Our Lady of the Miracle and Ratisbonne’s Conversion

From ‘Ratisbonne to Reflections’ – by Peter W. Miller

The image of Our Lady of the Miracle that is over the altar of the side chapel in the  Basilica San Andrea delle Fratte, and the one that appeared there to Alphonse Ratisbonne

The image of Our Lady of the Miracle that is over the altar of the side chapel in the
Basilica San Andrea delle Fratte, and the one that appeared there to Alphonse Ratisbonne

Contrasting approaches towards the conversion of Jews

With Reflections on Covenant and Mission, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] has submitted its contribution to an increasingly disturbing pattern of statements aimed at facilitating “interreligious unity.” Exhibiting a rare display of honesty, the now infamous document goes beyond the previously uncontroversial claims that Judaism represents a still valid and potentially salvific covenant with God, and directly challenges the Church’s mission towards the Jewish people.

To truly appreciate how far those presenting such views have strayed in recent decades, it’s useful to revisit the inspiring story of Fr. Alphonse Ratisbonne, a wealthy Jewish man who would undergo perhaps the most dramatic conversion since St. Paul.

Alphonse Ratisbonne (1814-1884)

Alphonse Ratisbonne (1814-1884)

Ratisbonne’s Conversion

Alphonse Ratisbonne was born a Jew in the Alsace region of Eastern France and would, over the years, develop a particular disdain for the Catholic Faith. Fully embracing the wave of new philosophic trends and scientific advancements, he looked upon Catholics as naive, superstitious, unintelligent and foolish.
This prejudice would grow to outright hatred when his older brother converted to Catholicism and became a Jesuit priest, essentially “betraying” his family and heritage.

In 1842, on a journey for pleasure undertaken before he was to marry, Ratisbonne made the decision to take a slight detour and pay a visit to Rome. It was there he met a priest, a brother of an acquaintance, who would dedicate himself to the cause of this unlikely candidate’s conversion. In an effort to demonstrate the frivolity of Catholicism, Ratisbonne agreed to wear a Miraculous Medal and recite the Memorare daily. Additionally, for his own entertainment and prideful appetite, Ratisbonne would accompany his new acquaintance around Rome, never missing an opportunity to ridicule and blaspheme all he would hear and see.

Our Lady of the Miracle

240px-Alphonse_Ratisbonne,_ErscheinungAll that would change on January 20th, when he visited the Church of Sant Andrea delle Fratte. It was within the walls of this historic church where Ratisbonne would be instantaneously converted by the Mother of God Herself.

“At the moment when the Blessed Virgin made a sign with her hand, the veil fell from my eyes; not one veil only, but all the veils that were wrapped around me disappeared, just as snow melts beneath the rays of the sun.”

The Mother of God would present to him the glories of the Faith and instantly educate him in its sacred truths.

“It is well known that I never opened a religious book and had never read a page of the Bible, and that the dogma of Original Sin, which it is either denied or forgotten by modern Jews, had never for a single moment occupied my thoughts—indeed, I doubt I had ever heard its name. How did I arrive at a knowledge of it? I know not. All I know is that when I entered that church I was profoundly ignorant of everything, and that when I came out I saw everything clearly and distinctly.”

After a thorough inquiry and investigation, Pope Gregory XVI declared the event a true miracle. There was no natural explanation to what happened on that particular day. As Ratisbonne’s Roman companion recounts:

“Even if we imagine an illusion in the case of a person of Ratisbonne’s character and education, with prejudices so violent, and with such interest both of affection and of position, it could not have been induced or augmented by any outward representation; for in the chapel that was the scene of the miracle, there is no statue, or picture, or image of the Blessed Virgin of any kind.”

Alphonse Ratisbonne was Baptized, ordained and joined the very Society of Jesus he had so violently despised. As he predicted, his family disowned him and revoked his partnership in the bank which was to be his inheritance. He would later receive permission to leave the Jesuits to start the Sisterhood of Our Lady of Sion, which dedicated itself to the conversion of Jews. The sisterhood soon moved to Jerusalem where it established two convents, two schools, three orphanages and a church. The priests assisting Ratisbonne, known as the Peres de Notre Dame de Sion later returned to Europe to establish additional foundations. Less than a century later, during the Nazi persecutions, these holy priests were among the most active rescuers of Jews.

Conversion to Catholicism through Our Blessed Mother Mary

As was the case when She appeared to St. Juan Diego three centuries earlier, Our Lady demonstrated the same “simplistic” outlook towards Catholicism and conversion that many Catholics today are mocked for maintaining. She did not fill Ratisbonne with a newfound respect for Judaism or encourage him to follow his conscience and “be the best Jew he could be.” She clearly showed him the error of his ways and the true light of the Catholic Faith. She did not enlighten him as to the permanence of the Old Covenant, suggest that conversion may not be necessary for his eternal salvation or apologize for past actions of Catholics. Following Our Blessed Mother’s heavenly example, Ratisbonne would take this holy gift and make it his mission to provide it to as many other Jews as possible.

The story of Ratisbonne’s conversion is not ancient history. This wasn’t a Roman centurion or even a medieval prince; he was a modern man in every sense of the term. He was well-educated in the ways of science and modern philosophy, had a prestigious position as a wealthy banker, was betrothed to a beautiful young girl and had every reason in the world to remain in his current state of worldly pleasures. The unlikelihood of the miraculous occurrence was not lost of the recent convert:

“O my God. . . . I who only a half hour before was still blaspheming! I who felt such a deadly hatred of the Catholic religion! And all who know me well enough that, humanly speaking, I have the strongest reasons for remaining a Jew. My family is Jewish; my bride is Jewish; my uncle is a Jew. In becoming a Catholic, I sacrifice all the interests and all the hopes I have on earth; and yet I am not mad. Everyone knows that I am not mad, that I have never been mad. Surely they must receive my testimony . . .”
“A man has a claim to be believed, when he sacrifices everything to a conviction that must have come from Heaven. If all that I have said is not rigorously true, I commit a crime, not only the most daring, but the most senseless and motiveless.”

Men in Alphonse Ratisbonne’s pre-conversion condition are anything but a rarity; millions could easily be found today. However, the nature of priest the Blessed Virgin called him to become is becoming increasingly scarce. Her clear example provided by the conversion of this “modern man” has fallen into the dustbin of history as bishops come up with new ways to obscure the Truth from those who need it most.

A Transparent Set of Reflections

On August 12 (2002), the USCCB’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs under the direction of Baltimore’s Cardinal Keeler released the document Reflections on Covenant and Mission which asserts, as most by now are aware, “campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.”*

(* This lie is still being erroneaously propagated by many in the Church today.)

Far from being a selective citation or a misrepresentation of the document’s “real message,” this statement is featured prominently in the actual document’s preface as the key “conclusion.” Additionally, it is repeated twice in the brief story that accompanied the document on the USCCB’s own Web site and even in its headline. Since the obvious and numerous errors of such a conclusion have been enumerated elsewhere, they won’t be repeated here.

As can now be unfortunately expected whenever something of this nature comes out, a number of individuals rushed to defend the document as either being “well in line” with previous post-Conciliar statements, representing “nothing really new” or being somehow defensible as not directly and specifically repudiating Church teaching.

But there was another side that was to be heard before the dust settled. A number of Catholics decided that this was entirely unacceptable and stood up to proclaim that this statement was erroneous and even a sign of apostasy. No, this time it wasn’t the pessimistic and disgruntled traditionalists ‘who never seem to like anything’, but the very same neo-conservative apologists who can usually be counted on for excuses or misplaced optimism and typically plead with others to give such obviously scandalous teaching the “benefit of the doubt.” Gradually, as more and more liberal apologists came forward with their own condemnation of these Reflections, others felt secure in being able to do the same without being labeled “schismatic” and joined in.


A long line of Popes, Saints, Church Fathers, Doctors, Ecumenical Councils and even the Mother of God herself have, through teaching and example, shown us the Truth of the Catholic Faith and the necessity of converting non-Catholics. It’s now more necessary than ever to consider whether those promoting “ecumenical dialogue” and “interreligious unity” are seeking that same conversion in the same sense. Despite the excuses and disclaimers, documents like Reflections on Covenant and Mission would say they are not.

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7 Responses to Our Lady of the Miracle and Ratisbonne’s Conversion

  1. kathleen says:

    The miraculous conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne is enough to take one’s breath away! A beautiful testimony to the reality that the fullness of Truth is only to be found in the Catholic Church.. Everyone, even non-Christians who are initially hostile to Catholicism, are called through the Love of Our Blessed Mother to enter this sure path to Heaven… though only a few chosen souls (for reasons only known by God) are gifted with supernatural visions.

    From the ‘related post’ below the article (published here in January 2012) comes this moving testimony of the witness of the first moment of Ratisbonne’s conversion, written by his friend, Baron de Bussieres:

    “I caught sight of him on his knees, in the chapel of St. Michael the Archangel. I went up to him and touched him. I had to do this three or four times before he became aware of my presence. Finally he turned towards me, face bathed in tears…with an expression no words can describe…he took hold of his Miraculous Medal and kissed it with passionate emotion. He broke into tears at the thought of all the heretics and unbelievers….Gradually this delirious emotion subsided and he grew calmer, and now his face was radiant, almost transfigured. He begged me to take him to a priest and asked when he could receive holy Baptism, for now he was sure he could not live without it. I took him at once to the Gesu to see Father de Villefort, who invited him to explain what had happened. Ratisbonne drew out his medal, kissed it, and showed it me, saying, ‘I saw her! I saw her!’ and again emotion choked his words, but soon he grew calmer and spoke. I shall give his [Ratisbonne’s] own words:’I had only been in the church a moment when I was suddenly seized with an indescribable agitation of mind. I looked up and found that the rest of the building had disappeared. One single chapel seemed to have gathered all the light and concentrated it in itself. In the midst of this radiance I saw someone standing on the altar, a lofty shining figure, all majesty and sweetness, the Virgin Mary just as she looks on this medal. Some irresistible force drew me towards her. She motioned to me to kneel down and when I did so, she seemed to approve. Though she never said a word, I understood her perfectly.’
    …At first he [Ratisbonne] had been able to see the Queen of Heaven clearly, appearing in all the splendor of her immaculate beauty; but he had not been able to bear the radiance of that divine light for long. Three times he had tried to look up to her, and three times he had found himself unable to raise his eyes higher than her hands, from which blessings and graces seemed to be falling like so many shining rays. ‘Oh God,’ he cried, ‘only half an hour before I was blaspheming, and felt a deadly hatred for the Catholic religion! All my acquaintances know that humanly speaking I had the strongest reasons for remaining a Jew. My family is Jewish, my bride to be is a Jewess, my uncle is a Jew. By becoming Catholic I am sacrificing all my earthly hopes and interests; and yet I am not mad.’”

    I must also add how tragic it is that so many souls seeking the One True Faith are not finding the guidelines they need, and are even being turned away from the Church, due to the erroneous beliefs of universalism so rampant among many members of the clergy today. One day this sin will fall heavily on the consciences of those who have promulgated it.

  2. Roger says:

    Amen Kathleen.
    This is especially true of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah and in Charity and love of neighbour we cannot leave souls in a state that could result in the loss of their Souls for Eternity.
    I realise that an attempt is being made to force pluralism (little different from pagan Rome) on Christendom. Neither Judaism not Islamism believe in the Trinity, neither has sacraments. The Judaic covenant was fulfilled by Christ and replaced with the New.
    The passion “I will smite the shepherds and scatter the flock”
    Seems to be happening.
    The poor Soul is created directly by God Sinless and from Eternity. It is conjoined to the flesh at the moment of Conception (Adams Sin is through the Flesh). Adams Sin is removed by Baptism.
    Never forget the Truth the enemies of your Soul are, the world, the flesh and the devil.
    The madness you here is of leaving Children to decide whether they should be Baptised. Gods justice will fall heavily on parents who leave their Children in a State of Sin.
    We do not know the hour of Our Death and recent events should remind Us that God can Call our souls to account at anytime!

  3. toadspittle says:

    “..the Virgin Mary just as she looks on this medal. “

    “Oh God,’ he cried, ‘only half an hour before I was blaspheming, and felt a deadly hatred for the Catholic religion! All my acquaintances know that humanly speaking I had the strongest reasons for remaining a Jew. My family is Jewish, my bride to be is a Jewess, my uncle is a Jew. By becoming Catholic I am sacrificing all my earthly hopes and interests; and yet I am not mad.’”
    What was he doing in a Catholic chapel?

  4. toadspittle says:

    Ah, he went to jeer. I didn’t read it carefully enough. My error.
    “..it could not have been induced or augmented by any outward representation; for in the chapel that was the scene of the miracle, there is no statue, or picture, or image of the Blessed Virgin of any kind.” (How odd.)
    We are assuming then, that Ratisbonne had never seen a representation of the Virgin before. Not In any of the other churches in Rome he visited at which to sneer? Unlikely.
    And there was the one on the medal round his neck, of course.

    “Her clear example provided by the conversion of this “modern man” has fallen into the dustbin of history as bishops come up with new ways to obscure the Truth from those who need it most.”
    What have obscuring bishops got to to with this man’s conversion, then or now?

  5. kathleen says:


    If you read the link to the full article, as well as the ‘related post’ below ^ that I mentioned in my comment above, you will find answers to some of your questions.

    The bishops’ “new ways to obscure the Truth” I believe is a reference to the false idea that conversion to the One True Faith is not necessary for Salvation. It’s a sad fact that some liberal members of the hierarchy are saying that nowadays. Apparently this is not what Ecumenism was meant to be about when the movement was first started!

    It is true that Almighty and All-Loving God may save whomsoever He desires – “he, who through no fault of his own… Etc.” – but we in the Church have been commissioned by Our Blessed Saviour to “make disciples of all men”. IOW, we must never presume as unnecessary Baptism and membership of the Church founded by Christ if we desire (as we must) to evangelise and save souls.

    There are dozens of encyclicals and teachings from the popes on this matter. Here are just a few from some of the most recent popes:

    Pope Leo XII (A.D. 1823 – 1829): “We profess that there is no salvation outside the Church. …For the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. With reference to those words Augustine says: `If any man be outside the Church he will be excluded from the number of sons, and will not have God for Father since he has not the Church for mother.’” (Encyclical, Ubi Primum)

    Pope Gregory XVI (A.D. 1831 – 1846): “It is not possible to worship God truly except in Her; all who are outside Her will not be saved.” (Encyclical, Summo Jugiter)

    Pope Leo XIII (A.D. 1878 – 1903): “This is our last lesson to you; receive it, engrave it in your minds, all of you: by God’s commandment salvation is to be found nowhere but in the Church.” (Encyclical, Annum Ingressi Sumus)

    “He scatters and gathers not who gathers not with the Church and with Jesus Christ, and all who fight not jointly with Him and with the Church are in very truth contending against God.” (Encyclical, Sapientiae Christianae)

    Pope Saint Pius X (A.D. 1903 – 1914): “It is our duty to recall to everyone great and small, as the Holy Pontiff Gregory did in ages past, the absolute necessity which is ours, to have recourse to this Church to effect our eternal salvation.” (Encyclical, Jucunda Sane)

    Pope Benedict XV (A.D. 1914 – 1922): “Such is the nature of the Catholic faith that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole, or as a whole rejected: This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.” (Encyclical, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum)

    Pope Pius XII (A.D. 1939 – 1958): “By divine mandate the interpreter and guardian of the Scriptures, and the depository of Sacred Tradition living within her, the Church alone is the entrance to salvation: She alone, by herself, and under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the source of truth.” (Allocution to the Gregorian, October 17, 1953)

  6. Robert says:

    There is this huge mistake made again and again that fails to recognise Original Sin and its full imprecation the Loss of Heaven.

    Man’s is a Creature that will Exist for Eternity (recognised by Aristotle) however without any possibility of entering Heaven. Hades was known to the Greeks.

    It required the Man-God born of a Sinless Virgin (of Adam’s Flesh prior to the Fall) to make reparation (through His Passion) for Adam’s Original Sin.

    Without putting on Christ (new Adam) you cannot enter Heaven. The Church is the mystical Body Of Christ and this is why the Popes have spoken the Truth.

    So we live in an Age that has rejected Christ it follows that Man has turned His back on Heaven. Its Not a matter of opinion or of debate. No Christ! No Reparation to the Father and No Heaven.

    Its good to look at the simple Truth because it really is this simply.

  7. Pingback: Our Lady of the Miracle and Ratisbonne’s Conversion — | Solutio Problematis Omnes (aka "The Catholic Linker")

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