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Our Lady of the Nursing Child

Our Lady of the Nursing Child

By Walter T. Camier

Few Americans realize that St. Augustine, Florida, shares a duel distinction in America’s history. Not only was it the birthplace of Catholicism in America, it was also the birthplace of devotion to the Mother of God in America. In fact, Catholic historians would agree that St. Augustine is unique because it continues the devotion to the Mother of God that dates back to the time of Herod’s persecution of the Holy Family.

Spain’s Admiral Pedro de Aviles sighted the Florida coast near Cape Canaveral on August 28, 1565, the feast day of St. Augustine. Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza, chaplain of the fleet chronicled the following text in his writings:

On September 8, the general disembarked. I had gone ashore the evening before; I took a cross and went out to meet him, singing the hymn, Te Deum Laudamos. The general, followed by all who accompanied him, marched up to the cross, knelt and kissed it. A large number of the Indians watched the proceedings and imitated all they saw done.

The first mass was celebrated on the Nativity of Our Lady, September 8, 1565. “This is where the gospel was preached to the native people for the first time,” explains Mr. Eric P. Johnson, the current director of the shrine.

Shrine of Our Lady of the Nursing Child in St. Augustine, FloridaOn the tranquil grounds of the Mission of Nombre de Dios is the chapel that houses a replica of the statue of Our Lady of Le Leche. This shrine holds the historical title of being the first shrine dedicated to the Mother of God in the United States. Unique as this is, something more unique is the history behind this beautiful devotion.

During Herod’s persecution, Our Lady, with the Infant Jesus and Saint Joseph, fled to a grotto in Bethlehem. Legend has it that while the Blessed Mother was nursing the Infant Jesus a drop of her milk fell upon a large rock in the grotto and changed the stone’s color from gray to chalky white. Miracles were attributed to the grotto, and by the sixth century, pilgrims were venerating the site.

This grotto, known as the Milk Grotto, is still tended by the Holy Land Franciscans and became a place of devotion to the Mother of God because of her intercession for the women who prayed there for infertility and difficult pregnancies.

Mr. Johnson informed me that, according to legend, this devotion came to Spain during the Crusades. It seems in Spain the statue was carved around 1598. A drunken sailor stole the statue, and a Spanish noble rescued it and took it home. He and his wife prayed fervently before the statue because his wife was suffering from an illness that threatened her life and her unborn child’s life. The baby was born healthy and both lives were spared.

Because of this event, King Phillip III erected a shrine in honor of Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto in a church in Madrid. Many miracles for healthy babies and deliveries were credited to Our Lady’s intercession. In his booklet, Mission of Nombre de Dios, Matthew Geiger states that over the years Queen Sophia of Spain was among some of the expectant mothers who visited the shrine.

In the early 1600s, Spaniards brought a replica of the statue of Our Lady of the Nursing Child to St. Augustine, beginning the devotion that continues to this day. Because of the intense devotion to Our Lady by the early Spanish settlers and the converted American Indian tribes, Spaniards decided to build what was to become the first Marian Shine in America.

During my interview, I asked Mr. Johnson how visitors react when they come to the shrine. He said, “It is interesting to note that many of the people who pass through St. Augustine are on their way to Disneyland and they are not giving to much importance to their visit here. But when they enter the shrine you can see by their expressions that something really touches them, they feel a presence. They experience a calmness that they never felt before. Many of them comment about the peace that they felt inside the chapel where Our Lady’s image dwells.”

Statue of Our Lady of the Nursing Child. Our Lady is wearing a crown, seated, and nursing JesusHe continued, “Some pray for spiritual conversions, some for a cure of an illness, some pray for a cross they are carrying.” He also informed me that the original statue that was brought here in 1610 is now somewhere in Cuba. It seems when the British attacked St. Augustine in 1758, the Spanish fled to Cuba with the statue and to this day nobody knows of its whereabouts. Mr. Johnson informed me that when Cubans come to visit the shrine he always requests them to ask their relatives in Cuba if any of them have heard about the missing statue.

More astonishingly is the connection Our Lady has with the women who travel to the shrine to petition her for the grace to conceive a child. Many of their requests are granted, and what was impossible for them before, has become possible. One couple from Pennsylvania, who couldn’t conceive, traced the time of their newborn son’s conception to the time they spent in St. Augustine.

It is hard for American’s to imagine that this devotion has been around for over 400 years in the United States. Thousands of Americans travel annually to Europe to visit the Catholic shrines and historical places, but few Americans know about the tremendous amount of Catholic history in our country.

If you ever get the chance to visit the first American shrine dedicated to the Mother of God in St Augustine, don’t pass it up. You will be richly rewarded by Our Lady of the Nursing Child’s presence in the beautiful chapel built for her by the Spanish explorers and missionaries who arrived here to bring new souls to the Catholic Faith over 400 years ago.

 

Prayer for women to Our Lady of the Nursing Child for conception and a healthy pregnancy

Lovely Lady of La Leche, most loving Mother of the Child Jesus, and my mother, listen to my humble prayer. Your motherly heart knows my every wish, my every need. To you only His spotless Virgin Mother, has your Divine Son given to understand the sentiments which fill my soul. Yours was the sacred privilege of being the Mother of the Savior. Intercede with him now, my loving mother, that, in accordance with His will, I may become the mother of other children of our heavenly Father. This I ask, O Lady of La Leche, in the name of your Divine Son, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen.   (Intended for private recitation only)

 


 

 

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 22, 2019

There is no one, O Most Holy Mary, who can know God except t...

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November 22

 

There is no one, O Most Holy Mary, who can know God except through thee;
no one who can be saved or redeemed but through thee, O Mother of God;
no one who can be delivered from dangers but through thee, O Virgin Mother;
no one who obtains mercy but through thee, O Filled-With-All-Grace!”

Saint Germanus of Constantinople


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Cecilia

Skeptical of his new wife and her religion, Valerian demande...

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St. Cecilia

Cecilia was a devout Christian maiden of noble Roman birth who lived during the early part of the third century. At a very young age, she secretly dedicated herself to God, resolving to remain a virgin to her death. She fasted and prayed often, and wore a coarse shift under her clothes as a perpetual penance.

Although she had consecrated her body to the Lord, Cecilia’s father wished her to marry. She obeyed and married Valerian, the man her father had chosen for her. However, on the night they were married, Cecilia said to her new husband, “I have a secret to tell you. You must know that I have an angel of God watching over me. If you touch me in the way of marriage, he will be angry and you will suffer; but if you respect my maidenhood he will love you as he loves me.”

Skeptical of his new wife and her religion, Valerian demanded to be shown the angel. “If you believe in the living and one true God and receive the water of baptism,” Cecilia told him, “then you shall see the angel.” The young man agreed, and sought out Bishop Urban who baptized him. Upon his return, Valerian found Cecilia in prayer with a crown of roses and lilies on her head. He saw that beside her stood an angel, who immediately crowned him as well.

Soon after, Valerian’s brother, Tiburtius, found them praying in the chapel. He saw the crowns of flowers on their heads and the angel standing near and he, too, converted. From that time, the two brothers devoted themselves to the work of God. They were arrested and after refusing to pay homage to false idols, were tortured and killed.

Knowing that the two were married, officials visited Cecilia and tried to persuade her to worship the false idols. Instead, her holiness converted the officials who came to her door, and she was instead ordered to appear before Almachius, the provost of Rome. The provost entreated her to denounce Christ, and when she refused, condemned her to death. They barred her in her home and fed her furnace seven times the normal amount, an act that would have suffocated any other. However, after a day and a night spent in the fatal conditions, Cecilia still lived.

Almachius then sent a soldier to her house to behead her. The executioner struck her three times on the neck and still could not smite her head from her body. By law he could not do so a fourth time and he left her to die. During the three days of her agony, Cecilia gave all that she had to the poor, continually preached the faith, and all those who were converted by her words and example she sent to Pope Urban to be baptized.
St. Urban and his deacons buried her among the bishops in the catacomb of St. Callixtus along the Apian Way. As she had requested, her house was transformed into a church by the Holy Pontiff and it has remained in the service of the Church until this day.

St. Cecilia is known as the patroness of musicians because it is said that during the three days in which she lay dying, the crowd that had gathered could hear angels singing.

Second Photo by: Claude Valette

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared stan...

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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