The Lourdes Effect: The Miracle Club director on Irish trauma and miracles

Laura Linney stars in an Irish comedy set in 1967 about a group of women confronting their past on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. The director, Thaddeus O’Sullivan, talks about the trauma that Irish movies set in this timeframe often address, and what he calls the “Lourdes Effect.”


From the trailer, you might get the impression that The Miracle Club—starring Laura Linney, Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates, and Stephen Rea—would make a good double feature with Waking Ned Devine. It looks, that is, like another low-key, gently subversive, older-skewing, Irish ensemble comedy, overshadowed by death and perhaps a hint of buried sexual scandal, about finding a happy ending when you don’t quite win the lottery, or, in this case, get a miracle.

That impression isn’t wholly wrong, but The Miracle Club is quite a bit less whimsical than Waking Ned Devine, and more racked with grief, guilt, and anger. Set in 1967, the film stars Linney as an expatriate who was “banished” as a pregnant teenager and moved to the United States, returning for her mother’s funeral, and winding up an unwelcome addition to a number of local women on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. A key scene of catharsis involves the women sharing past attempts to miscarry unwanted pregnancies, most of which failed due to ignorance, and an account of a presumably illegal abortion. The trauma resulting from how unwed pregnancies were dealt with in midcentury Irish Catholic culture is a major theme. In other words, The Miracle Club could also work in a double feature with a movie like Philomena.

I recently chatted via Skype with filmmaker Thaddeus O’Sullivan, a soft-spoken older man whose work includes Stella Days, a 2011 film starring Martin Sheen as an Irish priest, and a couple of episodes of Call the Midwife. Our discussion has been lightly edited for clarity and length. The Miracle Club is in theaters July 14.

* * *

CWR: You would have been about 19 years old at the time that this movie is set, is that right?

O’Sullivan: Yes. That’s the time that I left Ireland.

CWR: Is the Irish Catholic small-town world that we see in the film very similar to the world of your own youth?

O’Sullivan: Absolutely, yes. That was why I set it in that era, because I felt I could talk about it with reasonable knowledge and responsibility. And also, I was aware, you know, that some of the actors are not Irish. I needed to be sure that they could they could feel comfortable with somebody who knew the world.

CWR: Laura Linney mentioned in an interview that, not being Catholic, she knew nothing about Lourdes before making this film. Your own experience, though, was very different…

O’Sullivan: Yes, you know, Catholics grow up knowing about the great pilgrimage sites and the Marian shrines, and we went on pilgrimages as a family within Ireland when I was a child. And Lourdes, of course, everywhere is talked about a lot, and miracles and the intercession of Our Lady. Many people I knew had been, when I was a child. My parents did go—they made a special pilgrimage after my father recovered from a bout of extremely ill health and my mother had prayed for his recovery. And when he did recover, she had promised that she would go and thank our Lady for her intercession. So they went, and it was a very happy occasion for them. My mother spoke about it as the celebration of the power of prayer. And she never talked about it as a miracle or anything. But she believed in the intercession of Our Lady. So it was big in our minds, and it was popular in the culture. But a lot of people who are not Catholics have never heard of it.

CWR: That’s so interesting! So many people go to Lourdes, as we see in The Miracle Club, hoping and praying for a miracle—but your parents went to Lourdes after receiving the recovery that your mother had been praying for! So that was a very different kind of pilgrimage for her than for many people, and in particular than some of the ones that we see in this film.

O’Sullivan: Yes, and I always remember that. In my house, that was what Lourdes meant. And it is interesting: to go to say “Thank you” and to experience Lourdes, in a sense, not needing, which most people do. Most people go in hope of some form of change in themselves, physical or mental. And I think a lot of people do go through a mental change. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. I think a lot of nonbelievers go and find that they have experienced something, which surprises them and makes them feel more hopeful about life and themselves. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have been, and I think they get over the negativity quite quickly—the [Catholic] Disneyland thing, and the cynicism—because of the sheer experience of being among people who have such a spiritual dimension to their lives. I think it does affect people. [Co-writer] Tim Prager and I used to talk about this a lot. Our shorthand was “the Lourdes Effect”—that feeling that the sheer experience of being there gives you, and the idea that that can lead to something good and positive. Tim has been there five or six times, so he felt very strongly about it.

CWR: There have been a lot of films about Lourdes over the years: obviously The Song of Bernadette, which is referenced in your film; Jean Delannoy’s biopic about St. Bernadette; Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes; a 2019 documentary by two French filmmakers whose names I’m not going to butcher right now! Was there something that you wanted to do in this film that you hadn’t seen before in portrayals of Lourdes or people who go there?

O’Sullivan: Well, I watched The Song of Bernadette and I watched Lourdes a number of times. I would have seen Lourdes in any case, it’s the kind of film that I would have seen…

CWR: Hausner’s film?

O’Sullivan: Yeah. I watched The Song of Bernadette again. I noticed you mentioned all the Fatima films on your website—I can’t remember seeing those in recent years, but certainly as kids we would have seen one of them at least. It must have been the early ’50s one. I didn’t see [The Miracle Club] as about Lourdes in that sense. The “Lourdes Effect” is all manifest through the characters. In that sense, it’s not a religious experience. The characters have responsibility for themselves and for their past actions. In making the film, there was a very strong sense amongst all of us that the bath scene at the end was going to tell us something about what we were trying to do—to have a kind of cleansing effect and give people some sense of hope for the future so that they could act upon it. They could go home and act with some certainty. I mean, when they go back to the families, it’s sentimental, of course, and it may not last, but I think it’s a start—to have the hope.

CWR: It occurred to me that the setting of your film isn’t so different from the world of Saoirse Ronan’s character in John Crowley’s Brooklyn—you’ve seen that?

O’Sullivan: I have, yeah.

CWR: Both films are about an Irish woman who leaves home at a young age, moves to the United States, and returns for a funeral with a different perspective. Can you talk about how Laura Linney’s character Chrissy has changed, and what her changed perspective reveals about the world of her youth?

O’Sullivan: Well, she was “banished”—that’s the word we use in the film—because she was pregnant, and no one wanted to deal with it. The culture of the time made it impossible for her to have that child. So she would have been in a mother-and-baby home. She chose to go to America, cutting off ties with the past. And it suited those left behind, that that was what she did. They saw it as a sin that she could take with her, I guess. We don’t give much detail about her background. I wanted her to keep her own past—the new world that she had created for herself. She feels that she has survived and that she’s lived a happy life, and she doesn’t want to share it with them. She doesn’t feel that they deserve to know and she doesn’t owe it to them. But I wanted a sense that she had come to the funeral intending to go back—but she decided, I suppose subconsciously, to face the past, which is what the others decide to do, or instinctively do, when they get to Lourdes. In no sense does she want to tell her story, but she did want them to look at what they had done.

CWR: So in both Brooklyn and your film, there’s a charming side to the world that we see, but also a judgmental and intolerant side. And it occurs to me that this is also about the same timeframe as Peter Milan’s The Magdalene Sisters, and similar to the world in which the protagonist of Stephen Frears’ Philomena gave birth and was forced to give up her child for adoption. So this theme of judgementalism and intolerance has left, you could say, a record of trauma in the cinema that we see about this time and place. Do you have any thoughts about the strengths or weaknesses of Irish Catholic culture at the time when these films are set?

O’Sullivan: Well, the situation in regard to the mother-and-baby homes in Ireland has been emerging for many years, but it came to a head recently with the discovery of the graves of 800 babies who went through the mother-and-baby home at Tuam. So all those bodies are being exhumed and examined forensically, and that will take years. I think that legacy is going to be very big for the Irish looking back at those years. The mother-and-baby home at Tuam was one of the early ones, in the early ’20s, and it didn’t close down until maybe 1969. So it kind of covers our time period, but of course Tuam was not the only one; there were many others. I think the enormity of the judgments that people made in that period—to banish a young woman to go and have a baby out of sight—has terrible consequences. That’s the kind of thing that we’re going to be seeing talked about a lot now in Ireland.

CWR: Any final thoughts about the strengths of this world? What did you want to portray about the world of this film in a positive way?

O’Sullivan: You know, I’m not a practicing Catholic, but I did see Lourdes in a very positive light. I thought that the idea of pilgrimage is very important and ritual in people’s lives to take them away from the restrictions and restraints of their daily lives, and to be in a moment where they can engage with themselves. That was the driving force really for the film, at the end of which, in our story, there is reconciliation and therefore hope.

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About Steven D. Greydanus 50 Articles
Steven D. Greydanus is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, a permanent deacon in the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, and the founder of He has degrees in media arts and religious studies. He and his wife Suzanne have seven children.


  1. “I’m not a practicing Catholic”. That just about seals it for me as far as the film goes. I would have been more interested in an interview that explored this man’s turn away from the faith of his youth. After all, the whole point of our Catholic faith is evangelization (except, of course, if you’re the bishop-organizer for WYD).

    • Many of the best films with religious themes have been made by nonbelievers. (I would not number The Miracle Club among them, but the fact that the director no longer practices his religion is not the reason why.)

      • No one asked me but one of the most Catholic films I’ve seen in the last decade or so was “Hail Caesar “by the Coen brothers who are Jewish.
        And my favorite Irish comedy film is “An Everlasting Piece ” with Billy Connolly who is Scottish.

      • But, on my part, the credibility of what someone who has walked away from the faith has to say is tempered. Again on my part, films with a religious theme should be based on the witness they give to the faith. I do not look to those who have turned away from the faith to give legitimate witness. I personally think that as followers of Christ we are called to give witness to Him in EVERY aspect of our life.

      • “Many of the best films with religious themes have been made by nonbelievers. (I would not number The Miracle Club among them…”

        Duly noted. Do you still think it’s a film worth seeing though?

    • Good Deacon Peitler:

      Another reason to skip the film is that the representative of CWR in the interview at one point states the following:

      “A key scene of catharsis involves the women sharing past attempts to miscarry unwanted pregnancies, most of which failed due to ignorance, and an account of a presumably illegal abortion.”

      Home in on “attempts to miscarry unwanted pregnancies.” What do you suppose this actually means, and why would a representative of CWR use such wording?

      • DocVerit:

        The terms “miscarriage” and “abortion” are technically synonyms. People commonly use “miscarriage” for what medical professionals label “spontaneous abortion.” What is commonly called “abortion” (deliberately ending a pregnancy) is more precisely called “procured” or “induced abortion.” That said, when women are describing taking actions like falling down the stairs in an effort to end an unwanted pregnancy, I think “attempts to miscarry unwanted pregnancies” communicates the reality with sufficient clarity.

        P.S. Do you really think that Matt Walsh was right to accuse Simone Biles of being “the opposite of brave” for not competing that day?

      • True. I think ‘wanting to induce an abortion’ works nicely, and doesn’t get caught up in the subtleties that might obscure the bigger point. After all, it’s not like we take long breathers to analyze the myriad technical shading with ideas like ‘white privilege’ or ‘white supremacy’ or ‘fascist’ nowadays. Those are usually applied rather broadly and without much sweating over details. It appears ours is a time that likes it plain and simple without the nuance. So I think ‘wanting to induce an abortion’ or even ‘trying to abort their babies’ would do the trick and get to the meat of the issue.

  2. I think the effort to properly name and bury each Irish infant who perished at Tuum is commendable. Burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy and should be carried out in the most respectful manner possible.
    It’s just a shame that same measure of dignity is not afforded to Irish infants destroyed by feticide today.

    How tragic that a child’s humanity rests upon its degree of wantedness.

    I watched a British documentary about what happened to the dead in UK workhouses. Some deceased poor were sold off as cadavers for medical schools . Families were misinformed that their loved ones had been properly buried .
    Being poor and/or unwanted and treated with disrespect after death seems a common theme.

  3. I agree with the deacon. Once those words: I’m not a practicing catholic are sounded, move a long folks, nothing to see here. The regime change in Ireland will never allow any positive story about Catholicism, to them, Catholics are you be just about tolerated, but they would love to have an Irish Kristalnacht, but that would bring martyrdom status and that MUST NEVER HAPPEN! I would love a genuine catholic film maker to place a positively on this, but perhaps in a hundred years, when we will see the detritus of abortion and rainbow ideological exposed for the evils that they are!

    • You make missing films out to be a serious loss to anyone’s life. If you haven’t yet detected it, the mood of many thinking people is tiring of Hollywood.

      • Good Deacon Peitler:

        Absolutely Spot On. Hollywood is fading fast (Good Riddance), and the recent strikes of writers and actors, etc. are laughable, but such opens the door for more morally sound film-makers to gain greater footing in the industry, especially if they make good movies that do not contain hideously immoral messages like “Support Trans Kids” that appears briefly but definitively in Disney’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” animated movie.

        By the bye, the superb and morally upright boycotting of the Disney Co. is resulting in Disney already losing lots of money as a result of the immoral products they continue to produce no longer being supported by more and more good people who have had enough of Disney’s despicable propaganda efforts. In the meantime, the highly moral “Sound of Freedom” movie (distributed by the morally sound Angel Studios) that calls for rescuing kids from trafficking (compare its message of “God’s Children Are Not For Sale” with the variety of messages that favor mutilating kids via “transgenderism” supported by Disney) is about to or has already surpassed $100 million in box office receipts. Deo Gratis.

        • the recent strikes of writers and actors, etc. are laughable

          From the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published under Pope St. John Paul II by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:

          b. The right to fair remuneration and income distribution

          302. Remuneration is the most important means for achieving justice in work relationships. The “just wage is the legitimate fruit of work”.

          They commit grave injustice who refuse to pay a just wage or who do not give it in due time and in proportion to the work done (cf. Lv 19:13; Dt 24:14-15; Jas 5:4). A salary is the instrument that permits the labourer to gain access to the goods of the earth. “Remuneration for labour is to be such that man may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily his own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of his dependents, in view of the function and productiveness of each one, the conditions of the factory or workshop, and the common good”.[661] The simple agreement between employee and employer with regard to the amount of pay to be received is not sufficient for the agreed-upon salary to qualify as a “just wage”, because a just wage “must not be below the level of subsistence” of the worker: natural justice precedes and is above the freedom of the contract.

          303. The economic well-being of a country is not measured exclusively by the quantity of goods it produces but also by taking into account the manner in which they are produced and the level of equity in the distribution of income, which should allow everyone access to what is necessary for their personal development and perfection. An equitable distribution of income is to be sought on the basis of criteria not merely of commutative justice but also of social justice that is, considering, beyond the objective value of the work rendered, the human dignity of the subjects who perform it. Authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen.

          c. The right to strike

          304. The Church’s social doctrine recognizes the legitimacy of striking “when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit”,[663] when every other method for the resolution of disputes has been ineffectual. Striking, one of the most difficult victories won by labour union associations, may be defined as the collective and concerted refusal on the part of workers to continue rendering their services, for the purpose of obtaining by means of such pressure exerted on their employers, the State or on public opinion either better working conditions or an improvement in their social status.

          Among the unreasonable proposals of the studios against which writers and actors are striking: paying a single day’s wages to performers to capture their digital likenesses, to be used forever in any production with no additional compensation. You think it’s laughable to strike against that? Or do you regard actors and writers as beneath your charity or empathy, as if they deserve your derision for choosing to work in an industry you regard with contempt?

          P.S. Do you really think that Matt Walsh was right to accuse Simone Biles of being “the opposite of brave” for not competing that day?

          • That excerpt from the Compendium is simply a regurgitation of late-modern papalist claptrap (“God plus socialism minus abortion equals Catholic social teaching”) that has nothing to do with the doctrine of the faith as reflected in the Scriptures or the tradition of the Church, to say nothing of sound economics or a serious consideration of the natural law. Reflecting current mainstream Catholic belief that the Bible is a compilation of pious fictions except where its verses can be taken out of context to concur with left-wing social and economic policies, it miscites Bible passages: In the Bible, the “just wage” is whatever wage an employer and employee mutually agree upon, not an arbitrarily determined “minimum wage” or “living wage,” according to which every human being who performs just any sort of labor for forty hours a week is owed a wage sufficient for him to buy a house, support a stay-at-home spouse with as many children (including bastards?) a person manages to conceive, and afford vacations, healthcare, one or even more vehicles, and savings sufficient for retirement. The fact that these are all good and desirable things does not make them “rights.” They are merely good and desirable things that people need to — and *should* need to — work hard for, even if that means taking jobs and living in suboptimal conditions before they transition to their dream career that enables them to afford those things some day.

            Perhaps a more charitable reading of Catholic social teaching is that, though it may be philosophically and theologically illiterate pious piffle today, in the developed West, it in fact is not such if one considers that it presupposes an economy such as existed from antiquity until industrialization, where the laws in place were such that social and economic mobility was virtually non-existent, where almost all wealth owned by the “one percent” (over and against the ninety-nine-or-so percent who lived in literal poverty). In such situations, the occasional patristic claim that the very existence of surplus wealth really did amount to theft makes a lot of sense, and so does positing the existence of positive “rights.” In the real world of the twenty-first century West, such teachings make no sense, and if implemented would turn the entire world into a Venezuela-esque hellscape. If literally every worker was entitled to a “living wage,” there would be literally no incentive for the overwhelming, vast majority of people to take on any but the easiest of all available occupations, from which they would all be priced out. Poverty would skyrocket, etc.

            Most Catholic philosophers and theologians today are not serious thinkers, so this never occurs to them. Almost all Catholic writing today simply consists in cutting and pasting quotes from Vatican documents and then paraphrasing them and other mindless socialist bromides. It’s a symptom of how Catholicism has truly become the stupid man’s religion.

            In any event, no one (except in socialist countries, ironically enough) disputes that workers have a “right to strike.” It’s called “quitting.” All men (not duly convicted of a capital crime) have a natural and divine right not to perform any particular type of work for a particular employer — i.e., not to be literally enslaved — but no man has a natural or divine right (absent a freely entered into contract) to quit work and be paid for not working, let alone to initiate violence against innocent others who wish to do the work that they will not.

      • If you haven’t yet detected it, the mood of many thinking people is tiring of Hollywood.

        Many thinking people think many things, and a lot of them think a lot about Hollywood, but it’s a moot point, because The Miracle Club is not a Hollywood film.

        Other non-Hollywood films with religious themes without which the world would indeed be a poorer place include A Hidden Life, Grâce à Dieu, Timbuktu, Calvary, The Mill and the Cross, Of Gods and Men, Into Great Silence, and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days…that’s just in the last 20 years. Some of these are made by believers, but many are not.

  4. I traveled to Ireland with friends who had a Catholic priest relative meeting us in 1999 who said he would not be wearing his clerics or collar as people were spitting at priests then. I wish the catholics of Ireland today would be more concerned about sin now as they were in those sad days. Sin is still sin, how compassionately we deal with it has come a long way thank God.

  5. I should have read this interview first, as I too had expected the movie to be much lighter. First half seemed like a Hallmark movie with better actresses; second half became much heavier in theme with a slight uptick at best in quality. Not quite a thumbs down, but for anyone on the fence, there is no compelling reason to go.

  6. “You know, I’m not a practicing Catholic”, is a contemporary requirement and a boxed checked off. I hear those words and wonder, what do you practice? I know this testimony is required by pop influencers and Anti-Christian financial powerbrokers. They hear these words as, “You know, I’m not a practicing nazi.” And “You know, I’m one of the long oppressed by the Christian male hierarchy.” Does this mean that a faithful Catholic is unable to report on and tell a story of a sad and painful past? Evidently the film industry believes it is not possible unless the faith is recanted. Only then are they good. Same in novels, TV, and any other media. It is tiring and spiteful to the faithful. We know the father of spite and malice. And he is ever at work.

  7. Good Traditional-Minded Readers of CWR:

    For a much better and significantly more honest and insightful review of “The Miracle Club” that puts things in a proper Catholic perspective, and also makes it clear that some of the women characters in the movie outright tried to murder their babies in the womb (Abortion), see Roseanne T. Sullivan’s superb review at .

    Sullivan’s review is the kind of faithfully Catholic review that I wish Catholic World Report would Exclusively feature to live up to CWR’s stated mission, and also because of the benefit that such an intelligent review provides to good Catholics who are, sadly, sometimes encouraged to watch and support objectionable movies by critics that CWR does publish from time-to-time.

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