The Flynn girls, just two of a seemingly endless number of Flynn children, are naturally curious about where their little siblings come from. Well versed in the bizarre lives and gruesome deaths of their favorite saints, they have yet to crack the mysteries of the more earthly concerns of procreation and human relations. Blessed enlightenment comes, however, when the Virgin Mary appears and asks them to buy her suitable clothes for her earthly mission -- a campaign for birth control. Set against the backdrop of the impending Vatican II decisions that wreaked havoc on many Catholic lives and the sprawl of the more permissive 1960s, this crackling, smart, and thoughtful novel is sure to delight.
When The Visitation begins, Catherine and Theresa spend their free time reenacting the bloody deaths of martyred young women. "All their heros were women," Reidy writes, "and most of them had died horribly—their deaths caused, naturally, by men." Why are the girls so interested in the stories that end the most brutally? Are they subconsciously preparing themselves for destinies controlled by men? Or are they glorifying the headstrong behavior of the women in history who refused to back down—and paid for their transgressions with their lives?
Catherine and Theresa each represent at different times the two models for females found within Catholicism: "pure" and "fallen." Yet, in reality, neither is truly saintly or depraved. What other female figures represent "bookend" characters who serve as one another's foil? Is the behavior of these women truly different from one another?
At one point, Catherine and Theresa are seated at exact opposite ends of a church pew, symbolizing their growing emotional separation. What are other examples of their gradual detachment from one another? How does their behavior mirror one another at some points, and greatly differ at others?
The older Flynn girls have a profound influence on their younger sister, Francie. Whose behavior will Francie emulate more as she gets older? Will she have the courage to forge her own path—different from both her parents and her sisters? Why does Francie retreat into silence as she gets older?
Catherine and Theresa, as well as their mother, Moira Flynn, despise the tumultuous home life they share—an environment devoid of personal freedom and privacy. All three women realize at certain points that the restrictions placed on them by the Church—particularly the prohibition of contraception—is a major cause of stress within their home. Why doesn't Terrence Flynn make the same realization? How does his unyielding behavior work against him? Will the Flynn boys adopt their father's authoritarian stance, or will they gain inspiration from their courageous sisters?
Discuss how Sue Reidy uses humor and subtle wit to illuminate such a serious topic: the role of women in the Catholic Church, and how the limitations of women either breaks their spirit or forces them to overcome the barriers that surround them.
Catherine and Theresa both question vital aspects of Catholicism. But after the woman they refer to as "The Virgin Mother" (later Mary Blessed) appears in their garden, their dissent becomes stronger and more vocal. Should their firsthand witnessing of a miracle make their faith stronger? Or do Mary's words resonate so deeply that even witnessing a miracle can't prevent them from rejecting their faith?
Discuss Moira Flynn's gradual empowerment as a woman and the subsequent changes in her relationship with her husband. How is Moira affected by her daughters' rebellion? Does their influence on Moira constitute a role reversal, with the children teaching their mother what their mother has failed to teach them?
Before she begins her love affair with Linda, Catherine was certain she wanted to become a nun. Was her decision to join a convent when she got older in reality a subconscious cloaking of her burgeoning sexual feelings toward other women? What ultimately causes her to change her mind?
Mary Blessed is the first empowered woman the girls have ever encountered. Yet her words are clearly at odds with many of the basic beliefs of Catholicism. Does her message indicate that there is no place for women within the Catholic Church as it stands today? Does she feel that women must make a choice to be true to either their faith or themselves? Or is it the responsibility of the followers of the Catholic faith to fight to make it more equal?
At one point in the book, Mary Blessed ceases to be a vision to only Catherine and Theresa and becomes a flesh-and-blood woman everyone can see. What effect does this transformation have on the girls, and how does it alter the power that Mary has over them? Could the whole world really see Mary all along, or was there an actual physical transformation?
In many ways, Mary Blessed is a modern-day messiah for women. How does her message and methods mirror those of Catholicism's only other earthly messiah, Jesus Christ? How do they differ?