The Virgin of El Barrio

Marian Apparitions, Catholic Evangelizing, and Mexican American Activism

291 pages

17 illustrations

May, 2005

ISBN: 9780814758250



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Kristy Nabhan-Warren is assistant professor of American religions at Augustana College, Rock Island, IL.

All books by Kristy Nabhan-Warren

In 1998, a Mexican American woman named Estela Ruiz began seeing visions of the Virgin Mary in south Phoenix. The apparitions and messages spurred the creation of Mary’s Ministries, a Catholic evangelizing group, and its sister organization, ESPIRITU, which focuses on community-based initiatives and social justice for Latinos/as.

Based on ten years of participant observation and in-depth interviews, The Virgin of El Barrio traces the spiritual transformation of Ruiz, the development of the community that has sprung up around her, and the international expansion of their message. Their organizations blend popular and official Catholicism as well as evangelical Protestant styles of praise and worship, shedding light on Catholic responses to the tensions between popular and official piety and the needs of Mexican Americans.


  • “A thorough ethnography that sweeps the reader into the world of Marian visionary Estela Ruiz, her family and followers, and the evangelizing ministries they have created in South Phoenix. . . . Fascinating.”

    —Timothy Matovina, Director, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, University of Notre Dame

  • “This wonderfully written study, one of the most comprehensive and insightful books about modern Marian apparitions in North America, takes the story from the Virgin's first appearance to a feminist professional woman distressed by family burdens, through the widening sphere of the apparitions' impact on family and community, to the cult's ultimate role as a national and international vehicle for Catholic evangelizing, especially among Hispanics.”

    CHOICE, highly recommended

  • “This book stands as an intimate portrait of the visionary; 'a woman torn between the individualism she enjoyed in the ‘Anglo world’ and her familial commitments in her Mexican-American home.”

    Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

  • “This is a respectful, sensitive, clearly written book in which the author seeks to resolve the alien ethnographer's dilemma by ‘writing like a relative.’ The reader's reward is a rich sense of the circumstances and struggles of at least some Mexican Americans in South Phoenix to make a good life in the contemporary United States that balances faith and family with education, material strivings, professional growth, discrimination, and personal suffering in ways that begin to bridge the conceptual divide between official and popular religion.”

    American Ethnologist

  • “A compelling account of Marian devotion as ‘lived religion’”

    Sociology of Religion