By Mary Rezac
Millie Francis almost died once. She’s willing to do it again.
This time, she says, it would be for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Property managers at the retirement community trailer park where Francis lives in west-central Florida have reportedly demanded that she remove a piece of plywood from her mobile home, on which she has painted an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
But from the sound of it, they will have a hard time getting her to comply.
“They’ll have to kill me first,” Francis, 85, told the property management authorities, according to the Bradenton Herald.
“You’re not going to tell this old lady what to do,” she told the newspaper. “This is America. As long as I have two arms and two legs, I’m going to do it.”
Francis said she feels blessed to even be alive, after a scrape with death during surgery 16 years ago, during which she says she was declared clinically dead for 15 minutes.
Her fierce devotion to her Catholic faith and to Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas, have remained strong, and she said she’ll go to court if she has to. She does not plan to remove her painting.
The painting of the Virgin Mary was done on a piece of plywood that replaced a window Francis had removed from her mobile home. She said wanted to replace the window with plywood because of a nosy neighbor, and because light from security guards’ flashlights bothered her at night.
Francis said she obtained permission for the removal from Vanguard Property Management at Bradenton Tropical Palms, the 55+ trailer park where she lives.
The inspiration for the image came to her during Mass, she said, when she was praying about what to do with the piece of plywood that would cover the space where he window once was.
“I don’t want to say I had a vision or anything like that, but felt enlightened and received the inspiration from our Lady of Guadalupe to paint her image. So I promised that I would,” she told the Bradenton Herald.
Janet Nowakowski, a Vanguard property manager based in Tampa, demanded that Francis remove the painted plywood, allegedly because Francis did not have the window removal project completed by Oct. 31, per her agreement with property management.
Vanguard representatives also told reporters that Francis did not fill out an architectural request form, or seek permission from the trailer park’s architectural review committee, before painting the Blessed Virgin Mary on the plywood that replaced the window.
Francis said that the window removal was completed on time, and believes the order to remove the plywood image is an act of discrimination against her Catholic faith.
Other neighbors have decorated their lawns and trailers with all kinds of things, she said, and her painting “isn’t hurting anyone.”
“There’s all kinds of stuff out there, but this is because I’m Catholic and it’s wrong,” she said.
“With all the things going on in the world, I would think there would be more important things to worry about than this.”
On November 9, lawyers representing Vanguard gave Francis 30 days to remove the image.
The deadline is fast-approaching – and falls three days before the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is on December 12.
But Francis refuses to budge.
According to reporting by Mark Young at the Bradenton Herald: “Documents indicate that Francis did have permission from the committee to replace the window, and she was inspired to have the painting done while at church at the last minute. Francis said she not only completed the project on time, but also there is nothing in the park rules regarding decorating after the fact.”
CNA has contacted Tropical Palms trailer park for a copy of their property guidelines, but did not receive a response by press time.
More than 22 million Americans live in manufactured housing, the Manufactured Housing Institute reports. Manufactured home residents have a median annual income of less than $30,000. Mobile home parks are often owned by large corporations or distant landlords, and managed by third-party property management corporations.
Francis believes she has followed the rules at the trailer park where she lives.
While the stress of going to court has been affecting the octogenarian’s health, she said she plans to decorate for Christmas and shine a laser on the image.
She does not plan on re-applying for permission for the project. She said she has appealed to her local Knights of Columbus chapter, through her parish at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, for help.
“I just don’t know anything about this legal stuff,” she told the Bradenton Herald.
“They say I’ll have to pay their attorney fees if they prevail in court. I can’t afford this. I need help and I don’t know what will happen to me, but I do know I’m not taking it down.”