The following was written in February 1987
EXPLANATION AND BACKGROUND OF THE WRITTEN WORKS REGARDING THE CULT AT NECEDAH, WISCONSIN
The following is an explanation and a brief interconnecting history regarding my written works about the Shrine at Necedah so as to explain why and the conditions under which they were written.
Approximately in August 1975, my parents were given a book (about 600 pages long) entitled "Messages and Revelations to Mary Ann Van Hoof" (Note: In the late 70's, Mrs. Mary Ann Van Hoof married Mr. Ray Hirt.). After reading it at least five times, my Dad was convinced that the private revelations to Mrs. Van Hoof were true. I left college (Dec. 1975) one semester short of finishing my masters degree in mathematics in order to help my father prepare for the possible destruction of our country as predicted by these messages. I began to read and pray more although I had gone to daily Mass all my life since ten years of age. Finally in June of 1978, my younger sister and I joined the Legion of Mary. After having discovered how lax the Legion of Mary had become (compared to ten years earlier when my parents were active members), we began supplementing our negligible weekly assignment by going door to door an hour every day in our home town (about 20,000 population) asking people to pray an extra hour each week in their own way to help fight abortion. The impetus for this particular goal and motive for the extra prayer was inspired by the supposed messages from "heaven" given to Mary Ann Van Hoof as well as by a Necedah Shrine organization "The Constant Vigil of Prayer" which was part of the over all Shrine organization called "For My God and Country" Inc.
As the 10-page letter below ('My Personal Reasons Why I Left The Shrine At Necedah, Wisconsin') describes, I left California in May of 1980 to join a new religious congregation in Necedah called the "Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Heart" founded (1978) by Bishop (Old Roman Catholic) Francis DiBenedetto, FFSC and Father (Old Roman Catholic) Kevin Fitzgerald, FFSC, who is now a trapist monk in Ava, Missouri. At that time, I had no understanding of what the Old Roman Catholic Church was. I felt maybe it had something to do with an Eastern rite church; I knew very little about Eastern rite churches or even the difference between uniate and orthodox churches.
Only after about two years at Necedah as a religious in this new congregation (3rd order regular, Franciscan), which I feel was governed fairly well, did I begin to wake up to the possibility of the apparitions being false. During these two years I had also written a couple of pamphlets, one of which is entitled, "Behold Thy Mother, Motherhood" (see: http://true-motherhood.blogspot.com/). In late December, 1982, my superior, Bishop Francis, had become mentally exhausted due to the constant, unnerving pressures from certain Shrine members to conform to what "heaven says" from the mouth of Mrs. Hirt. At that time Bishop Francis asked me to write a short book about private revelation to help explain to the people at the Shrine that private revelation falls under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church and not vise versa as well as other pertinent topics.
I finished the book (entitled `The Holy Catholic Church and Private Revelation' - 500 copies printed in April, 1983) in March of 1983 (see: http://priv-rev.blogspot.com/); the same month I left this new religious congregation in Necedah to return to California with my parents who had come to haul back their belongings which they had moved to Necedah while waiting to sell their house in California which, fortunately, they never succeeded in doing. Finally Bishop Francis presented and explained the contents of the book on May 31, 1983 to over 600 Shrine members in the chapel of the Shrine-built 'Men's Home' which resulted in the return of about 70% of the Shrine families to the lawful Catholic parish in Necedah (St. Francis' Parish) during the month of June which I assertained by way of letters from friends who had left the Shrine or who were still affiliated with the Shrine; most of these letters I still have on file in California. I have also on file newspaper clippings reporting on the huge crowds (around 100,000 people) who came to Necedah, Wisconsin on August 15, 1950 and October 7, 1950 due to radio and newspaper promotion of these supposed apparitions to Mary Ann Van Hoof. For example: "Several women among the thousands of visitors jamming this village also said they saw the sun whirl. Newsmen saw nothing unusual" - Los Angeles Examiner, Sun., Oct. 8, 1950 Sec. l, Part B. Perhaps many other families across the nation also broke off affiliation, through news of these events (June 1983), with the Shrine organization which had a mailing list of over 16,000 from which substantial amounts of money from benefactors was apparently collected over the years since 1950. The local group of 70% which returned to the lawful church in Necedah had formerly (as myself) received the sacraments from Bishop Francis and several other Shrine-affiliated Old Roman Catholic priests ordained by Bishop Francis or by his predecessor, Bishop Edward Stelick, Old Roman Catholic.
I feel personally that this 125-page book that I wrote played only an indirect, instrumental part in the return of the 70% or about 100-150 families locally (perhaps many more nation wide) to the lawful Catholic Church. Bishop Francis, a four-year military veteran and afterwards a mailman, had won the hearts of most of the Shrine members due to his sincerity and hard generous work of offering the sacraments and sincere counsel and friendship while acting as their bishop at the Shrine from 1979 to 1983. I feel that the book certainly helped to consolidate and reinforce the evolving convictions of Bishop Francis (as well as mine) that something had to be done for the sake of the souls who had put their trust in him. Also there had been many good and generous people of good will who had moved their homes from around the country to live at the Shrine. These good people had maintained perpetual adoration for many months at the Shrine (initiated by Bishop Francis) and had worked hard trying to fulfill the requests of the supposed messages from heaven given to Mary Ann Van Hoof (Hirt) which included the construction of a 160-room 'Men's Home', a 2400-seat capacity church (not finished), over a dozen small shrines, printing press, etc. As the 10-page letter describes (below), these good people were more or less confused due to the influence of this seemingly natural-formed cult at the Shrine as well as a certain lack of understanding about their Catholic faith especially regarding the role of the Church in general and in particular regarding private revelation. Thus when Bishop Francis presented the book and explained the absolute necessity of following his lead of submitting to the lawful authority of the bishop of the La Crosse Diocese, 70% of the Shrine members proved themselves to be of good will by humbly returning to St. Francis' Church in Necedah pastored by Father Barney who was not well liked by most of the Shrine members.
During the fall of 1984, several friends still living at Necedah urged me to visit them the following summer. After deciding to visit Necedah in June of 1985, I felt it important to write a shorter and simpler explanation, better adapted for laymen (I feel the 125-page book was too long and difficult for most laymen), about the true, explicit and implicit problems within the Shrine at Necedah in order to be better prepared to explain to past, present, and possible future members of the Shrine cult the necessity of avoiding all affiliation with the Shrine at Necedah. I sent many copies of this 10-page letter entitled, 'My Personal Reasons Why I Left The Shrine At Necedah, Wisconsin' (see below), through the mail before June of 1985 and handed out 30-40 copies after the 8:00 A.M. Sunday Mass at St. Francis' Church in Necedah to former friends (mostly X-Shriners) as well as to the new pastor there (Fr. Mertens) who later commended the letter and thanked me personally for writing it while eating a lunch together with him and a handful of my friends later that day. Within a month after this letter was distributed, about 20% more families left the Shrine to return to St. Francis' Church. During my June 1985 visit to Necedah, I had also visited and telephoned many friends who were still affiliated with the Shrine urging them to break off all affiliation with the Shrine and to return to the lawful church in Necedah. Also in June of 1985, the new bishop of the La Crosse diocese, Bishop John Paul (whom I had met as Bishop Freking,'s auxilary as well as Bishop Freking himself during an appointment with them on March 18, 1983 after having left the Shrine) extended Bishop Freking's 1975 intradict, imposed on several key Shrine members, to all who publicly associated themselves with the Shrine.
I also sent a copy of the 10-page letter to Bishop Freking on November 1985 who later expressed his sincere gratitude to me in a subsequent letter (Jan. 29,1986) for having received a copy. He also wrote in this letter: "I should express to you my gratitude and appreciation for your acknowledgment of the fact that the local Bishop (myself) was really the person responsible for the interpretation of Mary Ann's supposed apparitions, or visions. I must tell you that that was not always easy to do because, apparently, some strange things did happen which might be called "preternatural". The commission which I established also acknowledged this, but then went on to indicate that in such cases, one must judge what preternatural "force" was responsible - whether the power of good or the power of evil. That, of course, makes it a bit scary at times. Because of so many odd occurences of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of things that I said or did, I often had to say that the devil himself had to be involved. Thank God, I believe the major influence is over."
Rev. Joseph Dwight
For additional background and historical information about Necedah, see also: Thomas A. Kselman and Steven Avella, 'Marian Piety and the Cold War in the United States', THE CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW; The Catholic University of America Press (Washington, D.C. 20064), July, 1986; Vol LXXII, No. 3, pp. 403-424.