Joseph P Laycock. The Seer of Bayside: Veronica Lueken and the Struggle to Define Catholicism. Oxford University Press, 2015.
While praying for the recovery of Senator Robert Kennedy after he was shot, Veronica Lueken (1923-1995) became aware of a strong smell of roses. This was to be the first of a series of anomalous experiences that included visions of St Therese of Lisieux, channelled messages from her, and eventually visions of the Virgin Mary and channelled messages from her.🔻
Most of these messages were aimed at defending traditional practices within the Catholic Church against the reforms of Vatican II, and groups of devotees gathered around her. Her messages included many conspiratorial themes, mainly anti-communism and anti-freemasonry, but with more than a hint of antisemitism and with a strong apocalyptic content. One of their beliefs was that Pope Paul VI had been kidnapped and replaced by a double under the control of the Communists and Freemasons.
Laycock’s book traces the development of the groups that surrounded Veronica and their paradoxical relationship with the Catholic authorities and the hostile reaction of the local residents association towards their prayer vigils. The reaction of the liberal-minded local bishop Father Mugavero, who refused to damn and exclude them rather confused them, and made them assume they must have some degree of support.
Among the interesting sidelines to come out of this study, is the role of Lueken in helping to promote the Satanic abuse scare, via her connection with Detective Henry Cinotti, who became convinced that the ‘Son of Sam’ killer David Berkowitz was part of a vast Satanic cult. Veronica ended up accusing some perfectly respectable neighbours of being leaders of this cult. Cinotti became one of the main informants for the ‘investigative journalist’ Maury Terry, whose book The Ultimate Evil was one the foundation texts of the myth.
UFOs also featured in Veronica’s world view, but these were not alien spaceships but rather demonic vessels from the earth’s interior. Another rather science-fictional trope was the idea that the world was going to chastised by the crash of a giant asteroid.
A predecessor of Veronica was Mary Ann Van Hoof whose visions started with her lying fretting in bed one night, when she heard a noise outside and thinking it was one of her children, went to investigate. She was confronted with the figure of a woman wearing a veil. Mary Ann went back into her bedroom, where the figure followed her. Mary Ann kept her back to the figure, praying for it to go away. This sounds like a very typical ghost story and it is only when her husband suggests that the figure was the Virgin does Mary Ann become a BVM visionary.
Both Veronica and Mary Ann’s visions come at periods of stress and ill health. Veronica suffered from numerous ailments and Laycock rather suggests that her husband was a fairly feckless sort. Veronica comes to believe that her health and financial problems and traumas such as the death of her favourite son at 20, are evidence that she is suffering for the sins of the world. From being a typical housewife she is now the voice of the Virgin denouncing the powerful.
Historians of religion will find the discussion of how the Bayside groups organised and eventually split after her death as a valuable has to how religions develop. For Magonia readers what will be of perhaps the most interest is seeing how a pre-existing belief system and social support network can give validation for anomalous personal experiences. However heterodox from the viewpoint of the Catholic mainstream Veronica might have been, pre-existing ‘folk Catholicism’ gave a structure and ready-made language to her experiences. -- Peter Rogerson.