Unobserved on a busy street corner in Paris, Robert Turner heard the voice of the Risen Christ. Those words that summoned Saint Matthew resounded in his soul, “COME FOLLOW ME.”
The son of an American doctor, raised in France between the wars, Robert never fully acquired the Episcopalian tradition of his family and was received into the Roman Catholic Church as a young man. A gifted student, a graduate of the elite French schools, he left two years into an advanced degree in physics at Harvard to return to Paris on the eve of the Second World War.
The shock of the sudden military defeat and collapse of the French government directed him to the service of the transcendent and infinite God. He joined the Dominican order in 1942 and was ordained a priest in 1945. A man of two cultures, he was a natural missionary and diplomat and the Order sent him to Iraq for the propagation of the faith in that ancient society.
The mid nineteen sixties found him back in France, in the Pyrenees, serving the migrants shuttling back and forth from Spain. He was very welcome in the company of the professors of the seminary in Tarragona where he came across the first reports of the startling apparition taking place high in the mountains.
He was about to embark upon another journey or as he later called it, “a spiritual adventure, one of the most beautiful of the century.”
As much as it piqued his curiosity, the physician’s son, the reflective observer, the careful examiner was not one to be swept away by allegations of mystical rapture. He required evidence. Removing himself physically from the apparitions, he began to compile thousands of pages of documents verified with great care, the transcripts of eyewitness testimony of those who had been to the village and could not deny what they had seen.
Father Turner’s personal investigations lead him to the great Father Materne Laffineur, author of Star on the Mountain, whose work uncovered the true importance of Garabandal for many. He allied with the Abbe Alfred Combe, father of the promotion in France. It is to these three men, Laffineur, Combe and Turner that the global Garabandal community owes many thanks. These priests of France faithfully collected the first impress and worked out the intellectual framework that sustained the cause through the very long night of doubt.
Father Francois Turner was the indispensable man of the Garabandal movement. A mentor to the international promotion, he moved easily between the American and European centers coordinating efforts, collaborating with other authors, and translating ideas everywhere he went. In a time of skepticism he wrote in favor of the apparitions and lectured insightfully on Garabandal around the world.
When his friend, Juan Antonio del Val Gallo of holy memory, was ordained Bishop of Santander, Father Turner worked in a spirit of fraternity to lift the lingering suspicion in the chancery and closed the breach which had opened with the global promotion. He was known to the Vatican and served as an informal liaison with Rome. Since his death in 1995, no one of such stature has risen to replace him.
Our Lady Teaches at Garabandal remains the only complete treatment of the apparitions by Father Turner in English, a compendium of anecdotes which he uses to illustrate the catechism of personal piety and virtue taught by the Most Blessed Virgin Mary during her five year visitation to the mountain village. He anchors these lessons soundly in sacred scripture emphasizing the continuity of the instruction of the Virgin and the acts of the visionaries with the counsel of the Old and New Testament.
Father Turner agreed with the American priest Joseph Pelletier A.A. who saw the apparitions as a preemptive inoculation against the crisis advancing in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. A speculative theology which came forward in those days directly challenged areas of settled Church teaching; the centrality of the Eucharist and the doctrine of the Real Presence, the efficacy of Marian Intercession and the assistance of the Holy Angels, the spirit of mortification and of sacrifices offered in reparation for sin, traditional devotional prayer – the Rosary – as a powerful aid to growth in the spiritual life. All of this is reaffirmed at Garabandal in a most astonishing way – not as dead concepts but as the living yet invisible reality.
The Fathers agreed that the crisis aimed at disrupting the priesthood, causing divisions among priests, casting doubt on the sublime dignity of their sacrificial vocation and ambiguity about their venerable place among Christians. Of vital concern to Father Turner was the sanctification of his brother priests. Our Lady at Garabandal requested the faithful fast and pray for priests, set apart by their distinction to be leaders of the Church. Our Lady told the visionaries that saintly priests save many souls as their actions are studied and imitated by many.
As we begin the Year of Faith, our Holy Father encourages us to return to the letter of the Second Vatican Council. Throughout his work, Father Turner quotes frequently from Presbyterorum ordinis, a document very much in harmony with the Message of Garabandal. It remains a valuable text for priests seeking to live saintly lives and reminds the faithful, from the heart of the Church, of their sacred obligation to support the spiritual work of priests by prayer.
During the course of the apparitions, when confronted by disbelief, the young visionaries turned to the Virgin for consolation. Our Lady assured them that the Great Miracle set to occur in their village at a future date would be the overwhelming proof of the supernatural origin of the events. This topic was of great interest to Father Turner and he derived a series of contingencies which he thought must precede the Miracle.
First, the knowledge of the Miracle must be broadcast around the world through the mass media. Having died before the advent of the Internet, Father Turner would have been pleased by the great strides made in the last decade using this open form of communication. In just the past four months, visitors from 126 countries have come to the website of the New York Center. We are excited to announce a new initiative through the content sharing website YouTube which will broadcast the 1996 documentary The Message of Garabandal on line in all twenty seven languages.
Next, the hearts and minds of peoples must be purified by the Warning which will prompt conversion and prayer. As miracles are the product of belief, a singular grace will be given to those who will see or know the Great Miracle so as to be properly disposed to more closely encounter Almighty God. The Holy Father will also experience the Miracle wherever he happens to be.
We remember our friend Father Francois Turner O.P. a holy priest, a man of great courtesy, a scholar in the best tradition of Dominican Scholasticism, and a champion of Our Lady of Mount Carmel de Garabandal.
In Union of Prayer,
The Workers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel de Garabandal
Lindenhurst, NY USA