During the night, Claude was awakened by a glowing vision, which he later described as “the most beautiful woman that God ever created.” The vision calmed the frightened man and said, “If you would like me to be your mother, and you my child, send for a priest of the Catholic Church.”
And she disappeared. “A ghost, a ghost!” screamed Claude, clamoring for a priest. The next morning, Fr. Robert O’Leary (who later recorded the story) was summoned. After listening to the extraordinary account and speaking with him, the priest discovered Claude to be a very simple, illiterate soul who knew very little about religion.
"Oh, I know about that! The Lady told me that when we go to confession we are kneeling down not before a priest, but before the Cross of Her Son. And that when we are truly sorry for our sins, and we confess our sins, the Blood He shed flows down over us and washes us free from all sins." The others were stunned at this new revelation. Seeing their surprise, Claude apologized, “Oh, don’t be angry, don’t be angry, I didn’t mean to blurt it out!”
Assuring him that he was far from angry, Fr. O’Leary asked Claude if he had seen the lady again. Taking the priest aside, the young man said, "she told me that if you doubted me or showed hesitancy, I was to remind you that lying in a ditch in Holland in 1940, you made a vow to her which She's still waiting for you to keep.” This revelation fully convinced him of Claude’s claims. During the war, Fr. O’Leary had promised to erect a church in honor of the Immaculate Conception if he survived. He fulfilled the promise in 1947, and the church still stands in Clarksdale, Mississippi. As Father and Claude returned to the class on Confession, Claude told his friends, “You should not be afraid of Confession. You’re really telling God your sins, not the priest. You know, the Lady said that Confession is something like a telephone. We talk through the priest to God, and God talks back to us through the priest.”
Immaculate Conception Church Clarksdale, MS
“Well, all my friends are all shook up. The jailer is all shook up. But you don’t understand. I’m not going to die; only this body is. I’m going to be with her. So, then, I would like to have a party.”
The Sheriff was shocked, but consented, and even allowed Claude’s fellow inmates to attend.
On the morning of execution, Claude was full of joy. As he mentally prepared himself with Fr. O’Leary, the Sheriff rushed in shouting that the Governor had granted a two-week reprieve. To his amazement, the young man broke down in sobs, inconsolable.
“But you don’t understand! If you ever saw her face, and looked into her eyes, you wouldn't want to live another day! ...What have I done wrong these past weeks that God would refuse me my going home? …Why, Father? Why must I still remain here for two weeks?”
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Claude was finally executed on February 4, 1944. Fr. O’Leary testified: “ I've never seen anyone go to his death as joyfully and as happily. Even the official witnesses and the newspaper reporters were amazed. They said they couldn't understand how anyone could sit in the electric chair beaming with happiness."
Claude Newman Virgin Mary the Teacher Icon - Artist: Br. Claude Lane, OSB
When the time came for James Hughs to be executed, he violently refused all spiritual assistance, cursing and blaspheming even while seated on the electric chair. Suddenly, looking intently towards a corner of the room, a look of surprise came over his face, quickly followed by one of sheer horror, he shouted, “Get me a priest!” Fr. O’Leary approached and heard the man’s full confession, and ask him to explained his change of mind. The condemned man had seen Claude Newman and the Blessed Virgin standing behind him, her hands on his shoulders. Per Claude’s request, Our Lady showed James a glimpse of Hell, and filled with horror, he immediately demanded a priest.
Once again, the simple wearing of the Miraculous Medal called down our mother’s gaze, and saved not only one, but many souls in that Mississippi Prison.