Our Lady of Tickfaw and the Hour I Almost Believed

by Brittney Smith

I studied religion in college because that’s what I thought God would want me to do.
And I decided to study religion in graduate school because that’s what I thought my professors wanted me to do – and by that point they were certainly gods to me. And I stayed Catholic. For God? For me? I don’t know yet. But Tickfaw. Oh Tickfaw! That I did all on my own.

In 1989, Alfredo Raimondo of Tickfaw, Louisiana received a vision from Mary. Mary
told him to gather people in his field to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Joseph. Word spread quickly, and on a warm day in March, thousands of people gathered in Tickfaw in hopes of catching a glimpse of Mary. The sun danced, rosaries turned to gold, and the smell of roses permeated the air. While the crowds have subsided, Alfredo still resides in a small home on this allegedly sacred field. The land is littered with various statues of Mary and other saints—Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Anne, St. Francis of Assisi— the list reads like a Who’s Who of God’s favorites. There is also a fountain and a tub that serves holy water; water known in this part of the state to work miracles. Susan can tell your stories of how it heals rashes and stops nosebleeds. Others will tell you stories of goiters and cancers melting away.

These stories of nosebleeds and goiters and the miraculous healing of not one but two
dogs are what drew me to Tickfaw. At twenty-four and eager to have the most interesting master’s thesis ever written, I boarded a plane from San Francisco to Louisiana, home of my grandparents and crawfish, of boudin and swamps. I had spent weeks setting up interviews over the phone. As soon as I found a person who had visited the field, I asked her for names of fellow pilgrims, and then I telephoned her friends. I craved names and phone numbers like an addict needs pills. I had posters put up in the local church, and I contacted local dioceses for permission to look at their archives. While my own relationship with God and his most Blessed Mother is holding on by the thinnest thread, I was convinced that the faith of those in Tickfaw would solve my faith crisis. I should have known better.

While I could talk forever about the interesting and loving people I interviewed, about
catfish dinners and nutria in the bayou, one thing I remember most vividly is this: My first night in Louisiana, after spending the day interviewing pilgrims, I tucked myself into a warm (read: un-air-conditioned) bed at the Teresian Sisters convent just thirty miles away from Alfredo’s field. I woke up in the middle of the night, and the room was coal black. I had to go to the bathroom. Darn, I thought, reaching over to my watch to check the time. If it was almost morning, I wasn’t going anywhere. I could hold it an hour, maybe even two.

2:58, and I quickly sprung out of bed and raced to the bathroom. The quicker I went, the sooner I would be asleep again. As I sat on the toilet, the cracked toilet that had been running all night, the door wide open because no one else was around, it hit me. It was 3:00 am, the Hour of Divine Mercy. And I was peeing. Should I pray? Do I have to count out a decade of the rosary on my fingers? I started to walk quietly back to the room. Before entering, though, I remembered the pictures of Mary. And the statues. What if one of the statues started to move? Or talk to me? No, I thought, both terrified and embarrassed of my fear. Eyes covered by my
hands, I bolted for the bed and pulled the covers up over my head. I was not ready to see Mary.

Months later, at my thesis defense, I spoke very academically about my research.
One member of my thesis committee asked me what I meant when I said, in my paper, “I was an objective observer of the apparition site in Tickfaw, not a pilgrim myself.”
In my thesis, I had developed three reasons why people journey to pilgrimage sites. “You claim that one reason people go on a pilgrimage is because they have an interest in Mary, whether it’s previous devotion or just general curiosity,” he said. “Isn’t that a reason why you went to Tickfaw, too? To chase Mary?”

I thought for a second. “Yes.”

“And another reason is because pilgrims desire some sort of healing, spiritual or physical or whatever.”

“I guess I wanted that, yes.”

“And a desire for community? It seems like you want that.”

My face flushed. I was not an objective sociologist like I should have been. No. They
had caught me. I was a pilgrim, too. I WAS A PILGRIM, TOO.

Nothing turned gold, nothing moved me to prayer; mosquitoes bit me, the sun burned me.

Can you still be a pilgrim if you don’t believe? I would believe everything if I only could. But I can’t. Not yet. In convent, in that bathroom, for just for a moment, I felt fear in a way that almost tasted like belief. Maybe it was. What I do believe is this: there are some exceptionally good people in Tickfaw, Louisiana. And they love Mary. And, for a few hot summer days, they loved me.

Brittney Smith is a recent graduate of the Graduate Theological Union/Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA. This summer, she will say goodbye to redwood trees and return to Texas, the motherland, to begin work as a chapel and event coordinator. She still hasn’t seen Mary.

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8 Responses

  1. When I was little, my mom told me she’d always been afraid Mary would appear to her… and I’m always a little scared of statues in the dark.

    Also, when I was little, I once insisted that we leave a piece of pie for Mary at this convent (I think) we were visiting.

    Our relationship has grown more complicated since then, and often is not what you would term a “relationship” at all… though last night, on the train, I found myself saying a Hail Mary out of nowhere in my head in the middle of the night.

    I think pilgrimage is all about not-quite-or-not-yet-or-just-not believing. I hope so, anyway. Because it’s a journey-toward and a journey-through? I think so.

    Thanks for your words. They resonate and hum.

    Becky

  2. Oh Brittle – a pilgrim rarely believes before they begin, but they always, always have the desire.

  3. I am from lousisana, and i must say i went to tickfaw, i was witness to my father falling to his knees and blubbering like a baby. He had a vision. He couldnot reveal the message, but, did let the family know that he would be the next to join his mother iin heaven. That was 1990. He died December 25, 1991.

  4. I have been searching for information on this place for YEARS. I moved to Albany 3 yrs ago but have never asked any of my neighbors about “the sacred ground in tickfaw” that i so badly wanted to visit. When I was little my cousin who was very troubled and tried her hardest to hand her life over to God, had visited this place and I have seen the pictures she took and I must admit that those pictures are the reason I am so moved by this place. And there is even more mystery behind it for me because my cousin has since then passed away, she was the only one with the pictures and statues and stories that began my curiosity. To this day, I still do not know what happened to her pictures, or the statues she promised me when I was little that would be mine when she was gone. I plan to visit this place…not because I desire healing, but because I desire truth and just a sense of knowing. Thank you Brittney for sharing this!

  5. Britt,
    Your words spoke to me as well. I have never felt very qualified to be a Pilgrim. I assumed that to be a pilgrim, you had to believe it all. Depending on the time of day, my mood and life, I have different beliefs. I want very much to believe it all, to regain the childhood faith with adult understandings. The last few years of my Grandmothers life, she talked about waking in the middle of the night and seeing a woman. She was always surprised to see her sitting at the end of her bed and even wondered how she got in. My Grandmother thought it might be her Mother who died very young. I asked her what the woman wanted and she said ” I don’t know, she doesn’t speak but does seem pleasant.” ( so grandmotherly of a line). I wondered if the woman came for her at death. The one thing I do know for certain is from that day forward, when I visited, I always prayed that the woman would not visit my room too.
    Andi

  6. Dearest one,
    If you dont believe you have everything to lose ( your salvation and your soul ) if you do believe you have nothing to lose because your soul will go to purgatory and eventually to HEAVEN, unless you become a Saint on earth. Believing is from FAITH not from SEEING… it is all in the bible and I suggest to you to go to a Catholic Bookstore and get the book ” Where is that in the BIBLE ” and you will learn all about the one UNIVERSAL FAITH that JESUS instituted at the LAST SUPPER.. ( which is the FIRST HOLY MASS ).. THE NEW COVENANT… Adam in the Old Testament and JESUS in the NEW… Eve in the Old Testament and Our Blessed Mother is the NEW EVE in the New Testament. Dont look for signs and wonders, just know in your Heart the HOLY FAMILY is our gift from GOD the CREATOR of ALL… God Bless you and keep praying daily for the Lord to come in to your heart

  7. I was so disappointed to read this disrespectful story by someone who has studied religion. I’ve been to Our Lady of Tickfaw a few times and can attest to the Miraculous power of the Water there. Obviously, you didn’t do enough research or you would have found many people who received miracles there. IF you are interested in hearing the truth, instead of disrespecting a place you obviously don’t know much about, I’d be happy to tell you of my own experiences as well of an experience of a woman who was a complete stranger to me when I met her there.

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