Finding God's will



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Father Elias Mary Millswalks the stations of the cross at the Mother of the Redeemer Retreat Center. Milswalks lives at the Mother of the Redeemer Retreat Center on Bloomington's west side, where he leads mass and various processionals around the property's prayer paths. The Mother of the Redeemer Retreat Center is considered "holy" ground on Bloomington's west side. Annie Garau and Annie Garau

It’s said that when the Virgin Mary first spoke to Ruth Ann Wade back in 1990, the silver beads of her rosary suddenly turned to gold.

Then the messages began.

“So many have been put to the test and have not survived it,” Ruth Ann said Mary told her. “But you, my child, have persevered. Because of this perseverance, my Son has chosen you for a special mission.”

The mission was simple: spread love and peace throughout the world. Attempting to complete it, of course, was not so simple.

Mary, and later Jesus, had many tasks for Ruth Ann. Speaking to her in the early hours of the morning, they told her to take a trip to Yugoslavia, to quit her job as a schoolteacher, to organize a prayer group, to sell her house and to purchase a small piece of land on Bloomington’s west side.

They told her to keep buying the adjacent properties and to construct a simple pole barn. Then came the prayer path. Next a chapel, a guesthouse, a bookstore.

For years, the calls for expansion 
continued. Today, the property consists of 120 acres of lush hillside believers affectionately call the Farm.

Its official name is Mother of the Redeemer Retreat Center. Here, visitors can walk a winding path lined with statues, altars and flowers. They might run into Franciscan friars, nuns or the young man who mows the lawn.

They’ll never see Ruth Ann, though. Not since the holy messages stopped.

***

On the Marian Day of Prayer, a gray and chilly day in October, Sarah Mobley sat at the guesthouse computer, scrolling through crucifixion rings on Amazon.

Mobley’s family has been involved at the Farm since she was a little girl, and the retreat has special meaning for her. It’s the place where her brother works as a groundskeeper and where she likes to spend her free time volunteering.

It’s also the place where her other brother, who died after being born prematurely, was laid to rest under a white cross reading, “In memory of aborted children.” A blood red heart divides the words, a jagged white line down its middle. Chimes hang near the grave so when the wind blows, like on this fall day, Mobley hears the sound and remembers all the babies who never got a chance.

The 22-year-old said she realizes Ruth Ann’s claims might seem far-fetched to some. But Mobley believes the messages and said she’s not someone who’s convinced easily.

“I like to question things,” she said. “I’ll always ask, ‘How do you prove it?’”

The Farm has proven itself to Mobley through descriptions of miracles, she said. Although Mobley did not see them, Jim Wade, Ruth Ann’s husband, told her he has medical records of many people who have been healed from diseases after visits to the Farm.

With regard to her religion in general, Mobley said the proof of Jesus is endless. Just looking at a blade of grass, it’s clear to her there must be a grand designer 
behind it all.

Though Mobley’s never doubted her faith, figuring out what God wants her to do can be challenging, she said.

“I’m trying to discern if I’m called to the religious life or the married life,” she said.

She plans on visiting convents and seeing what 
they’re like, but she knows it would be hard to move away from home and not be able to see her family.

For Mobley, and most other visitors to the Farm, discerning God’s will isn’t as simple as a late-night chat with Mary. His orders don’t come in words and no explanations are given.

***

Ruth Ann recorded most of her discussions with Jesus and Mary. The dialogue has been printed in four paperback volumes sold in the Farm’s bookstore next to rosaries, children’s books and Jesus pillowcases.

In these pages, Ruth Ann 
describes her faith and her personal journey.

Her health problems began at a young age, Volume I says. While the other children went to recess at her Catholic school, Ruth Ann would sit with the bread and wine of the Eucharist so Jesus wouldn’t get lonely.

The illness, the specific nature of which is never specified in her writing, continued as Ruth Ann grew older.

At one point in their conversations, Mary explained to Ruth Ann that her health battle was the will of God. It made her stronger, Mary said, strong enough to complete her mission.

In working toward their goal, Mary gave Ruth Ann many messages for her prayer group, letting them know they are loved, and they need to keep their faith.

Over time, word of the messages spread and the prayer group grew large enough to fill the 
Wades’ barn.

Originally the messages only came from Mary. But after Ruth Ann suffered a bad bout of bronchitis in 1991, Jesus began speaking with 
her too.

“I can’t believe all this, Jesus,” Ruth Ann wrote on Oct. 3, 1992. “This is all pretty incredible.”

“Believe it, my child,” she wrote as Jesus’ response. “You are going to do even greater things than I.”

***

As the years went on, more pilgrims traveled to the Farm to hear Ruth Ann’s messages and to be on 
holy land.

Officials in the Roman Catholic Church have agreed the site seems sacred, and Franciscan friars have taken up residence on its grounds.

Letters come to the center from all around the world, some with gifts. Each year, more than $130,000 is donated to the center’s nonprofit, Mary’s Children Inc., according to tax forms.

People come here to drink “holy water” from the Farm’s well. They come to smell roses, though none are planted on the property. According to Ruth Ann’s writing, it’s commonly known that when the Virgin Mother has blessed a place, roses can be smelled where there are none.

People come to purchase Bibles, attend Mass and go to confession. They come to find meaning and purpose, to witness a miracle and to get a taste of the closeness to God Ruth Ann claims to have 
experienced.

On the Marian Day of Prayer, they come for a special rosary walk.

As the altar-bearers made their way toward the base of the hill, biting gusts of wind picked up fluffy creeping thistle seeds, floating them past the reverent processional.

The air is frigid as the group slowly walks around the path. Looking up toward the steel gray heavens, one of the walkers said what could be the center’s catchphrase: “It’s God’s will. Everything happens for a reason.”

This phrase, or a variation of it, is said incessantly here, usually with a sigh, a slight shrug and an upward glance.

It’s said when Mobley talks about her baby brother. When a young Congolese nun-in-training talks about never having a boyfriend. When the woman who runs the bookstore talks about having to live away from her young grandchildren because Ruth Ann told her Jesus specifically requested her as a volunteer. It’s said when Jim talks about the retirement on a golf course in Florida he will probably never have.

Sigh. “It’s God’s will.” Shrug. “Everything happens for a reason.”

***

These reasons for hardship and suffering were sometimes revealed to Ruth Ann, like when Mary told her why she had always been sick.

Other times, though, the Mother and Son remained mysterious in their motives.

In these cases, Ruth Ann’s writing suggests she was left as confused and frustrated as everyone else. Like when Mary and then Jesus told her the holy messages had come to an end.

“Lord how can this be?” she said Feb. 23, 1995. “Everything is happening so fast. Your Mother has quit sharing and now you. What does this mean?”

“Remember, God gives gifts, and He also removes them,” she wrote as Jesus’ reply. “It is for a reason, little one, and in time it will all be made clear to you.”

Whether or not the reason was ever made clear is unknown. This is where the books end.

Ruth Ann remained devoted to the Farm for nearly 10 more years after the messages stopped, but now she is rarely seen on the property.

“As of June 1, 2004, Ruth Ann has been withdrawn from the Farm at the Lord’s request,” the Mary’s Children website reads. “Although this has been very difficult for her, He has told her that she is to be a model of obedience.”

After the processional ended on the Marian Day of Prayer, Jim laughed with friends next to the altar.

His wife is doing well, he said. She was unable to make the walk up the path with everyone else, however, because she recently broke her pelvis.

“It’s been a rough healing,” he said.

Maybe that, too, was God’s will. But like everyone else, Ruth Ann has no way of knowing.

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