‘Our Lady of the Flood’
The flood of 1927 remains the greatest natural disaster in Vermont’s history – even worse than Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 — because of the massive damage it caused.
Precipitation in the previous month that year, especially for central sections of Vermont, exceeded the average by 200-300 percent. While the ground was hyper-saturated, there was no flooding because the rain didn’t occur constantly over consecutive days. Most crops had been harvested, leaving behind empty fields causing rainfall to runoff directly into rivers. The stage was unknowingly set as the torrential downpours — remnants of a tropical storm tracking northward — led to Vermont’s greatest disaster.
The destruction was significant, with 84 fatalities, hundreds of injuries, nearly 1,300 lost bridges and approximately $35 million (in 1927 dollars) in physical and infrastructural loss.
The Winooski River Valley suffered the most – it is also to be noted that the riverbanks of the Missisquoi, Lamoille, White and Connecticut’s drainage capacity was lost – the water had nowhere to go but outward, pushing its way through cities and towns. Homes, businesses, farms, bridges and everything in the way of the violent rush of the constant downpours of rain could not be spared from shocking damage.
St. Andrew Church in Waterbury was one such site near the Winooski River, directly in the way of the deluge. Water from the flood did significant damage to the rectory, and the interior of the church was flooded all the way to the altar stone. Statues were toppled over and partly broken.
There was one undamaged statue, however, found upright in the sanctuary, facing the main altar and tabernacle – a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary previously at another location.
Parishioners could not explain how just one statue was left untouched; they believed the statue of the Blessed Mother faced the altar, as though interceding to Her Son on behalf of St. Andrew Church.
A shrine was established to “Our Lady of the Flood,” which attracted regular pilgrims seeking spiritual healing from the Blessed Mother. A boy named George Carty was brought to St. Andrew’s after suffering severe burns on his legs; his prayers before the statue of “Our Lady of the Flood” left him capable of walking out of the church without the aid of his crutches. The crutches were left at St. Andrew’s and are still there today. No medical explanation could be made of this cure, and this was considered a miracle by the family.
Another account of the statue’s unexplained placement before the altar, however, was shared in The Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society (Fall 1977, Vol. 45, No. 4). A contribution by Dr. A. Bradley Soule recounts his experiences as a medical student at Mary Fletcher Hospital in Burlington. He and several other medical students and other medical professionals around Burlington formed groups to travel to hard-hit areas of the state to help in whatever way they could. He noted that he encountered several groups of student volunteers from Middlebury College, the University of Vermont and Norwich University while on his journey through flooded areas. He reported having heard about some of the students who stayed in Waterbury.
One instance in particular involved several freshman medics who were asked to clean out the Catholic church. “In the basement, they came upon a case of communion wine which they sampled liberally. In the main body of the church they uncovered a statue which had been washed by the flood from its niche onto the floor of the building. The boys, somewhat the worse for the wear from the effects of the wine, cleaned up the statue and moved it about twenty feet so that it faced the tabernacle at the foot of the main altar. Later, when some of the parishioners returned, they were amazed to find the statue moved to this conspicuous place. This was never officially claimed as a miracle, probably because the church authorities sensed what had really happened.” This occurrence was documented as a “mysterious occurrence” and “remarkable incident” with photographs created after the church had been cleaned and everything restored to order.
There are no other accounts/reports available either from parishioners or the pastor at St. Andrew Church from the days following the flooding nor from anyone else who may have been among the group of student medics tasked with helping to clean up from the flood. A single statue was undamaged – whether it was moved to the foot of the main altar by people, flood waters or another unexplainable phenomenon — left a lasting impression on those who found “Our Lady of the Flood.”
Their faith was strengthened and inspired them to share this with all who sought comfort and aid from seeing the statue of the Blessed Mother.
Not a single Catholic from the parish perished in the flood.
The following prayer was composed in honor of “Our Lady of the Flood” and printed in the St. Andrew’s Church Catholic Reference Book and Parish Register, 1927:
Our Lady of the Flood
by N. F. DeGuise
For years She stood on the altar there
Ready to welcome and answer each prayer
And never a prayer to Her went astray
She answered them all in Her Heavenly way.
Many a sad heart in trouble came,
Seeking aid in Mary’s Name.
So on that night when the waters came,
Once more we pleaded in Mary’s Name,
Our hearts went up in silent prayer
We place our souls within her care.
Not a soul was lost in our Parish that night
Again this proves Her power and might,
It proves to us Her Motherly love
Her power with God in Heaven above.
Our prayers were heard, that we know,
And here is the proof we have to show,
Mother pleading to Her Son Divine
Good Mother of yours, Good Mother of mine.
Our good Pastor’s advice when all others fail
Is, come on your knees to the altar rail,
Come and visit this little shrine
Of Blessed Mother, and our Lord Divine,
‘Tis the work of God; though we don’t realize
A miracle stands before our eyes.
Catholic Reference Book and Parish Register. St. Andrew Church, Waterbury, Vermont. 1927.
Soule, M.D., A. Bradley. (1977). Vermont History. The Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society 45(4), 229–235.
National Weather Service – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Historic Flood November 1927. Weather.gov/nerfc/hf_november_1927
—Kathleen Messier is the assistant archivist for the Diocese of Burlington. For more information, email [email protected].
—Originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.