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It Started with a Highway Attraction
The statue of Our Lady — known locally as Our Lady of the Turnpike.
To mark the Year of Faith, the following is one in a series of stories on how Marian Helpers have come to their faith:
By Megan Carlotta
May is the month of Mary, and I wanted to share the story of how Mary guided me to my conversion.
It was the summer of 2005. I was 22 years old, a recent college graduate, and I moved three hours away from my home in western Massachusetts to Swansea, Mass., to live with my boyfriend, Michael, and hopefully find a job in the communications field. I thought I was happy and in love. But there was a huge thing missing: God. I was an atheist.
Living together was a struggle. Michael, a recovering drug addict, relapsed. Not just once but at least a half a dozen times while we lived together. I suddenly found myself trying to keep both of our heads above water. I went with him to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and Al-Anon meetings, and every time I heard someone mention a "higher power" I felt empty. I wanted to feel a connection with something.
As time passed, Michael got worse, and the relapses become more frequent. Things got so bad that on Christmas Day in 2006, I found a stash of pills. When I tried to flush them down the toilet, he wrestled them out of my hands. There we stood in our kitchen struggling over a bag of pills. That moment was so surreal, as if time was suspended. I looked up, and from my heart I asked God for help. God must have been listening. By the grace of God, I was able take the pills from him and flush them down the toilet. As the water disappeared, Michael put his hands into the toilet bowl trying to grasp the pills, but they were gone.
After a Christmas afternoon intervention with his father and brother, he passed out. I was left alone with him. I wasn't even sure he was going to live through the night. I barely slept that night, laying there with my hand up to his nose just so I could make sure he was still breathing.
With my life in such turmoil, I felt hopeless. I wasn't sure if there was a God.
Nine months after the Christmas Day relapse, Michael was in a car accident and was charged with driving while under the influence. That night as I drove him home from the police station, I told him I was giving him one last chance. He promised me he would clean up. The very next day he broke his promise. Like a scene from a movie, I took a walk in the rain and then called my mom to tell her I was going to leave him.
Since I had recently been promoted at my job, I decided to stay in the area, moving to nearby Providence, R.I. I became very good friends with my neighbors, Kate and Ron, but I started to become homesick for the Berkshires in western Massachusetts and began traveling back and forth every few weeks or so.
On my way back to Providence, I began to notice on the side of the highway — between exits 8 and 9 on the Massachusetts Turnpike — a small statue of Mary. At first the statue was a landmark for me, as it was three-quarters of the way to Providence. Christmas night of 2007, as I was driving back to Providence, I looked for the Mary statue. I thought I might have passed her without realizing it. Feeling upset, I kept listening to the Christmas music. Then, there she was — illuminated by a light.
I turned down my radio as my car sped toward her. I looked at the statue and I said, "Thank You." I then, in prayer, talked to Mary. I told her I wasn't sure if Jesus was the Son of God, but I knew He was a good man, and I thanked her for giving Him to the world.
About eight months later, I moved back to the Berkshires, returning to Providence every few months to visit my friends Kate and Ron. Every time I passed exit 8 on the Turnpike, I would begin to look for the statue of Mary. Every time I would see her, I would talk to her. My conversations with Mary progressed. I would ask her to guide me, to help me find my path in life, and sometimes I just cried when I saw her, as a daughter cries to a mother when she feels despair.
Without realizing it, Mary became my spiritual mother. Even though I always felt better when I saw the statue of Mary, I was still struggling. That next Christmas, while flipping through TV channels, I ended up watching a history program on Jesus. It was then that I made the decision to go to church.
I had been raised Protestant until the age of 11, but instead of going back to the Protestant church, I decided to go to a Catholic church. I didn't end up walking through those doors until July of that year. But as soon as I did, I knew I was home.
Soon after I started going to church I enrolled in the RCIA program. On Christmas Day of 2010, I made my first Holy Communion. The following fall, I made my Confirmation, and soon after I began working here at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass., home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
About six months after I began working at the Shrine, I was on the Turnpike on my way to Providence to visit my friends. As I passed the statue of Our Lady, it dawned on me that it was she who lead me to her Son. I realized then, it was not an accident that I work for the Marian Fathers here in Stockbridge. Mary led me here.
Epilogue: I still look for the statue of Mary when I am on the Massachusetts Turnpike headed east, and I always talk to her or at least say "Thank You, Mary."
A man whose wife had survived cancer placed the statue there in 1964. He wanted to do something to thank God. The statue is still maintained by the family. The statue of Mary has been called The Turnpike Madonna or Lady of the Highway.
I am happy to share that Michael and I are friends today and he has been clean and sober for almost four years and has also converted to Christianity. He now works with those who struggle with psychological issues and addictions. I, too, have found my own way. I am recently engaged, and as I look to my future, I finally feel whole.
Megan Carlotta works in the Communications Department at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass.