death of Jesus and His Mother. The passage described the Holy House of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Ephesus (now known as Izmir). One of the guests was Father Eugene Poulin, C. M., was director of the French Sacred Heart College at Smyrna. Both Sr. Marie and Fr. Poulin were inspired by what was read. Fr. Poulin was so moved that he inspired other members of his community to undertake a long, arduous expedition to locate a site that might approximate the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich. During this expedition, a location was reached that was clearly identified with these visions. The local Orthodox Christian villagers confirmed this site, the ruins of a monastery, known locally as Panaghbia-Capoli, or gate of the “All Holy.” They related that for centuries people had venerated it as the Holy House of Mary.
Having every reason to believe in their findings, the explorers returned and informed Sr. Marie. Inspired by her deep faith in the presence of Mary in her life, she believed in the site of the Holy House from the beginning. Sometime later, informed by Fr. Poulin and his companions, Fr. M. H. Jung, C. M., that the property was for sale, Sr. Marie delivered her own private fortune to purchase the site.
On December 1, 1891, Archbishop Timoni declared in a formal document that the ruins of Panaghia-Capoli are truly the remains of the house inhabited by the Blessed Virgin Mary. From that moment on, the little nun, the daughter of a prominent count and countess, took charge of promoting, protecting and developing the Shrine now known as Meryem Ann Evi, the House of Mother Mary. For that reason, her family was rewarded with the original cornerstone from the first century, which now rests at the Chapel of St. John at the Chateau Grancey in Burgundy near the Archdiocese of Dijon in France.
Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey promoted devotion to Mary at the site of the chapel from 1892 until her death on May 31, 1915. She was buried with the other Daughters of Charity in the Christian cemetery at Smyrna. Her devotion was so great that she touched the hearts of Catholic and Orthodox Christians alike, drawing them together at the Shrine. Most miraculous of all, she drew Muslim worshippers as well, for Islam honors Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. To this day, Muslims and Christians honor Mary in prayer together at the Marian Shrine at Ephesus, certainly a sign of hope in these uncertain times of inter-religious conflict.
" I am not a priest and cannot bless them, but all that the heart of a mother can ask of God for her children, I ask of Him and will never cease to ask Him." ~ Sister Marie