Councilman Denny (“Denny”) Soward sits in the kitchen of his modest, two-bedroom ranch house in Cold Spring, Kentucky and ponders what might have been. He says his surname is pronounced “soured” and that’s the way he now feels about the Catholic Church.
Denny has just learned that the Roman Catholic Church has officially validated reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Champion, Wisconsin. Under other circumstances, he might have been proud that the United States now has one of just a dozen or so such sites in the world. “But it should have been Cold Spring,” he says softly but adamantly, shaking his head slowly.
In 1992, Sandy Rasmussen, a 49-year-old grandmother, claimed to have received divine messages telling her that the Virgin Mary would appear at St. Joseph’s Church in Cold Spring, Kentucky. In 1993, she told a news reporter that Mary had been booked for monthly visitations at the church. Over the next couple of years, thousands of the faithful, the curious and the media flocked to the town to see the apparition or just participate in the type of semi-spontaneous gatherings people had before internet flash mobs.
“We were on our way,” Denny says with a faraway look as he ponders what the new millennium might have been for this fifth-class city, 8 miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio and just 16 miles from the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati Airport. “We could have been 4th class,” he says, balling his hands into fists in his lap. “Oh, we got a WalMart out of it, but there could have been so much more. Lourdes and Guadalupe are world renowned” (Ed Note: those are the two most famous places visited by the Virgin).
“Cold Spring could have been like them, with annual pilgrimages of folks coming to see our church and feeding our economy. That’s better than any casino and second only to having a pro sports team around. What did Champion do that Cold Spring didn’t do to get the Catholic Church to grant them a Virgin Mary franchise?”
Followers did petition the Church to recognize the Cold Spring as an official site on the Virgin Mary Tours. Most frustrating to Denny is that the petitions did not even get past the home diocese; the holy mission was rejected by Bishop Hughes of the Covington Diocese.
Cold Spring is not on the official church list of Virgin Mary appearances but they are still known for the 1990s visits. That means little to the people here. Denny and others believe it is no coincidence that after the Visitations were dismissed by the Church, the nearby Cincinnati Bengals have had losing seasons almost every year and that air traffic at the nearby airport has declined substantially, with the main tenant, Delta Airlines, going bankrupt. “The Virgin Mary could have saved this whole region,” Denny states wistfully. “Instead they give it to Wisconsin. Why? They already have the Packers,” referring to the pro football team from Green Bay, a larger city near Champion. Champion residents, meanwhile, believe the Church's decision is compensation from God for having taken away Brett Favre.
Denny Soward finds no irony in the fact that Sandy Rasmussen, the Cold Spring visionary, originally came from Wisconsin, where, at the age of seven, she had her first religious visions. “It ain’t ironic,” he muses, “just sort of a wry, paradoxical twist on what you might have expected.” The Church let us down. Asked if he believes the Virgin Mary still makes her monthly appearances at St. Joseph’s Church, he replies brusquely, “Who gives a rats ass? If she shows up and ain’t no out-of-town pilgrims to see her and buy a hot do and a coke whilst they’re doin’ it, it don’t do no good. Besides, I’m a Baptist. I don’t go over to Saint Joe’s anyhow.”