Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Joseph P. Laycock's "The Seer of Bayside"

Joseph P. Laycock is an assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University. He has published over a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and is currently working on a project about the moral panic over role-playing games during the 1980s.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Seer of Bayside: Veronica Lueken and the Struggle to Define Catholicism, and reported the following:
The Seer of Bayside tells the story of Veronica Lueken, her followers, and their complex relationship with the Catholic hierarchy. In 1968, Veronica Lueken, a Catholic housewife in Bayside, Queens, New York, began to experience visions of the Virgin Mary. Over almost three decades, she imparted over 300 messages from Mary, Jesus, and other heavenly personages. These revelations, which were sent all over the world through newsletters, billboards, and local television, severely criticized the liturgical changes of Vatican II and the wickedness of American society. Unless everyone repented, Lueken warned, a “fiery ball” would collide with the Earth, causing planet-wide death and destruction.

When Catholic Church authorities tried to dismiss, discredit, and even banish her, Lueken declared Pope Paul VI a communist imposter, accused the Church of being in error since Vatican II, and sought new venues in which to communicate her revelations. Since her death in 1995, her followers have continued to gather to promote her messages in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens. Known as “the Baysiders,” they believe that St. Robert Bellarmine's Church, from which Lueken was banned from holding vigils, will someday become “the Lourdes of America” and that Lueken will be elevated to sainthood.

As a historian, I am attracted to the Baysiders because it is an amazing story that has never been properly told. It has also been said that the job of a religion scholar is to “make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.” Critics dismissed Lueken as either mentally ill or a fraud and ridiculed her followers. However, in studying and speaking with Baysiders, many of their controversial ideas seem more sensible within their own context. In the aftermath of Vatican II, traditional Catholics were trying to make sense of a world that no longer seemed sensible.

Ironically, page 99 of The Seer of Bayside describes the folly of trying to understand a text by opening it to a random page! Here I attempt to show how elements of Lueken’s prophecies that may seem bizarre or outlandish can be understood as an attempt to make sense of the world:
To outsiders, the Baysider worldview can seem completely incomprehensible and other. This is particularly the case if one attempts to understand the Baysiders by opening the Bayside Prophecies to a random page. Consider the following message from May 1973:

NOW OUR LADY SAYS: “Watch, my child, what else is exiting from the hole.”

VERONICA: Oh, goodness! There are things that look like bright lights, by they’re like dome-like at the top. And they don’t have any windows; they’re just great lights. And Our Lady now is standing at the edge of this hole and She’s pointing, and She’s saying:

OUR LADY: “Many will not accept the truth. These are transports of hell.”

VERONICA: Oh, Our Lady’s referring to these things that are being seen on earth.

OUR LADY: “Make it known, My child, that the false miracles of the time are now at hand. Satan seeks to confuse you. Make it known, My child, that there is no life beyond your earth as you know it. Man will go out into space; better that he uses these efforts to find his way back to God.”
For Lueken’s critics, even mentioning UFOs meant her ideas were not to be taken seriously. Today, Baysiders seem uninterested in discussing UFOs and emphasize other aspects of Lueken’s prophecies. But in 1973, UFOs were front-page news. Protestant leaders like Hal Lindsey and Billy Graham openly speculated about the religious significance of UFOs, but the Catholic Church was silent on the matter. Lueken offered a Catholic perspective that folded UFOs into larger apocalyptic scenario. And her charisma as a seer made this explanation authoritative for her followers. By showing Baysider beliefs and practices in context, I try move past the popular image of the Baysiders a weird cult and instead portray a group of Catholics motivated by a deep concern that the core values of their religion are under attack.
Learn more about The Seer of Bayside at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue