By James Colson
My name is James Colson, married to my wife, Nancy. We have four daughters and six grandchildren. For the past 35 years Nancy and I have brought many groups to Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Portugal. I was first inspired to know about Our Lady when I was a teenager. In 1952 a wonderful movie came to town, “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima,” and after viewing this beautiful story I never forgot it. Since that time I read everything I could find about Fatima.
In the early 1980’s I came across an ad for a Pilgrimage to Fatima and suggested to Nancy that we go and she agreed. The very first time we stepped onto the holy ground in Fatima, a tremendous feeling of excitement came over us. We were in the Cova da Iria looking at the Apparition site and the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. It was very prayerful and we thought it would be wonderful to bring groups to Fatima. The following year we brought our first group and have continued ever since.
Our friendship with the Sisters in Coimbra, Portugal began in 1985 when we were hosting a group of pilgrims, mainly from Providence, RI, where we are from. As I was waiting for our plane to leave from Logan Airport in Boston, I noticed two young ladies dressed in what looked like special-made outfits. They were made from material that the Carmelite Sisters use to make Habits. When they told me their names, I realized they were on our list to meet at the airport. One of them had lived with the Carmelite Sisters in Coimbra where Sister Lucia lived. She left the Convent after six months and was returning to visit with the Sisters.
We were staying at the hotel in Fatima and I offered to take them to Coimbra, about a two-hour drive (today with the new highway it is less than an hour). We normally brought our groups to Coimbra to attend Mass in the chapel and then tour the city. This time we were going without the group to meet all the Sisters, except for Sister Lucia who did not receive visitors. We spent the day talking with Mother Superior and the Sisters. The two ladies were going to stay at the convent a few days and return home with us. They could speak Portuguese very well and would translate for the rest of us.
Within a few days of returning to the United States I wrote to Mother Superior thanking her for our visit. She asked someone who understood English to read my letter to her. This began my correspondence with the Sisters. I wrote very often and always included a private letter to Sister Lucia, which was read to her because she could only understand Portuguese and Spanish. Because of this I decided to learn Portuguese and enrolled in the Berlitz School of Languages. I studied for a year at the school and continued my studies in my instructor’s home. While learning the language, I started to write letters in Portuguese to Mother Superior and Sister Lucia.
Corresponding with Sister Lucia
Mother Superior told me later that she read my letters to all the Sisters during their afternoon break and they looked forward to them. My Portuguese improved slowly. I used to receive notes from Sister Lucia thanking me for my letters and that she was praying for me. I always had Mother Superior or one of the other Sisters give my letters to her, because she received hundreds of letters every day from all over the world. The letters would ask Sister Lucia for her prayers, and to intercede to Our Lady, etc. I was happy to know that she received my correspondence.
Every year when we brought another group to Fatima we would bring them for Mass in Coimbra. While they were at Mass, Mother Superior would bring Nancy and I into a special room to visit with the Sisters. We would always bring them pastries or gifts, and I always brought Sister Lucia something. During the last 20 years of Sister Lucia’s life, I had a friend of ours, a taxi driver in Fatima, bring her a large cake—her favorite was walnut-flavored—on her birthday, March 22. She always sent me note of thanks.
Sister Lucia always kept my family in her prayers, especially in difficult times. It was through her guidance and answers to many of my questions that I learned to pray and talk to God as she did. Very seldom did I speak to her about the apparitions, but one time I asked her why Our Lady said that Emilia (a friend of Lucia) was in purgatory until the end of the world. Our Lady told this to Lucia in the first apparition. I asked her if it could be that Our Lady wanted us to pray for the souls in purgatory. Sister Lucia answered saying: “At that time I did not think of asking Our Lady why, and I never did ask her; it is a mystery of God which you will understand when you get to Heaven.”
Many times people asked me to ask Sister Lucia to pray for their intentions, and I would. Many graces were granted through her prayers. In the convents where she lived, Sister Lucia always helped the other Sisters whenever they needed help, and taught religion to children in parishes. She did the same to anyone who wrote to her, helping as she could with her prayers and teaching. She was always working and when she was not busy at work, she spent her time praying to Our Lord.
During one our visits to Fatima I took some photographs of the house where Sister Lucia lived as a child. We brought the photos along with some pastries to Coimbra for a visit with the Sisters. I asked one of them to bring the photos to Sister Lucia. A short time afterwards Sister Lucia came into the room and asked, “Who took these photographs? They are beautiful and they bring back many memories.” I said to her, “I would like you to have them.” Sister Lucia always liked to joke, so I said, “Sister Lucia, we brought you this big box of pastries,” and she answered, “Oh, I never touch that stuff.” Everyone laughed and one of the sisters said, “Oh yeah, Senhor Colson, if you leave the room right now, she’d head right for that box.”
I remember saying, “Sister Lucia, why don’t we pray a Rosary?” She never hesitated a moment and took out her beads. I will never forget watching her as we prayed. Sister Lucia looked up to heaven, and during the entire Rosary was talking to Heaven. I cannot explain the feeling I had. When we finished the Rosary she asked how our family was. While speaking with her, one of the sisters left the room and returned, handing something to her. I’ll never forget that moment, Sister Lucia smiled and with a beautiful look on her face she presented us with medals for our grandchildren. That day ended with a very happy “until we meet again” from all the Sisters.
Sister Lucia was so happy when she became a Carmelite Sister. She was always praying for people and especially for events that took place in the world. One time she was upset because the world had put material things first in their lives instead of God. She told me that the United States would not escape materialism, which has happened. Look at America today with all the material possessions and no time for God.
Sister Lucia received so many graces from God. At Fatima Our Lady of the Rosary confirmed to her that there is a purgatory, heaven, and hell, and even showed her and her cousins a vision of hell. She also received visions of Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Saint Joseph and the Child Jesus, Our Lord, the Holy Trinity, and the Angel of Portugal. Sister Lucia had many visits from Our Lady in her cell in Coimbra. Jesus also appeared to her and spoke to her about spreading the Five First Saturday Devotion throughout the world. She spent many hours in prayer before the Tabernacle with her Hidden Jesus, and spoke to Him about everything.
As the years passed, arthritis in her hands made it impossible for her to write anymore. Mother Superior and Sister Emilia would read my letters to her. I remember telling Sister Lucia about my going from parish to parish, spreading the Fatima message throughout our diocese. Sister Emilia wrote to me that while caring for Sister Lucia one afternoon, all of a sudden she woke up from her nap and said, “I like the way that Senhor Colson leads the Fatima Devotion.” That made me very happy to know that I was leading the devotion correctly. Sister Emilia always kept me up to date on Sister Lucia’s health. I know that Sister Lucia seldom complained about any pain or suffering.
In the year 2000 on Easter Sunday, Sister Emilia told me that Sister Lucia wrote her last three letters because of her arthritis, and I was one of the three and should feel honored. Sister Lucia wrote that she was so happy Pope John Paul II was coming to Fatima to beatify her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco, and that she would meet the Pope in Fatima. During their meeting in Fatima, the Pope granted Sister Lucia permission to visit all the places of her childhood.
In 2003, my second oldest daughter Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36, and was told she would have to have a breast removed. It was shocking news and I notified Sister Emilia for the Sisters to pray for her. Sister Emilia answered and asked me what time the operation was scheduled because Sister Lucia was going to pray for her at that exact hour. Today, 11 years later, Kim is still free of cancer.
Sister Lucia’s death
Sister Emilia and I corresponded many times because Sister Lucia’s health was not very good. Each letter that I received was news of Sister Lucia getting worse. I remember February 13, 2005, as if it was yesterday, because I received a phone call from my teacher at Berlitz, who said “Did you hear what happened? Sister Lucia died.” I immediately e-mailed Mother Superior with much sorrow. It was a terrible time for me but I was happy for Sister Lucia because Our Lady came for her. She had been suffering so much. As I watch the funeral on television Monday February 15th I was upset for a long time. Sister Lucia had desired to be buried at the Convent for one year. That year Nancy and I were in Fatima with a group and went to Coimbra. This time we attended Mass with the group as we were celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. The Sisters sang at the Mass for us as we renewed our wedding vows and gave us some flowers from Sister Lucia’s tomb.
In February 2006 the time came for Sister Lucia’s body to be transferred to the Basilica in Fatima. I received a letter from the Sisters asking me to come to Coimbra to be one of the escorts to bring her body to Fatima. Mother Superior was able to obtain the badge and special documents for me and I went to Fatima.
On February 19 I was in the chapel with the Sisters, Sister Lucia’s casket and close friends of hers. The transfer began with a Mass in the Convent Chapel and then another funeral Mass in the new Cathedral of Coimbra. Afterwards we were escorted by military and police to Fatima. It was very cold and raining the entire day. People were on both sides of the road and on bridges waving white handkerchiefs. During the outdoor Mass at the sign of peace, the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and a large rainbow appeared over the Cova. The clouds came back and it continued to rain the rest of the day. Sister Lucia was buried next to her cousin Jacinta on one side of the altar; Francisco is buried on the other side. Since 2006, a beautiful Memorial has been set up at the Carmel in Coimbra dedicated to Sister Lucia, a museum with many items belonging to her.
Nancy and I still visit the Sisters every time we return with a group. I was honored when in 2011 they asked me to translate their quarterly bulletin and monthly newsletter. In 2013, they asked me to translate into English the book the Sisters wrote about Sister Lucia’s life, including all of her writings. The book “A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary,” was released in Portugal on October 13, 2013, in the Portuguese language. It is the first full biography of Sister Lucia and is over 500 pages with 262 photos of her life. This was a great work for me and is currently available in the English translation through the World Apostolate of Fatima.
I will always treasure my friendship with Sister Lucia and all the Sisters in Coimbra. There is a very beautiful prayer card of Sister Lucia with a Prayer for her Beatification available through them. I pray this every day. Sister Lucia is with Our Lord and Our Lady and prays for all of us. She is a great intercessor for all your needs. Nancy and I will return to Fatima with another group in September of 2015. Mother Superior has promised us that the Sisters will sing at our group’s Mass because Nancy and I will renew our marriage vows for our 50th wedding anniversary.