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Few have ever heard of her. We did not. Her name was Frances Hennessey and later Sister Mary Mediatrix, and though never canonized, she was by all accounts a holy nun who is known as "a mystic in America." She is a "Lenten" mystic -- no stranger to suffering.

She also lends us insight as to the precise origin of the Eucharist.

Sister Mary led a topsy-turvy life -- in and out of novitiates due to health problems. Many believe they were mystical sufferings. At any rate, she started as a discalced Carmelite, was asked to leave there due to her health, worked for a couple of years as a paid employee at another convent, struggled to enter the Servants of the Holy Heart of Mary, but finally did so after the founder appeared to her in an apparition and told her to reapply!

When she was in the Carmelite convent, she had predicted that her death would occur on the feast day of Mary, Mother of Grace (June 9).

The private revelation concerning Jesus occurred on October 3, 1939, feast of the Little Flower, when Sister Mary, who was born in Chicago and then lived so much of her life in Beaverville, Illinois, where the convent of the Servants of the Holy Heart was located, received an alleged apparition of the Lord Himself, according to a booklet, Sister Mary Mediatrix.

"It followed upon the weekend I returned from Chicago and took sick, unable to attend Mass on Sunday," she wrote in a letter. "Still not feeling very good Tuesday morning, I got up to go to Mass anyway, because I was very lonesome for Him, sacramentally! Sister Catherine sent me back to bed not thinking me equal to it. I offered Him the submission and all my desires of longing -- I did so want Him -- and Mother, He came!

"He was present by Light that enveloped me and made everything else oblivious -- our Blessed Mother and Saint John the beloved disciple were with Him.

"Saint John seemed to place his hand in Christ's Heart and draw from It a Host -- substantial in form -- and he placed it on my tongue.

"It was truly there as when I go to Holy Communion in church.

"My Jesus told me He came because He so yearns for a soul that longs for Him; He came not because I was good but because I allowed His Merciful Love to enfold me."

For Sister Mary, Lent was year-round. She prayed through entire nights. She sacrificed. She submitted to superiors. Her offering of sufferings was a way of praying practiced by many mystics.

At one point, the suffering was self-induced -- and caused controversy. In this case (via x-ray), her affliction was found to have been because Sister Mary (originally known, in her first convent, as Sister Mary Grace) had planted pins in her body! (She may have read that Saint Rose of Lima once pierced herself with a needle as a mortification). But ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation, she was found to be perfectly sane.

On November 2, 1940, she had a vision of Christ descending from God the Father to enter the Host at consecration.

What Christ -- Who appeared to her as the Sacred Heart -- most sought was simply that love.

"He begs you to seek the one and only true union with Him -- union of will, the only joy of the soul and glory of Him. Give yourself up to what He wants, irrespective of persons or circumstances, for nothing can mar that union except ourselves.

"When you give Him that, He makes you a channel of graces for souls."

One priest associated with Sister Mary, Father Aloysius Ellacuria (confessor for a convent in Manteno where the nun worked for two years), received the grace of "sacramental species." The Host remain in his stomach undigested until the next Communion, turning the priest, who received his supernatural gifts on Holy Thursday, 1941, into a living tabernacle. Sister Mary died on June 9, 1981.

[resources: Lenten books and Medjugorje pilgrimage: purification, future, self-illumination]

[see also: Eucharistic miracles around the world]

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