Modern society has been run ragged with so-called ‘smart’ solutions to the long-held traditions of prayer and devotion to Jesus and Mary. Many young adults don’t practice any faith at all — and they’re finding the price gets ever steeper in attempting to resolve on their own everything that life tosses at them.
Suicides have spiked, as have all types of substance abuse, corrosive habits, and decadent lifestyles.
An encouraging trend among young Catholics, however, has been to invite the Blessed Mother into their lives – during formative years, throughout college, and in burgeoning professional and married years. Despite societal ‘flattening’ of all things religious, many of the younger Catholic generation have experienced the benefits of devotion to Mary, of saying the rosary daily, of keeping close to the Mother of Christ as Heavenly Protectress.
Pure mother for orphan culture
Indeed, in a culture that tells mothers it is acceptable to abort their babies, the motherhood of Mary holds increasing appeal. Northeast Wisconsin Legates Bill and Natalie Raaths saw this recently when students at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, WI prayed to Mary for a classmate who was critically injured and lost his eyesight in an accident. The students, Natalie said, went to Our Lady of Good Help Shrine in Champion, WI, the only approved Marian apparition site in the U.S., and had a prayer service for the injured youth. “They prayed, they cried. The boy didn’t really know if he was going to make it, but he did regain his health.” Although it is still uncertain whether his vision will be restored, he is now home and doing well, Natalie said. “The kids got involved in going to the shrine because they said, ‘Our Lady will help us.’”
Fr. Edward Looney, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay and author of five books on the shrine, added that in a broken world filled with broken families, Mary can make up for the love many young people didn’t feel from their parents.
In his own life, he said, “I looked to Mary for whatever was lacking in affection from my earthly mother. St. Bernard of Clairvaux says all graces come through Mary. If you didn’t have a good relationship with your earthly mother, then Mary can mediate the grace to fill up what is lacking.”
‘Youth must know faith for salvation’
Indeed, Mary’s messages in 1859 to a young Belgian-born woman, Adele Brise, at what is now Our Lady of Good Help Shrine, reflected a special concern for young people. During the third and final apparition, Brise reportedly asked, “What more can I do, dear Lady?” Mary replied, “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” When Brise asked how she could do this given she knew so little herself, Mary answered, “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.” Brise responded first by teaching the children in their homes and later by starting a school.
Although there is no longer a school associated with the Our Lady of Good Help apparition site, children continue to be a part of the life of the shrine. “It’s surprising how many young families go there and how the whole atmosphere is vibrant,” Bill Raaths said. In a video on the shrine’s website, a mother of five talks about the impact visiting the place where Mary appeared to Brice had on her children. She had not told them about the apparitions ahead of time, but they knelt down when they reached the site and later one of them said, “Mary’s there.”
Help in hard times
St. Frances de Sales, the 16thcentury bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Church who had a great devotion to Mary, has said it was his prayers to Our Lady that helped him through difficult times in his youth. His closeness with Mary ultimately led to his decision to consecrate himself to her and become a priest.
To help augment the journey of today’s youth, Young Catholic Professionals will hold a conference in Cleveland on September 7-9, which is themed for Mary. YCP founder and national executive director, Jennifer Baugh, says, “I think a lot of young people pray the Hail Mary occasionally and see the Blessed Mother featured in churches and mentioned, but I don’t think they really know themselves how to have a devotion to her.
There’s sort of a desire there, but they don’t really know how to begin. This conference will be an incredible way for them to learn about her and to grow in devotion to her.”
Legate Tim Needles, who serves on YCP’s Cleveland and national boards, said he has been pleased to see Marian devotion growing among the organization’s leaders. “Part of our mission is to accelerate and deepen that interest in the Blessed Mother and to make it more a daily part of all our lives.”
Added Eileen Mathews, another legate who is chairman of Cleveland YCP’s board of directors: “We try to emphasize the fact that devotion to Mary will always lead us closer to her Son. She is the ark of God’s New Covenant who carried Jesus in her womb and is our spiritual mother.”
Needles said he grew up in a family with a strong devotion to Mary and that his brother, Fr. Brian Needles, has dedicated his priesthood to the Blessed Mother. Recently, he said, his brother told him about speaking to a group of Catholic high school students about praying the rosary daily. “He could see that a lot of their eyes really lit up when he talked about that, and there were some questions. He could see that some of these young people have that formation and love for our Mother. It really buoyed my feelings about this young generation and where they’re going.”
Best anti-anxiety med – Mary’s protection
During the YCP conference, participants will have the opportunity to learn more about the rosary and other Marian prayers; the apparitions of Mary at Lourdes, Guadalupe, and Fatima, and such devotions as the scapular, miraculous medal and consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. The conference also will look at Mary’s roles as mother, intercessor, teacher, and queen. Baugh said the book, Mary: Help in Hard Times by Sister Marriane Lorraine Trouve, will be used as a framework for the weekend.
Among the conference speakers will be Cleveland Bishop Nelson Perez, who was asked recently at a YCP meeting what he does for anxiety. “He reached into his pocket,” Needles said, “and pulled out the rosary and said, ‘This helps calm me down.’”
The theme of the conference, which falls on Mary’s “birthday weekend,” is “Celebrating the Feast of the Birth of Mary,” and a gala for attendees, donors, and supporters is planned for Saturday in downtown Cleveland in observance of the Sept. 8 feast. “I’m just overjoyed thinking about this,” Baugh said. “[Mary] is a powerful intercessor for us. Especially in our daily life being bold witnesses and ambassadors for the faith, we need to call on her for guidance and assistance.”
JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.
‘Blessed Mother’ priest sees resurgence in Marian devotion
Father Edward Looney likes to tell people that he came out of the womb loving Mary, the mother of Jesus
A priest of the Diocese of Green Bay, WI since 2015, Fr. Looney said he can’t recall a moment when he didn’t have some fond recollection of the Blessed Mother. Although he didn’t grow up in a religious home, he said his grandmother and a woman in his home parish helped plant the seeds of Marian devotion in him early in his childhood.
That devotion today is threefold, encompassing praying a daily rosary, making regular pilgrimages to Marian shrines, and wearing the scapular and the miraculous medal. For pilgrimages, Fr. Looney travels yearly to Lourdes, France, where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette, but his location in the Diocese of Green Bay allows him to regularly visit Our Lady of Good Help Shrine, the only Church-approved Marian apparition site in the U.S. He has written five books about the shrine and has given presentations on it to Legatus groups.
Designated a national shrine by the U.S. bishops in 2016, Our Lady of Good Help recently was in the national spotlight when NBC’s Megyn Kelly TODAY featured it as part of a “Faith in America” series. Included in the report was the story of a Reedsville, WI woman whose family had prayed for her healing at the shrine after she was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. According to the Green Bay Press Gazette, NBC learned about Our Lady of Good Help from Michael O’Neill, known as “The Miracle Hunter,” who had been working on the show, Miracles of Champions, which premiered in April on EWTN.
Father Looney made his first pilgrimage to Our Lady of Good Help as an 8th-grader and, although he didn’t return until he was in high school, the rural shrine eventually became an oasis for him.
“I always thought I would study Mary more in depth – and I have – so it was a natural place to focus my energy and intellectual thought.” Fr. Looney has no official role at the shrine, though some people call him the shrine historian. “But I don’t consider myself that,” he said. “I’m just an author.” Besides his books about the shrine, Fr. Looney has written the children’s book Breakfast in Bethlehem, A Rosary Litany and A Heart Like Mary’s. He also is working on another book, How They Loved Mary.
As he practices his own devotion to Mary and shares it with others through his writing and priesthood, Fr. Looney said he has observed a resurgence of interest in the Blessed Mother. After the Second Vatican Council, he said, some Catholics abandoned Marian piety, but devotion to her never disappeared. Now, he said, along with other practices such as Eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation, Marian devotion is being discovered by a new generation of Catholics.