The Stars At Noon
In Old Montreal there is a spot beloved of all generations of Catholics in the Province of Quebec where the stars can be seen at morning and afternoon as well as at night. On the deep blue ceiling of the great church of Notre Dame, in silver and gold, handpainted stars by the thousands look down on the faithful below.
Many a child has gone home from Notre Dame with aching neck wrought from standing on kneeler and pew, turning, turning, and gazing up at that magnificent rendition of Heaven brought indoors. That the glory of the Church it represented could possibly fade in the span of a few short years would have been considered an outrageous idea in the 1940's in Quebec. The province known as the Province of St. Anne appeared as securely set in the Faith as were the stars in their blue-painted firmament.
It has been said that never in history had the Social Kingship of Christ been reflected so totally and completely on earth as it was in the kitchens of Quebec Province in the first half of the 20th Century. Here the Faith came from its supernatural height and permeated every aspect of life. To those who suggest the Church was a smothering, oppressive force in the lives of the people of Quebec it might be noted that the unique culture of the Province of St. Anne exists today precisely because of the Catholic Faith; the Church having provided the prime bulwark against assimilation by Protestant Britain.
(In fairness to Britain, however, it can also be said that the conquest of Quebec by Britain in 1759 undoubtedly saved the province from doing a brisk trade in guillotine blades when revolution turned Mother France into an abattoir a mere thirty years later.)
Whatever may be said about the history of Quebec, it is indisputable that Montreal, in 1942, was very much the center of a vibrant La Belle Province. To be in Montreal was to be instantly part of the most cosmopolitan city of the hemisphere outside of Rio.
The Town of Mount Royal within the greater city of Montreal was indeed an ocean removed from the sounds of the cannonade in Europe , but the soul and heart of Quebec resonated thoroughly with the dangers to France from the first moment of Hitlerian madness. The Fuehrer's broadcasts could shake radios in Northern Quebec and inner city Montreal just as readily as they did the radios of France. The fantasy of the Maginot Line came crashing to earth along the St. Lawrence as well as along the Champs Elysées. And who can doubt that the dreadful rhythm of stormtroopers marching past L'Arc de Triomphe chilled hearts in the shadow of St. Joseph s Oratory.
Even so, to be born in Montreal in the middle of the Second World War was to have one's eyes open to the most critical era of human history and yet view it from a special vantage point of security and safety. Few Canadian mothers in those dark years were unaware of their blessed distance from ringside as the curtain rose on what has appeared as Act Two of the Apocalypse.
Jessie Gruner had already borne four children to God and her husband Malcolm by May of 1942. Michael, the first, was born on the feast of St. Athanasius, that great Saint who, in defense of the Church and the Faith, justly opposed even the Pope. Peter was next, then Christopher, who was born on the eve of St. Nicholas' feast day, and then Anthony. This newest one would be called Nicholas.
Nicholas Gruner was christened in the parish of St. Malachy's, according to the tradition and law of the greatest teaching institution in the world, the two-thousand-year-old Roman Catholic Church.
He was named after St. Nicholas of Tolentino, a Catholic priest and miracle worker, on whose feast day his parents Jessie Mullally and Malcolm Gruner had married, September 10, 1930.
Is it mere coincidence that Nicholas Gruner and another Nicholas, Van der Flue, share both a name and some very similar life patterns? Nicholas Gruner, the fifth son, became a priest, as did the fifth son of St. Nicholas Van der Flue. Both, also, would oppose abuse of authority and irresponsible judgements.
In Nicholas Van der Flue's day he gave Switzerland the solution to an unsolvable problem. The Swiss Constitution is his masterpiece and it still stands today. Nicholas Gruner was destined to publish to the world the solution to an unsolvable problem, the only means of obtaining world peace.
Malcolm Gruner was one of the original five Catholic men who petitioned the Archbishop of Montreal to found the parish of the Annunciation of Our Lady where the family would live for forty years. Malcolm then served as a warden of this parish for about 30 years. Two of the children would be baptized there, three receive first Holy Communion, another three would marry there, and in time the parents would there celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.1 Malcolm was also instrumental in founding the local parish school of St. Joseph and at least four of the children went there. It had classes for both English and French Catholic school children for as long as Nicholas went to school there. More continuity. More tradition.
In 1942, Catholic continuity, tradition and law were the birthright of any future priest, all gifts he would need in abundance when, in future years, under the pressure of so-called “reformers”, the Church would jettison these and other precious treasures of its sacred heritage.
Indeed, continuity and tradition marked the Gruner homefront. A statue of the Sacred Heart, displayed in the most prominent place in the house, the head of the stairs, dispensed blessings and urged caution. Year after year children navigated those stairs passing by the Sacred Heart who, as in Catholic homes everywhere, with one hand cautions don't run, and with the other says I'm here if you fall. Running on just such a staircase as this, St. Therese of Lisieux suffered the intersection of youthful emotions that would change her life forever and lead inevitably to sainthood.
In front of the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, in Jessie and Malcolm's bedroom, the children were taught the Memorare, that portal of rescue in times of despair.
“Never was it known that any who implored Thy help or sought Thy intercession were left unaided...”
Fighting the odds and testing frontiers seemed part of the family background. Grandfather Dr. Emmet J. Mullally was a prominent physician in Montreal and one of the first English-speaking commissioners on the Catholic School Board. Dr. Mullally was instrumental in founding D'Arcy McGee High, the first English-language Catholic high school in Montreal. Being an avid historian of the Irish legacy in Canada, Mullally had it named D'Arcy McGee after the dynamic Irish parliamentarian who was assassinated on Sparks Street in Ottawa in 1868. Later, a grade school in Montreal was named after Mullally himself, in acknowledgement of his contribution to education in the city.
“We had a happy, stable home,” Father Nicholas Gruner remembers today, “a mother who stayed home, a father home every night and on weekends. My parents never disagreed in front of us. We took vacations as a family to Prince Edward Island and sometimes in St. Joseph de Mont Rolland, 45 miles north of Montreal, where a house was lent us.” It was there Nicholas learned how to swim in a hurry shortly after a friend threw him into the water and he almost drowned.
Not a word of swearing was ever heard in the house, neither blasphemous talk nor gutter language. “The worst my father ever said was ‘bloody’.”
His brother Tony recalls that before Nick was born, Peter had learned some swear words when he was two, from a maid and that when he used them in front of his mother, she figured out where it came from and immediately dismissed the woman. Father relates, “My mother took her duty as a Catholic mother very seriously and saw to it that blasphemy was never even whispered in her home.
“Although we might have been considered among the upper-middle class,” Father Gruner notes, “we didn't have any excess. I remember father saying if he had wealth, he would share it generously. But he was not wealthy and we knew it. We were conscious of not having excess and of working for what we had. We had to earn our own way. My sister Jenny, the youngest, recalls that when she was 10, even though our parents could have afforded to buy her a bicycle, they insisted she earn her own. When Tony accompanied my father out of town to a big construction site, he ordered only a hamburger for his meal and told my father, ‘I know you don't have much money so I didn't want to be a burden.’
“We paid our own way through school, lived at home for university, but worked in the summer to pay for it.
“We were all very different, all individual, all quite aware of our independence and our own point of view.” Father recounted that the person who used to babysit him was a certain Madame St. Laurent, who told him that he did not speak until he was four. But when he spoke he knew exactly what he meant. He expressed himself very explicitly and objected if he was significantly misquoted. It is characteristic of how Father Gruner speaks today.
All of the Gruner children have post-graduate degrees, except for Michael, the eldest. And, indeed, both parents put a high value on education.
Father Gruner remembers: “My father came from a long line of inventors and engineers. He had an engineering degree himself and turned down a scholarship because others more needy than himself needed it.
“His middle name and my own is Nightingale. Alice Nightingale, my father's mother, insisted that we were related to Florence Nightingale, the famous nurse.
“My mother had a great sense of justice. She was supportive if we were in the right but not if we were in the wrong. For example, despite pressure from an angry car owner, my mother would not let Tony pay for a windshield broken during a baseball game because he was not actually playing in the game but merely watching. She had been a school teacher before she married and continued to take an active role in our education. In my first year at McGill University she made me redo a paper on economic history even though I thought it was quite adequate. She said it wasn't good enough and made me work harder on it.
“Her family was well known in Montreal. Grandmother Mullally's family came to Canada in 1842, during the potato famine in Ireland, landing in Montreal.
“Grandfather Mullally could remember when Louis Riel was executed by the Government of Canada (for leading the Métis rebellion of 1885 in western Canada) and how his father explained that the hanging of Riel was bad for Canadian unity.
“Grandfather Mullally's mother knew her own mind and was very strong-willed. She was a MacDonald and despite very strong family opposition, she was the first Scot in PEI to marry an Irishman.
“Doctor Oscar Cameron Gruner, who was known to his grandchildren as ‘Baba’, was also a medical doctor who specialized as a pathologist and a researcher in cancer. Early in his life, his mother, Eleanor, a very strong-willed, artistic woman, determined that her son would become a famous surgeon.” Her role model was that of Sir Barkley Moinahan. Sir Barkley was a competent surgeon to Queen Victoria. He wrote a text of surgery. In that text there was a section on the spleen, which at that time was still a considerable medical mystery. It was Oscar who wrote the chapter on the spleen though he was not given credit for it.
In 1910, Oscar, who was an assistant professor of pathology, and Alice came to Montreal with their two children, Malcolm and Douglas. He co-authored articles on pathology of various tumors with a Dr. Emmet James Mullally which were published in reputable journals such as the American Journal of Pathology. Mullally was a McGill graduate, and in one of the first groups of doctors to do what they now call a surgical residency. In 1913 the signs of war were obvious and Oscar felt he should be back in England. He returned and joined the British Army Medical Corps and worked as a pathologist.
Dr. Gruner pioneered a scientific test on the early detection of cancer by a simple but accurate count of white cells in the blood. He showed it to Nicholas when he was a child and taught Peter, then a teenager, how to use it. Peter is now a doctor himself.
Oscar had a very original mind in medicine and cancer research. His work in 1915 was decades ahead of his time. Indeed, it wasn't until 50 years later that the scientific community caught up with his research. They finally recognized his work and he received an award in 1965.
He, himself, opposed some of the medical establishment and was critical of contemporary theories of medicine treating the human body as if it were simply a machine. He also thought that too many medical practitioners were in the back pocket of the drug companies. He was a quiet man and would never get into a fight, but, as a researcher, held on to the truth.
In 1949, he proved that cancer can be cured. A German man called Mr. Fookes, who worked for Malcolm, had cancer and Dr. Gruner cured him with medicine discovered by another researcher in Canada.
Malcolm Gruner, born on August 22, 1905, attended Leeds Grammar School where he did quite well academically. Although encouraged by his father to study medicine, he was never really interested. Oscar was a renaissance person and intrigued by many aspects of the then new world. Malcolm was especially interested with the new finds in the various Egyptian excavations and was a well-read Egyptianology buff. One of the digs revealed the mummy of an Egyptian princess. The archaeologists sent her ringed hand to Malcolm for evaluation.
In 1926, Malcolm, a graduate engineer, emigrated to work in Montreal at Vickers. He re-introduced himself to his father's old friend and colleague, Dr. Mullally. In so doing he re-met Jessie Rosalie. Malcolm returned to England but much correspondence ensued between he and Jessie. Jessie visited England with her father and brother James in 1928. Here, Jessie and Malcolm became engaged. They would be married in Canada.
Malcolm had exhibited, early in life, a readiness not to shrink from what he perceived as a ‘call’. In Rome in the 1920's, the young Malcolm, not yet Catholic, was so moved by the life of St. Cecilia, the noble Roman virgin who professed her faith courageously and gave her life for Christ, that he was converted in the very place Cecilia was martyred.2
His conversion is recalled by Father Gruner: “My uncle Douglas had already turned Catholic but my father was adamant in refusing to do so. Then Malcolm was invited to Rome by his parents during the Holy Year, 1925. He said he would go, not to see Christian Rome but as an avid student, interested in archaeology, to see the ruins of pagan Rome. He made his way to the Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere because of its archaeological interest and his great love of music, St. Cecilia being the Church's patron of music. When he was in the cellar of the ruins, he heard the story of how St. Cecilia died. (She was sealed in a steam room, but she remained alive. The executioners then attempted several times to behead her but the neck wound was not immediately fatal — she lived two more days while she dictated her spiritual will, giving her house to the Roman Catholic Church so that it could be converted into a place of worship. St. Cecilia was also a great apologist for the Church.)
“When I asked my father what converted him he said he was so moved by the story of St. Cecilia, who was rich and beautiful and had everything the world could offer, but out of love for Jesus Christ gave it all up and became a virgin martyr. In 1946, true to his promise made some 21 years before, the first daughter in the Gruner family would carry her name, so that, as in all Catholic families, the spiritual legacy of the early martyrs would inspire and strengthen and direct the offspring. But whether St. Cecilia's sacrifice would actually affect Malcolm's family in future years was being determined in the late autumn of 1943 by a hand writing in a far country.
God must surely be the greatest storyteller of all. He certainly knows how to keep a reader's attention. No one ever put the Old Testament down out of boredom, rather it is out of the exhilaration of trying to absorb the twists and turns, plots and counterplots, throughout the whole history of God's revelation of Himself to the chosen people that causes the reader to seek rest for the eye and the soul now and then. But throughout it all He holds the reader's attention as He held the attention of the Hebrews by one perfect tactic — a promise. He promised them a Redeemer. And He held their attention for centuries until He fulfilled that promise. It was only then that the jaded, to whom He had entrusted the promise, looked the other way. And God's treasure went elsewhere.
Every teacher knows the surest way to capture a naughty child's attention is to promise something is going to happen to him soon. To the cynical, over-indulged, spoiled and arrogant people of the Twentieth Century, God presented a device that would rivet their attention year in, year out, decade after decade. He gave them a Secret. Not “to” the world at large, but “for” the Catholic faithful in the world at large. Through His Mother at Fatima, He entrusted that Secret to three illiterate peasant children, Jacinta Marto, aged seven, her brother Francisco, nine, and their cousin Lucy dos Santos, barely ten.
A vocation from God can enter the heart of a child long before adolescence. God is not restrained by lack of faith in children. He knows what their future holds. God knows His own, knows that shepherds in Bethlehem would not hesitate to enter a cave, knows too that the child seers of Fatima, Jacinta and Francisco, would spend the rest of their short lives burning with love for Him. And He knows too that Lucy, the last remaining Fatima seer, would be obedient to Him and His Mother all her long life on earth.
In the spring of 1917, all of Portugal was electrified to hear that three nondescript children had apparently seen the Virgin Mary, in a pasture north of Fatima, on the 13th of May. She promised to meet them there at that spot and on the same day every month until October.3 There would be six meetings in all. Only the three children were at the first, 70,000 men, women and youths from all walks of life and every corner of Portugal were at the last. What was played out in between was some of the richest drama in the entire 2000-year history of Catholicism.
The Blessed Virgin told the children that God was much offended by the sins of mankind and asked if they would willingly make sacrifices to console Him and for the conversion of sinners. They were promised they would go to Heaven. (Jacinta and Francisco would die within three years, Lucy, the oldest, would live for the rest of the century.) For six months the three withstood scorn, police threats, mental torture at the hands of the authorities, anger from their own families, and the suffocating adulation of enraptured spectators. Because of their faithfulness to grace, and with Our Lady's help, they survived it all. They were also helped by the two most famous ingredients of the entire phenomenon—they had been promised a great miracle in October and had been told a Secret in three parts.4
Over the decades, as Heaven allowed it, the first two parts of the Secret were made known by Lucy dos Santos, upon orders from her bishop, after she entered religious life.5 The first part of the Secret contained a vision of the damned burning in Hell for all eternity, the fate awaiting many people in the world if man does not cease offending God.6 The second part said that if mankind did not stop in its offenses against God and His law, a worse war (World War II) would break out in the reign of Pius XI and that the world would continue to be punished by means of war, hunger, persecution of the Church and persecution of the Holy Father. The Virgin stated She would return to ask for the consecration of ‘Russia’ to Her Immaculate Heart, by the Pope and the bishops of the Church, to prevent Russia from spreading “... her errors throughout the world”.7 The third part of the Secret, which has yet to be revealed, was written down by Sister Lucy on twenty-four lines on one sheet of paper.8 It has been in the Pope's possession since 19579 and has fascinated and challenged Catholics for the balance of this century.
As for the miracle promised for October, who was going to pay any attention to a wild prediction made back in July by three peasant children? They couldn't read, couldn't write, had no social graces whatsoever and seemed downright backward when you got a good look at them.
It was too ridiculous! They even announced the day it would happen, October 13, and the time, noon,10 the same hour the Virgin had supposedly been appearing to them since May. Who could fall for such nonsense?
Seventy thousand people did. At noon hour, October 13, 1917, the approximate resident population of Jerusalem on the day Christ wrote with His finger in the dust, were standing ankle deep in mud, in the pasture north of Fatima, in a downpour that had lasted all night.11
“Look at the sun”, Lucy cried at the prompting of She who had just revealed Herself to be Our Lady of the Rosary.
The rain stopped, the clouds disappeared, the sun appeared silvery, as easy to look at as the moon. It began to send out waves of color not seen since creation, to recreate the complexion of those upturned faces and of earth itself. Then to the stupefaction of the thousands transfixed below, it began to spin. Suddenly, it tore free from the heavens and threw itself earthward in a zigzagging plunge, a great ball of blazing heat, threatening to scorch the terrified spectators back into the dust from which they had come.
At the height of the terror, it stopped, just overhead, hung there for a moment, the great pendulum of time had ended its swing. Then time began again, the sun drew up, away from the thousands, and made its way back into the sky. In moments it was what it had been since it was created and once again, no one could look upon it.12
The seventy thousand were dry — clothes, hair, shoes, umbrellas and earth, all dry,13 dry as the dust on the Temple floor that Christ had written in before He sent away the woman with the words, “Neither do I condemn you.” Homeward bound the multitudes went that October day in 1917, hearts soaring, filled to the brim with an unparalleled reminder of God's forgiveness. Indeed, what man must do to earn that forgiveness is what Fatima is all about.
When the first two children died, the sole custodian of the Secret was Lucy dos Santos. There, within the soul of this peasant girl, the Secret has been allowed to remain out of the reach of evil men until the time was ready for it to be revealed.
By 1941, that life had already obediently shouldered the burden of her Fatima mandate for 24 years. That summer she was commanded to write what we now know as her Third Memoir.14
In that memoir she revealed for the first time that the Great Secret of Fatima was divided into three parts. On this occasion she also revealed the contents of the first two parts of the Secret.15
Lucy dos Santos, having relived the entire six months of 1917 through the writing of her Third Memoir and revealing the first two parts of the Secret by June, 1943, became ill with bronchial ailments which led to a serious case of pleurisy.16 In September, alarmed by the prospect of the seer taking the third part of the Secret back into eternity with her, her bishop, Bishop da Silva of Leiria, expressed the desire that she write it down.17
She explained to the bishop that on such an important matter she preferred to await an order to do so.
Finally, in mid-October 1943, Bishop da Silva gave in writing to Sister Lucy the order she requested from him.18
Still she could not comply.
She felt for almost three months, “a mysterious and terrible agony.” She related that each time she sat at her work table and took her pen in order to write down the Secret, she felt “prevented from doing so.”
She wrote her director that, “Although she had tried several times, she was unable to write what had been commanded her, and that this phenomenon was not due to natural causes.”19
1943 ended. The day after New Year's Day, 1944, Our Lady appeared to Lucy in the infirmary at Tuy. There She confirmed: “... that it was indeed the will of God and gave her the light and strength to accomplish what had been asked for.”20
In the Chapel at Tuy, the same place where she had received on June 13, 1929, the vision of the Most Holy Trinity, Lucy wrote down the Great Secret of Fatima told to her one July day in 1917, a day when witnesses noticed the sun grow so dim that the stars could be seen at noon, a Secret so vital even the stars had come out to listen.21
1. Father Gruner, Memories of My Mother, The Fatima Crusader, Issue 47, Summer 1994, pg. 11.
2. Father Nicholas Gruner, A Personal Thank You From Father Gruner, The Fatima Crusader, Issue 30, Winter 1989, pg. 1.
3. William Thomas Walsh, Our Lady of Fatima, New York , The Macmillan Company, pg. 52.
4. Fatima in Lucia's Own Words, Sister Lucy's Third Memoir, pg. 104.
5. Ibid, pg. 102.
6. Ibid, pg. 104.
8. Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, The Secret of Fatima Revealed, pg. 7
9. Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, The Whole Truth About Fatima , Volume III, The Third Secret, Buffalo , NY., Immaculate Heart Publications, pgs. 479-481.
10. William Thomas Walsh, Our Lady of Fatima, pg. 80.
11. Ibid, pg. 145.
12. Ibid, pgs. 148-149.
13. Ibid, pg. 149.
14. Fatima in Lucia's Own Words, Sr. Lucy's Third Memoir, pg. 102.
15. Ibid, pgs. 104-105, 107-108.
16. Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, Volume III, The Third Secret, Buffalo , NY. , Immaculate Heart Publications, pg. 38.
17. Ibid pg. 42.
18. Ibid pg. 44.
19. Ibid pg. 45.
20. Ibid pgs. 47, 48.
21. Ibid pg. 47.