A Catholic Ghost Story

Photography © by Paul Johnson

Editor’s Note: November 1 is All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation. November 2 is All Souls Day. Why not plan on attending Mass on both days? This article might just prompt you to pray for a departed loved one at Holy Mass who may need your prayers.

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When a relative reported she’d seen her daughter recently, I figured the poor woman was overwrought and upset – and just imagining things. You see, the daughter died a few months ago.

But I didn’t dismiss her report by saying, “Oh, your eyes are surely deceiving you.”

Instead, I started wondering whether I believe in ghosts or not.

Catholics believe in the invisible world, of course, as evidenced in our proclaiming that God is the creator of “all things seen and unseen.” That word “unseen” brings to mind angels and demons, and of course we believe in both.

But what does our faith say about garden-variety ghosts? Catholic apologist Paul Thigpen helps answer this intriguing question in an on-line article called “What About Ghosts?” He explains that the saints in heaven, along with the souls in hell and purgatory, are disembodied spirits. And since ghosts are generally understood as spirits without bodies, our Catholic faith certainly includes a belief in their existence.

But the more interesting question about ghosts is whether or not they actually pay us visits. Thigpen provides evidence that some saints have been visited by spirits, citing the rather intriguing case of St. John Bosco.

It seems that when St. John Bosco was a seminarian, he and a friend made an unusual pact: Whoever died first would somehow contact the other one. The friend died April 2, 1839, and on the night after the funeral, a very strange thing happened.

St. John was gathered in a room with 20 other theology students when they suddenly heard a roaring sound. What happened next is definitely fodder for a good scary movie. It seems the door opened of its own accord, a dim light appeared and a voice called out, “Bosco, I am saved.”

Of course, “saved,” according to Catholic theology, means one has arrived either in heaven or in purgatory – since these are the two possibilities for a person dying in a state of grace.

Assuming the friend was visiting from purgatory, I wondered what might have spurred his visit – and a little research gave me a possible answer. It seems there is a place called The Little Purgatory Museum in Rome, and on its Web site you can see photos of fingerprints burned into a prayer book and a charred hand print on a table. The people who found these prints believed they had been left by deceased family members returning from purgatory to seek prayers and Masses.

None of these phenomena have been officially approved by the Catholic Church – and you can make up your own mind about their veracity.  In fact, when it comes to ghosts and apparitions, Catholics can believe in them or not.

Still, there are certain occult practices the Church definitely forbids. These include trying to contact the dead by getting involved in séances or using Ouija boards. As Thigpen reminds us, such practices may indeed conjure up a spirit – but it could very well be a demon masquerading as the dearly departed.

I don’t know about you, but I would hate to be a soul from purgatory desperately trying to get my family members’ attention.  As for my relative’s daughter, I plan to pray for her, now more than ever – and have Masses offered for her.

When it comes to prayers, we can never have enough. And when it comes to ghosts, I’d say it is wise to err on the side of caution.


Lorraine’s latest mystery is “Death of a Liturgist,” featuring love, laughs and liturgical lunacy at a fictional parish in Decatur, Georgia. She also has written a biography of Flannery O’Connor, “The Abbess of Andalusia.”

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About the Author

Lorraine is the author of “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey.” She also has written three mysteries, most recently “Death Dons a Mask.” Her email is lorrainevmurray@yahoo.com. All of her books can be seen on her website is www.lorrainevmurray.com.

Lorraine V. Murray grew up in Miami, and graduated from Immaculata Academy High School. One of the nuns there predicted that if Lorraine went to a secular college, she would be in great danger of losing her faith. Lorraine thought that was funny, but in fact the sister’s prediction came true.

Majoring in English at the University of Florida, Lorraine bid farewell to her Catholicism when she was 19. She went on to get a Ph.D. in philosophy and became a radical feminist and atheist for over 20 years.

After teaching courses in English and philosophy on the college level, Lorraine worked as an editor in a university publications office. In her forties, the Lord called her back to her Catholic roots, and she went on to write about her conversion journey in her book “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist.”

Her recent books are "Death of a Liturgist," a fun-filled mystery featuring murder and mayhem in a Georgia parish, and "The Abbess of Andalusia," which explores Flannery O'Connor's Catholic journey. All her books can be seen at www.lorrainevmurray.com (link provided below).

Lorraine writes regular columns for the religion section of “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution” and “The Georgia Bulletin.” She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband, Jef, a Tolkien artist and book illustrator. In her spare time, she bakes bread, watches hummingbirds, and chases squirrels out of her garden.

Connect with Lorraine at:

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5 Comments

  1. Hello! Can you tell me where I can find John Bosco’s account of his pact (and the visitation) with his deceased friend? THANKS!

  2. I believe in it whole heartdly . Ive had numerous events happen very few visually not like seeing a body but a passig shadow.. When there no window near that would create it as i saw it.. But mostly voices.. I hear them outloud. Twice but far apart in year i heard my name outloud… Literally. Not in my brain..it was outloud and one was when noone was in the house while i watched tv, the other was when i was watchig a movie when little with brother and someone said it near my ear almost in a flow-singinglike way…i asked my brother- he didnt call my name… And my name is pretty hard to pronouce.. I’ve heard literally today In the same exact house someone say “god!” Outloud while coming up from te basement… It was like in a annoyed way like someone forgot something.. But it sounded like a woman and not yelling but whispered kind of.. It was loud enough for me to hear. My grandfather was on the phone and that was not his voice. He was not even near the basement. I just figured i wont share anymore stories with anyone since no one believes me. Im truly frightened b/c to me if its a lot of coincidences then its not a coincidence. My mother and i have a lot of encounters that are scary… Same for grandparents..

    1. Could very well be a Holy Soul in Purgatory trying to get your attention, to have you pray for them, like Maria Simma, in the book “Get Us Out of Here !” by Nicky Eltz (available at http://www.catholicfreeshipping.com ) Maria was visited by the Holy Souls from the age of 24 until she died 3-4 yrs ago at the age of 89….65 years of visitations and what the Holy Souls told her about this world, etc. Fascinating read, comforting in many ways…perhaps it will shed a little light on your experiences, and take away the scariness of them for you. HIGHLY recommend it !!

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