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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 July 14, 2020

You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or...

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July 14

 

You cannot be
half a saint;
you must be a whole saint
or no saint at all.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux


My Mother, I will stand with you on OCTOBER 10, 2020

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Kateri stood before the church until it opened at four o’c...

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St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Tekakwitha, baptized Kateri, “The Lily of the Mohawks” was born in 1656 near the town of Auriesville, New York, the daughter of a Mohawk warrior, and a captured, Christian Algonquin woman, Tagaskouita.

Between 1661 and 1663 a small pox epidemic afflicted Kateri’s tribe. Both her parents and her brother died, and though also contracting the disease, she survived though her face was left scared and her eyesight affected. She was adopted by a paternal aunt and her husband, a chief.

At seventeen the young Mohawk girl turned down an offer of marriage, and though pressed, still refused.

Under the influence of missionary priests introduced into her tribe after the Mohawks were defeated by the French, Kateri converted to Catholicism at eighteen, and was baptized when twenty. Members of her tribe were hostile to her by reason of her Faith, but she persevered.

The Jesuit missionaries described Tekakwitha as a modest girl who covered most of her head with a blanket because of her scars.

In 1677 Kateri moved to the new Christian colony of Indians in Canada under the direction of Jesuit fathers where she found peace. There, she lived a life dedicated to prayer, penance and the care of the sick and the aged.

Every morning, even in the bitterest cold, young Kateri stood before the church until it opened at four o’clock. Once inside, she attended every Mass, her greatest devotions being the Eucharist and Christ Crucified. She undertook severe penances, seeking to mortify her flesh so as to help her soul reach union with her beloved God.

In the Lent of 1680 friends noticed that Kateri was failing. She died on Wednesday of Holy Week around three o’clock. Her last words were, “Jesus, I love You.”

As she lay still in death, those around her noticed that her scars had disappeared and her face was white and beautiful.

Pope Benedict XVI canonized Kateri Tekakwitha on October 21, 2012.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protest...

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Walk to Conversion

In September, I brought the statue of Our Lady of Fatima to the home of Mr. John Black and his family in Kings City, California.  John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about thirteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California (though these are holy sites, they also serve as tourist attractions.)

“Who is this Junipero Serra anyways?”  he asked, as the tour guide shared the history of the mission. “Well,” the guide responded, “you are standing on his grave!”  Surprised, John looked down and read inscription on the stone. Sure enough, Blessed Father Junipero Serra was buried right there. “I became electrified,” John told me, “I had to learn more about this man and about the missions.”  The more he studied Blessed Serra, the founder of the first nine missions, the more impressed he became, and he decided to travel on-foot to all 21 missions. 

With the blessing of his wife, now left at home with their two infant sons, John left for his solo expedition, taking with him a single backpack, the bible and little money.  He told me that every mission he visited he felt the presence of someone receiving him, even if the mission was empty. He felt this ambiance in the missions so serene and uplifting, and began to realize it was the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament that made him feel so at home.

At one point, John collapsed from exhaustion near a mission run by Franciscans, who kindly hosted him for the night. Before he left the next day, one of the friars gave him a first-class relic of Blessed Serra. Since he was Protestant, John did not know what a relic was, but not wanting to appear rude, he accepted it. Not long after he left the Franciscans, John became lost in the wilderness in the middle of the night. Through his exhaustion and fear he heard a voice say, “Let’s help John.” He had the distinct feeling that Blessed Serra was guiding him, and gathered the strength and courage to continue. About six hours later, he stumbled upon the next mission. “It was kind of a miracle,” he said, “I was really lost!”

During his journey, John slowly came to a realization. “I know what you want from me, God,” he thought to himself one day, “you what me to became a Catholic. That is what this is all about!” However, he still had many questions about aspects of Catholicism that have been rejected by his Protestant faith – mainly about the Blessed Mother. Yet, from that point on he received answers to all of his questions, especially his reservations about devotion to Mary: he believed that it was once again Blessed Serra answering him.

With the help of Blessed Serra, one problem after another was resolved in the solitude of his travels. By the time John reached the final mission, he wholly decided to become a Catholic. “I realized that by having devotion to Mary, you love Our Lord even more,” he told me.

John returned home, filled with zeal and enthusiasm for his newfound faith. He shared his astonishing experiences with his wife, and she too converted. “I feel at home in the Catholic church,” John said, “and I have never loved Our Lord Jesus Christ more than I do now.”

by Joseph Ferrara

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John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about fourteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California 

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