Last weekend I learned that Audrey Santo is dead.
Santo, who at age three fell into a swimming pool and spent the final eleven years of her life in a comalike state known as akinetic mutism, was believed by many to be a victim soul, chosen by the Virgin Mary to take upon herself the sufferings of others. Thousands of people made pilgrimages to her mother's Worcester, Massachusetts home; Audrey's presence, they said, caused oil to flow from statues of Jesus and Mary, and after visiting her many claimed to have been healed.
I spoke to many of these people in 2004 while writing about Audrey for Boston's Weekly Dig. It was the last story I wrote for them, and was never published; the editor wanted me to make it edgier, to be more caustic. I didn't have much enthusiasm for that, and the story withered. What was the point, I thought; who was I call to call pathetic and laughable and cynical something that soothed the suffering of others?
Audrey died this April. The never-published article is here.