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March 27, 2008
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faith article
'Looking for Mary' NPR radio documentary
Beverly Donofrio journeys to apparition sites across the United States to try to understand the role Mary has played in her life.

'Looking for Mary: Or, the Blessed Mother and Me'
The book by Beverly Donofrio

Audio interview with Beverly Donofrio from Wisconsin Public Radio
“It is so much fun to be grateful all the time. . . to be grateful to a person. I’m just always thanking her.”

Book review by Amy Welborn

Book review in Denver Post

Interview with Beverly Donofrio by Ron Hogan
"Just pray. God knows exactly the way you are. He knows your faults. Just ask Him to use you as you are."

Riding in Cars with Boys
A film (DVD) based on Donofrio’s book, starring Drew Barrymore

Riding with Cars with Boys
Beverly Donofrio’s first book

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When Beverly Donofrio turns forty, unsure of where her life is headed, she feels she’s entered her own version of Dante’s dark wood. She begins to meditate – and to collect Virgin Marys at yard sales. Beverly the ‘lapsed Catholic’ begins a love affair with the Blessed Mother, reciting Hail Marys, reading the Bible, and eventually traveling on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje…

Click here to buy "Looking for Mary" at Amazon.com

Before confession, I sit outside Father Freed's door and shiver through bouts of anxiety as I wait. Terrified of revealing my heart, I begin to resist. Am I buying all this religious stuff lock, stock, and flaming heart? People on this retreat even believe in the literal location of a heaven and hell. They believe your guardian angel leads you to the only empty parking place in a parking lot. And they believe the closer you get to God, the more hotly the devil pursues you. Father Slavko says that Satan's biggest triumph is getting people to believe he doesn't exist.

I try to remember when it was, exactly, that I switched to the devil's camp and lost God and decide there was no single moment, that it happened more like a shifting of the San Andreas Fault. I remember that in the summer after the sixth grade, the summer I got my period, I busted into the new junior high school under construction, shouting the song from Popeye, "Da da dadada da dada... I broke windows, slit open bags of cement, tossed the powder in the air, and tap-danced in it. I threw nails everywhere. I didn't know why I was doing this. But I did know that I was being bad, and it was fun. When I saw the story in the paper, how "vandals" had broken into the school, and that "juvenile delinquents" were suspected, it was official.

By high school, I was standing in front of the mirror, entertaining myself with the ugly faces I could make and fantasizing that the devil was looking out through my eyes. I daydreamed that I was a devil sitting on girls shoulders, tempting them to tell that lie, spread that gossip, steal those earrings, fuck that boy.

When I got pregnant, I believed I'd received God's punishment and that he'd betrayed and abandoned me, even though I hadn't really believed in him since I'd learned about evolution in the seventh grade, and I hadn't really believed in the devil, either. Or did I believe? Because whenever the world got scary, I still cried, "Please, dear God..." But after I got pregnant at seventeen, I denounced God, the devil, religion, forever. All of it. Lock, stock, and flaming heart.

And here I am, three decades later, about to confess everything and beg forgiveness.

A mountain of toilet paper rolls is piled in a corner of the storage room where I sit across from Father Freed on a folding chair to make my confession. The room smells like a sewer, because sewage has backed up into the bathroom next door.

"Forgive me, Father for I have sinned," I say. "It has been thirty-five years since my last confession." I giggle. Father Freed smiles kindly and waits. I burst into tears. "I feel like I'm going crazy. All these people talking about suffering. Talking about Christ's salty blood dripping into his wounds. It's sick. They get off on it. They think suffering is good. Suffering is part of life, but they look for it, indulge in it to be more holy or something... it's sick. I never asked Christ to die for my sins. I never asked him to be crucified. I don't even like him. He's a whiner. He says, "Look at me, I suffered for your sins. You should be grateful, but what do you do? Sin, sin, sin." I feel love for Mary. I really do. But this Christ martyr and his damned suffering—I'm sick of it. I spent my whole life trying not to feel guilty. I'm crippled with guilt. Why would I want to be a Catholic and make it worse? I shouldn't even be here. I can't stand this. I'm going crazy. I feel awful.

"Christ does not want you to suffer."

"But these people..."

"This group is particularly zealous."

"Not all Catholics are like that?"

"No." He smiles.

"You're not? You don't think you should wear a hair shirt or climb the mountain barefoot or be grateful that the sewage backed up into your bathroom so you can offer it up to God?"

"No. As a matter of fact, there is sewage backing up into my room, and I've requested a transfer."

"Really?" I laugh.

"Honest to God. Now, is there anything troubling you?"

"I had an abortion. I had to. I can't even say I wouldn't do it again, and I'd never take away another woman's right to choose. Maybe if I'd had faith, like Mary, I wouldn't have had that abortion. I might have believed everything would work out for the better. But I didn't have faith. And I still can't imagine my life if I'd had that child. I was wild. I had sex indiscriminately for many years. I didn't even enjoy it. It was the times. I was making a political point. Probably I was looking for love and couldn't even admit it. I have gossiped cruelly. I have hated. I am critical and judgmental. I don't like people I don't even know. It makes me feel shitty. I don't want to do it. I really do want to look with the eyes of love. To love as God loves, like Father Slavko says. But I'm mean. I make fun. That's what I do. That's who I am. I've always been like that. Or at least since I was twelve. That's really when I stopped believing in God. Do you think I'm possessed by the devil?"

"I do not."

"How do you know?"

"You are not as bad as you think."

"I'm selfish. I have said no to love. I was the worst mother. I never once put my son's needs before mine. I lived with three different men. Disasters. I always did what I needed to do for me, never what was best for my son. I always felt guilty, which made me depressed, which made me resentful. I used to say, 'I'm like an older sister, and you're like my younger brother.' I'm like one of those cats who abandons her litter. I never wanted to be a mother. Not even when I was a kid. I hated baby dolls. I had postnatal depression till my son left for college. And my son suffers for it. He feels like he wasn't loved. I damaged him. He's depressed and angry.'

"Do you speak of these things?"

"Kind of. A little."

"Have you asked for his forgiveness?"

"I'm not sure."

 "It would be good if you could encourage him to speak, to acknowledge his pain."


"I would like you to pray to the Blessed Mother for help. Ask her to help you to be close with your son, to help you mother."

"I do all the time. I think that's why I'm so attracted to her. Because I want to learn to be a mother. That and because I want a mother for myself. I want to learn how to trust, to stop taking every step expecting a pitfall."

"I'd also like you to pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Do you know who she is?

"Of course, I lived in Mexico."

"I have a special devotion to Guadalupe. My church is called the Virgin of Guadalupe. She's the saint of the unborn. She has two tassels on her dress. That's the symbol for the unborn. Pray to her to help you heal from your abortion. You need to forgive yourself. God forgives you. He loves you exactly the way you are... not the way you think you should be."

"Thank you, Father."

"I would also like you to go to the chapel and sit with Jesus."

"I have adoration tonight. For an hour." I nearly shouted in my panic. "I haven't done it yet."

"Good. I want you to go to adoration and not pray prayers. I want you to just sit there and tell Jesus exactly what you told me. Confess everything and tell him exactly how you feel about him. Then just sit, and listen."

The adoration room looks like a room in a community center that's been donated to shelter people during a flood. There are twenty people on their knees praying, lying in their sleeping bags in corners, or sitting cross-legged with blankets wrapped around them, staring at the monstrance containing the body of Christ. This has been going on the whole time, and I'd no idea.

Since I began doing Mary research, I've read many times that Mary is the intermediary between her son and us. She brings us to her son. That is her role and her job. She is the conduit between the human and the divine. She was human herself but gave birth to God. It is through her that Jesus has his humanity. And by continually giving birth to faith, she continues to give birth to her son.

I promised Father Freed to talk to Jesus, and I want to do it for Mary. He is her son, and she would like this. So I sit there and I repeat in my mind what I said to Father Freed, which takes much less than an hour. So while I'm sitting there, I ask Mary to help me understand why I should love her son and help me give up my prejudices against him for being a man, and all that manhood conveys: judge and ruler, oppressor of women, testosterone driven, boss and superior.

I close my eyes and picture Mary taking both my hands and pulling me to stand. She leads me to her son, who takes my hand, and I stand between them, one hand in Mary's and one hand in Jesus'.

I do not think this is a true adoration. But it is a beginning.

February 11, 2004

Beverly Donofrio studied at Wesleyan University, then went on to receive an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in the Village Voice and New York magazine. She is also the author of "Riding in Cars with Boys," which was made into a feature film in 2001, directed by Penny Marshall.

This article is excerpted from from "Looking for Mary: Or, the Blessed Mother and Me," by Beverly Donofrio. Copyright 2000, Beverly Donofrio. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Group USA.

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02.19.04   lillyrose says:
Not long ago I had a conversation with a priest friend of mine about my continued anger and sorrow over my parent's divorce some eleven years ago. I said that I felt physically stressed by this--he said, "Of course. You are the union of your two parents. You are working out their redemption in your own body." As hard as it is to accept this truth--it is the truth which sets me free. I felt that this statement was a manifestation of God's mercy: a sign that he knows me intimately and that my suffering is not in vain. I felt inwardly known. Reading Beverly Donofrio's story, I see the same power of the mercy of God coming through her relationship with Mary (and the wise guidance of a priest!). God is present to her not as judge, but as a Father. Haven't we had enough of the God of the Puritans, the fire and brimstone God? We are still seeing this image of God in all kinds of cultural debates--homosexuality, capital punishment, abortion. God is primarily the one who punishes sins.Donofrio is testifying to the God of mercy, the fullness of God as it is manifest in our great modern spiritual writers--Therese of Lisieux, St. Faustina, John Paul II. He is the God who takes us as we are. Perhaps this is why Donofrio's story is resonating with people--she is manifesting God's mercy in her life, the kind of mercy so many people need now.

02.19.04   Zarina says:
It's always refreshing to read someone who's willing to be REAL and that's what I liked about Donofrio's revelations. She's willing to let her sins look ugly, and that, it seems to me, is the beginning of her healing. Which is exactly what I thought about when I read this excerpt from her book--her need for healing. That she thinks "all manhood conveys: judge & ruler, oppressor of women, testosterone-driven, boss & superior," says a lot about why she finds Jesus so hard to be with. The Blessed Mother is a great facilitator of healing because she can show us deeper qualities of spiritual maternity and femininity and as we're transformed, we become more attracted to REAL masculinity, which conveys love, care, protection, strength, provision, sacrifice, presence and more. I wish this for Donofrio.

02.16.04   JMJ says:
Interesting story. It appears that Beverly has been on a long journey and still has a long way to go (which is true of most of us); it is a good thing that she has chosen Mary to be her companion. I am still taken aback that she would choose to end her baby’s life again, if given a second chance. She says, "I had an abortion. I had to. I can't even say I wouldn't do it again.” Wasn’t/Isn’t adoption an option?I am curious as to whether she has read any of the writings of Saint Louis de Montfort? He has written much about approaching Jesus through the Blessed Mother.

02.11.04   Godspy says:
When Beverly Donofrio turns forty, unsure of where her life is headed, she feels she’s entered her own version of Dante’s dark wood. She begins to meditate – and to collect Virgin Marys at yard sales. Beverly the ‘lapsed Catholic’ begins a love affair with the Blessed Mother, reciting Hail Mary’s, reading the Bible, and eventually traveling on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje…

Click to buy at Amazon.com!
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