Our Lady Of Fair Mountain
Year : 1841
Men called them the “shining hills”. Their white tops glistened against the western sky like some lovely mirage that beckoned to the land beyond. One man, the giant Pere DeSmet, had put into words the exhilaration that others felt in beholding these tremendous rocky hills: “You think you have before you the ruins of a whole world, covered with the eternal snows as with a shroud…” Other men later called them the Rockies.
By these barriers the tribes west of the mountains were isolated from the certain corruption that followed the white man’s coming. The Indians here had somehow got a bare inkling of the Truth and sent three delegations to Saint Louis begging for priests. Their hearts were ready. So, on Christmas Eve of 1841, Father DeSmet was jubilant. On the coming feast he would baptize 150 neophytes; he had regularized 32 marriages in the past weeks. Here in the wilderness was another Bethlehem, where the congregation of St. Mary’s of the Bitterroot would sing hymns in honor of Christ’s nativity and join in the Rosary. It was fitting that Our Lady should come to Bitterroot to smile approval; and she DID come that Christmas night to a little Indian boy named Paul.
He was an orphan and trying to learn his prayers, which he did not know. A few hours before midnight mass he had gone to the hut of an aged woman, and in his own words, he saw “Someone very beautiful. Her feet did not touch the earth; her garments were white as snow; she had a star over her head, a serpent under her feet and a fruit which I could not recognize. I could see her heart from which rays of light burnt forth and shone upon me. When I first beheld all this, I was frightened, afterward my fear left me, my heart was warmed, my mind was clear, and—I do not know how it happened—but all at once, I knew my prayers”. He ended by saying that she had appeared several times in his dream and told him she was pleased that the first village of the Flatheads should be called St. Mary’s.
Father DeSmet wrote his accounts in French and just lately have they been translated. When the Oregon country was opened, some writers dismissed this casually with, “Some of the Indians even fancied they had visions of the Virgin Mary.” Was this perhaps the first modern version of the Immaculate Heart: We would like to know more; because more than a century ago, Father DeSmet began his work at Bitterroot by consecrating the Indians to the Immaculate Heart. He adds in his records that he did not doubt the child’s words, since he was good. Next year, 1842, the month of Mary was kept. At the end a statue of the Virgin was borne in triumph to the place of the apparition, since that day he continues, “A sort of pilgrimage was established under the name of Our Lady of Prayer.”
Little Paul died from eating some poisonous herbs. His death occurred on the eve of disaster for the Indians, when the white men moved into the valley. For a land so blessed by Our Lady we have been strangely unresponsive to her. How badly we today need Our Lady of Prayer—if she came to us now, would she smile on America?