Two years have passed since Antonina Filipertis first heard what she believes is the voice of the Virgin Mary.
The 84-year-old was walking in her driveway Aug. 29, 2006, when she heard instructions to look at the tree in front of her house at 96 Harvey Ave. in Lockport.
“I heard a voice that said, ‘Look in your tree.’ I turned around, but there was nobody behind me,” she said.
When she looked in her tree, an old maple that stands near the curb in front of her house, she said she saw images of the Virgin Mary in three places, embedded in the knotholes of the old tree.
Her life has dramatically changed since then.
She said she has experienced several apparitions of the Virgin Mother, including one where “she was so beautiful. She came to me and said, ‘You don’t have to use the walker any more.’ ”
Filipertis also claims a miraculous healing has occurred.
“I was in a nursing home. My children would have to walk me and dress me,” she said.
Now she is back on her feet, as mobile as a woman her age might expect to be. She continues to pray the rosary at least twice a day.
A neighbor who responded to Filipertis’ call for help when she first saw the apparitions was reluctant to call the event a miracle when questioned recently.
“She saw something somewhere. I saw something somewhere else. It looked like it was a supernatural image,” said Mable Robinson, who declined to speculate whether the images seemed like those of the most prominent female in Christian holy stories.
Filipertis’ family continues to believe that their mother is connecting with the divine, as do people who, apparently, continue to hang rosaries and other religious items on the tree.
“I believe her,” said her daughter, Dorothy Fitzgerald, who added that people have visited from as far away as Minnesota, Chicago, New York and Ontario, with some believing they are healed from various ailments. One Pittsburgh woman came directly from the airport in a rented car just to see the tree, Filipertis said.
“I’m happy when they put things on the tree. They can put anything they want there,” Filipertis said.
Since she first saw the images, she has become something of a local celebrity.
“Some people read in the papers and say, Can I touch you because you’re blessed?’ ” she said in a thick Polish accent.
She also gets letters from people in Poland who find her “on the computer.”
“I get from Poland lots of books, rosaries to pray. I don’t know these people. They’re not even from my city,” she said.
Filipertis doesn’t take money from people who try to give it to her. Those who try to give money are told to “give to your church.”
The sightings and little miracles seem to continue. On the 29th day of every month, in apparent celebration of the anniversary of the first sighting, good things happen to her, Filipertis said, including one night when lights appeared around her holy painting in a darkened room.
She said she continues to hear from the Virgin Mother, including a message that Filipertis’ church, St. Mary’s in Lockport, will not be closed despite plans by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to do so.
“She told me, ‘Don’t cry, your church will never close,’ ” she said.
Contact editor Michele DeLucaat 693-1000, ext. 157.