Selected Papers on The Apostolate of the Silent Soul - The Apostolate of the Silent Soul is a lay Catholic movement based on the alleged miracles which surrounded Audrey Santo (1983-2007), a comatose girl in Worcester, Massachusetts. We reproduce here articles in The Boston Phoenix (December 25, 1997 - January 1, 1998) and The Washington Post (July 19, 1998) published at the height of the controversy, and an article by The Boston Globe (April 19, 2007) after Audrey's death. Most subsequent European reports are largedy based on these articles. The Apostolate of the Silent Soul's website is at . See also Audrey Santo: Interim Statement of the Catholic Diocese of Worcester of January 24, 1999 - Bishop praises "dedication of the family to Audrey", remains cautious on alleged miracles.


For an excellent update and scholarly analysis see Mathew N. Schmalz, "The Silent Body of Audrey Santo," in "History of Religions" vol. 42, no. 2 (November 2002): 116-142

The Strange Case of Audrey Santo (The Boston Phoenix, Dec. 25 - Jan. 1, 1998)


Miracle in Worcester - A comatose teenager in Worcester is reportedly setting off an escalating series of miracles. Some see God, some see fraud. And then there's the Catholic Church, which is officially not sure - by Ellen Barry

Audrey Santo's bedroom has the intense pinkness and laciness that a 14-year-old girl might choose for herself. Adult attention has been paid to this: the curtains are lace, and the bedspread is pink, and the pillow is both pink and lacy. There are garlands of cloth flowers hanging over her; there are confectionary bows in her hair. Audrey has not spoken for 10 years, since the day she went into a coma, but her hair has grown and grown and grown, off the pillow and over the edge of the bed. Then there are elements that would not appeal to most teenagers, such as the display window through which pilgrims can peer every Wednesday afternoon, when the house opens to visitors. A few years ago, it was possible to visit on short notice. But these days, the pilgrims shuffling through the Santo residence have spent upward of 11 months on a waiting list, which makes them better off than people who sign up today, who can't expect to get into the house until well into 1999. They mostly just look, but photographs are sometimes placed in the girl's curled fingers, and various visitors put their faces right next to her cheek and whisper particular messages for Audrey to convey to Jesus. Pilgrims find the sight tremendously affecting and, on a few isolated occasions, have overstepped their bounds. "There have been people who cut a piece of carpet off the floor in Audrey's room," says John Clote, a Catholic filmmaker who directed a 1996 documentary called Audrey's Life. "People have come in and pulled a hair out of her head. People have done very strange things." This is not -- as the Santos' next-door neighbors will freely tell you -- a part of town known for being medieval. If anything, it's a part of town known for being Jewish. Still, the residents of South Flagg Street have come to expect certain Catholic idiosyncrasies on Wednesday afternoons, such as the line of people waiting to kiss a communion wafer said to have bled during Mass, or the people who walk in on crutches and come out healed, or Port-a-Potties set out during yearly masses for the faithful of five continents. Until a year or two ago, it was a small neighborhood miracle, known chiefly to miracle-watchers and to the unflappable residents of South Flagg Street. As word spreads, though, Audrey's case seems headed for a kind of public reckoning. For one thing -- after eight years of reported anomalies that have escalated from weeping statues to stigmata to hovering apparitions of the Virgin Mary -- the Worcester diocese has begun a rare official investigation. The Miracle of Little Audrey has become too big for the Church to ignore. It's definitely too big for the neighbors to ignore. "People can believe what they want to believe, but the neighborhood isn't zoned for this," says Renee Harrison, who lives across the street. "Sometimes I can't get out of my driveway."

Audrey Santo wandered into the swimming pool in her back yard on August 9, 1987. This is the private tragedy that launched a public phenomenon: by the time she was resuscitated, the toddler had suffered massive hypoxia -- the oxygen supply to her brain was cut off for several minutes, killing off blocks of brain cells. Doctors informed her parents she would spend the rest of her days on life-support, in a coma. They recommended that Linda Santo place her youngest daughter in an extended-care facility. Then, as now, Linda Santo had her own ideas about what was best for Audrey. She has accused UMass Medical Center of bringing on Audrey's state with a drug overdose and then breaking both her legs in physical therapy; she also has said Audrey is not in a coma, but simply in a "non-moving, non-speaking state." She took her daughter home, where, with dedication that has consistently impressed visitors and medical personnel, the family has taken care of Audrey ever since. Audrey's mother also took her somewhere else: shortly after the accident, she flew with the child to Medjugorje, in what was then Yugoslavia, a popular pilgrimage site where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared periodically since 1981. It was there, Linda Santo says, that Audrey communicated directly with the Virgin Mary and agreed to take on the obscure Catholic status of a "victim soul" -- a pious individual who willingly takes on the suffering of other people, sometimes to the extent of manifesting symptoms. Audrey also went into cardiac arrest and required a medical evacuation to the United States that, Worcester magazine reported, cost $25,000. In hindsight, her mother has ascribed this crisis to Audrey's proximity to "the biggest abortion clinic in Yugoslavia." The miracles started soon after her return to Worcester. Since 1989, when nurses first spoke of an overpowering scent of roses, the reports have proliferated to include virtually every supernatural phenomenon in the Catholic repertoire: icons weeping blood; statues moving of their own accord; miraculous healing; bleeding communion wafers; the face of Jesus appearing in that blood; blood appearing spontaneously inside a tabernacle; the Virgin Mary appearing in cloud formations overhead; and, dripping down the walls of the garage, copious amounts of spontaneously appearing oil, which is collected on cotton balls and distributed in tiny Ziploc bags to the faithful, who have used it to treat things like tumors. Other reported phenomena focus more on the child's status as a victim soul -- a claim made over the last century by a handful of chronically ill women, among them Little Rose, the Stigmatized Ecstatic of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, who developed an intense local following in the 1920s and '30s. Based on observations of Audrey's elevated heart rate, nurses say she suffers acutely between the hours of noon and three on Holy Week, when Christ is believed to have hung on the cross. Her family's "spiritual guide," the Reverend George Joyce, who heard about Audrey after he visited Medjugorje, says that she has been "crucified on her bed." In an interview for the 1997 video The Story of Little Audrey Santo: The Victim Soul Who Is Bringing People to Jesus, Linda Santo tells how, when she was visited by a woman with ovarian cancer, Audrey manifested symptoms of the illness; X-rays of Audrey's ovaries, her mother says, showed not a tumor but "a little angel." Another time, Audrey developed a vivid crimson rash; the family says she was taking on the side effects of chemotherapy for a visiting cancer patient. She is also said to have developed stigmata, in which the five wounds of the crucified Christ spontaneously appear on the body. As a result of these extraordinary events, Audrey is developing the shell of bureaucracy typical of very famous people. To speak to Audrey Santo's family, journalists must be approved by her "board of directors." (The Phoenix was rejected by this body, whose taste runs to the Catholic press, and to reporters who guarantee previews of news copy.) Her name is increasingly well known in the circle of people who follow miracles. "She's new. I think she just became popular in the last year or so," says Jim Drzymala, administrator of the "Apparitions of Jesus and Mary" Web page. Those who can't jump the line by virtue of chronic disease take what ancillary contact they can get; once a year, on the anniversary of her near-drowning, Audrey is wheeled into a local church to receive the faithful. Last year, as Audrey lay in her tiara on a stretcher, this Mass attracted upward of 5000 people -- a crowd so large, and so unexpected, that "the police could not respond appropriately," according to city councilor Wayne Griffin. Every time the story appears, it ratchets up the level of public enthusiasm. Audrey's Life and The Story of Little Audrey Santo have become so popular that one fan recently asked Audrey's dermatologist, who appears in the video, for an autograph. Channel 7, which has run several spots on the phenomenon, has reported as many as 250 phone calls after a broadcast. And when the Boston Herald ran a story about Audrey last month, the accompanying photograph showed a plaque with a contact number for the Santo family friend and representative Mary Cormier. The story ran on a Monday. Over the next two days, according to Cormier, 700 people called that number.

The biggest sign of Audrey Santo's growing importance is the long-awaited attention from the Diocese of Worcester, which has maintained a stoic silence on the subject for eight years. That's not unusual -- in the century that brought us the Stone Mountain Pasta Jesus and the Rocking Virgin of Ballyspittle, Catholic authorities have tended to keep a safe (read: vast) distance from miracle claims. Who can blame them? Take the case of Veronica Leukin [sic ], the 1970s visionary of Bayside, New York, who had already built up a significant following when she issued a surprise message from the Virgin Mary: the sitting Pope was an impostor created by skilled plastic surgeons. So in the diocese -- quite understandably -- miracles are not a popular topic of conversation. "Every bishop dreads having one of these things happen in his diocese," says Reverend Emmanuel McCarthy, a Brockton Eastern Rite priest and a friend of the Santo family. He's familiar with the subject, since his daughter Benedicta's recovery from an overdose of Tylenol was recently accepted as a miracle by the Vatican. "It's hard to get an objective standpoint in an emotionally charged atmosphere," he says. The rigorous procedure of investigation is "negative from the point of view of the fundamentalist empiricists, and it's negative from the point of view of the believers. Either way, it's a no-win situation." But -- whether because of the pilgrim traffic or the extraordinary nature of the claims -- the Bishop of Worcester has been left with no choice. Sometime over the next few weeks, a not-yet-named commission will venture into the murky business of trying to figure out what's going on at 64 South Flagg Street. Although the Vatican has set procedures for testing claims of miraculous recovery, a requirement for canonizing new saints, there's no protocol for testing a victim soul. ("There are those who believe she is suffering for other people," says the Reverend Stephen Pedone, who will oversee the investigation. "That's very difficult to monitor.") This will be the first time in its history that the Worcester diocese has carried out an investigation of its own, according to Pedone, judicial vicar for the diocese. It's a tricky case, because Audrey can't speak. The vast majority of miracle claims involve apparitions, in which a visionary conveys a message to the people from Christ or the Virgin Mary, so investigators judge authenticity in part by whether they agree with what Jesus or the Virgin seems to be saying. But in this case, whatever interpretation pilgrims walk away with is supplied by Linda Santo or by Joyce; the miracles themselves are pure supernatural pyrotechnics. Asked what the investigation will consist of, Pedone mentions medical analyses of healing claims but nothing about the rivulets of blood and oil that run down statues throughout the house -- and which, presumably, could be established empirically as spontaneous occurrences. Pedone, who has visited the Santo house, says he has been deeply moved by the devotion he has witnessed there, but he is otherwise noncommital on the subject of the supernatural. He stresses the fact that miracles -- the miracles of life and faith -- are present in the most ordinary settings. "All this bespeaks a real spiritual hunger," Pedone says. "There are people coming in in wheelchairs just to be able to walk by Audrey .Ê.Ê.Ê. Certainly it is miraculous -- just the fact that people are being drawn into a deeper relationship with God -- but it shows a real hunger, a real searching. Saint Augustine wrote that God `has placed a longing in our hearts.' Well, our hearts continue to be restless." In the meantime, when priests call the diocese to ask about Audrey, Pedone issues mild discouragementÊ-- chiefly, he says, out of concern for the overtaxed Santo family. "We don't encourage [the attention]" he says. "We're discouraging it, because it just creates -- I don't want to say a carnival atmosphere, a circus atmosphere -- but it's unsettling. When I was there, there was a constant flurry of activity." Although he doesn't bring this up, the commission will also investigate theologically suspect activities going on at the Santo residence. Joyce appears on a videotape administering communion wafers spattered with "sacred oil," an enhancement of the eucharist which breaks baseline Catholic rules. And by hailing Audrey as a "living saint," her supporters breach the strict Catholic protocol that will keep Mother Teresa awaiting canonization for at least five years. But even if the commission finds violations, it's clear that the Church would risk something by condemning what's going on at the Santos'. Worshipers get on their knees in a driveway on a Wednesday afternoon: the whole phenomenon is an engine of devotion. As Pedone puts it, "There are a lot of things at stake here, and one of those things is the faith of the people." This, then, is the tightrope of the contemporary miracle. Miracles occur more often than you would think; there are, at present, some 20 self-proclaimed stigmatics that researchers know of, and an infinite number of self-proclaimed visionaries, and a handful of so-called eucharistic miracles, in which communion wafers bleed spontaneously or -- in the case of one Julia Kim of Naju, South Korea -- actually turn into a tiny beating heart on someone's tongue. The much-publicized Medjugorje visions, first reported in 1981, are partly responsible for this upsurge; even within the community of miracle-watchers, the trend is sometimes known as "the Medjugorje virus." To those Catholics who follow the proliferating miracle reports, this is a period of great revelation. "I kind of equate it to living in the time of Jesus Christ," says Jim Drzymala. "People say, `Wouldn't it be wonderful to live in the time of Jesus Christ?' Well, we're living in the same times." Others -- like Bruce Miller, an apparitions expert from Catholic University of America, in Washington, DC -- wonder about the religious purpose for this profusion of miracles. "Down in Georgia, they are forever seeing Christ's face in things," says Miller, who is not a Catholic himself. "What's the point of the face of Jesus in a tree? Everyone says, `Ooooh, the face of Jesus in a tree.' They all congregate for a while, and then they disappear. What has it accomplished?"

Little Audrey, moving into her second decade as a miracle, has accomplished this much: she's made a lot of people nervous. Cases like hers force Catholics to answer the dangerous question of what, precisely, they believe. Catholicism itself turns on a central supernatural event: at Mass, bread and wine are believed to transform physically into the body and blood of Christ. But the church is rapidly liberalizing; according to statistics repeated with great alarm and frequency by the Missouri-based Mercy Foundation, which produced Audrey's Life, 70 percent of American Catholics don't believe in the basic doctrine of transubstantiation, which hinges on the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist. (Jim Davidson, a sociology professor at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana, found otherwise: his recent survey shows that 72 percent of Indiana Catholics "agree strongly" with the doctrine.) Miracles like Audrey's ask post-Vatican II Catholics to put their money where their mouth is. If you can't believe in a communion wafer oozing blood once, how can you believe that it turns to flesh many thousands of times daily?

In six or seven months, the diocese will weigh in with a brief memo, either encouraging or discouraging the recognition of God's hand in the case of Audrey Santo. Mild discouragement is common in such cases; despite the crowds drawn to Conyers, Georgia, or Emmitsburg, Maryland, or Scottsdale, Arizona, no miracle site in the United States has ever gotten the Vatican stamp of approval accorded Lourdes or La Sallette or Fatima. But then, it may not matter either way, says a pilgrimage travel agent who routinely sends Catholics to nonapproved sites such as Medjugorje. "People don't always listen," she says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "This is what I see from many years of dealing with pilgrims. American Catholics feel freer to go contrary to what their priests might say." And despite the great exhaustion that Pedone ascribes to them, the Santo family will probably keep the door open for as long as there are pilgrims lining up in front of it. "I asked [Linda Santo] and [George Joyce], `Why you are letting me do this?'" says Clote, who filmed the documentary Audrey's Life. "She said, `We'd like to drop the shades down and have this all for ourselves, but there's so many people out there who need it.'" The Santos need it, too. The profusion of reported supernatural phenomena nearly obscures the one miracle that hasn't happened: Audrey's recovery. In one film, Audrey's aunt confides that she thinks Audrey was chosen as a victim soul before birth, so that the backyard accident was merely one episode in a divine narrative. She recalls a child who, from the moment she was born, had such an unearthly beauty that "when I looked at her, it was as if I could not see her. It was as if she were transparent." In another, Audrey's older sister recalls that the toddler acted differently on the day she fell into the pool, "like she knew something was going to happen." On her way back from a friend's house, the little girl sat quietly in the back seat of the car, "which was very unlike Audrey." Retold with the mysterious smiles of the great detectives, these explanations are strange and heartbreaking; how, after all, do we get past mornings like that one? So the family waits in hope for Audrey to get out of bed. Meanwhile, strangers gather, rapt, around a miracle that has no information to convey. "You have all these people mobbing apparition sites to hear the messages," says Clote. "What's interesting to me is that all the samethings are happening at Audrey's, and yet no one is speaking. It's a little girl lying in bed with tubes sticking out of her. She's not speaking. And yet people keep coming."

A tearful farewell to Little Audrey, by Megan Tench (The Boston Globe, April 19, 2007)

WORCESTER -- For decades, they came from around the world and streamed through the lace-curtained bedroom of Audrey Marie Santo, who went into a coma after nearly drowning when she was 3 and who died Saturday at age 23.
Some prayed for the grace of a miracle. Others suffering from disability or illness hoped for a divine healing. And some simply wanted to catch a glimpse of the comatose girl who attracted a following after reports of statues weeping oil, blood-stained Communion wafers, and miraculous healings.
But at her funeral Mass at St. Paul's Cathedral yesterday, no mention was made of the reported spiritual gifts or divine signs -- called mysteries by the Catholic Church -- that had marked her life.
Hundreds of mourners -- relatives, caregivers, believers, and the disabled and the healed -- smiled through tears as her shiny, pearl-colored coffin was slowly wheeled down the aisle. Instead of miracles, the Rev. Emmanuel McCarthy spoke about the value of a young disabled girl's life and the love of her family.
"Let us be serious and clear for a moment and candid," McCarthy said, addressing the solemn crowd. "Little Audrey lived because of this love. This is Audrey's story."
McCarthy recalled the Friday night in 1987 when Santo was brought home from the hospital. Her mother, Linda, and siblings Jennifer, Matthew, and Stephen stood at her bedside, as he prayed over her.
"But that was it," McCarthy said. No media, no throngs of supporters were waiting.
Twenty years later, on Saturday night, he returned to the same house where Santo's family again stood vigil at her bedside and again there were "no TV cameras, no reporters," McCarthy said, "just a little family suffering terribly as the world slept, because one of them was about to physically depart from them."
It has been two decades since Santo fell into the swimming pool in her backyard and a family's private pain became a very public phenomenon and she became widely known as Little Audrey.
Santo, who suffered from lack of oxygen to the brain, was said to have communicated with the Virgin Mary when her mother took her on a pilgrimage to Yugoslavia soon after the accident.
In 1989, word about the "miracle of Audrey Santo" began to sweep Worcester as stories emerged from nurses about the weeping statues and blood on the wafers, which was tested and found to be human.
By August of that year, an estimated 10,000 people gathered at the College of the Holy Cross to attend an outdoor Mass, where the girl, 14 at the time, was wheeled out on a stretcher.
The Diocese of Worcester launched an investigation, and in a 1999 report concluded that there was no evidence of trickery, that the happenings were "deep mysteries" but not definitive miracles.
After the Mass yesterday, Pat Coyne, who had volunteered at the Santo home 10 years ago to help them manage the flow of visitors, told a reporter: "Everything about her, everything you heard, is real. I've witnessed it. I've seen the miracles, and I loved her. She was wonderful."
Coyne motioned to friends sitting beside her. One was cured of fatal illness, she said, after Coyne gave her a pin belonging to Audrey. The woman, who asked not to be identified, said, "It was phenomenal."
"I wish we had been to see her before she died," said the woman's friend, Angela Penny.
During the Mass, McCarthy told the crowd that despite the reported miracles, the true measure of Santo's life lies with her family, "arranging and rearranging as best they could their lives."
"It was done in the spirit of love," he said. Santo, he said, was a silent messenger reminding the world that all of God's children are worthy.
"A very large percentage of people in this society, in the world, [believe] that a person like Audrey doesn't count," he said.
But in her family's embrace, Santo's life had greater meaning, McCarthy said, and without ever saying a word, she posed a key question for the future of society, "who counts in this world?"
One of Santo's caregivers, Diane McNutt, told the congregation that working with Santo and witnessing her spiritual gifts firsthand "was a very humbling experience."
"I am so grateful to God for the gift he gave me to care for her," McNutt said, weeping.
The Mass ended with the singing of "Amazing Grace." And just as it began, Santo's coffin was wheeled slowly up the aisle. Her family, who had lived beside her in the spotlight, asked that her burial remain private.


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