Tag Archives: Mary

Marian Shrine For Mothers – Beckoning All To Christ

People come for peace and to pray at the oldest Marian shrine in the country, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine, Florida. It is on the same acre of land where the first mass was celebrated on the Feast of The Nativity of Mary, September 8, 1565, and draws some 200,000 annually to the 20-acre grounds owned by the Diocese of St. Augustine.

“It is a treasure,” according to Bishop Felipe Estevez. “the image of Mary is embracing and feeding the child in the most beautifully feminine way. At a time when many abortions separate the mother from the child, this image is the opposite; it is evangelization through the eyes.”

When Bishop Estevez was transferred to the diocese of St. Augustine nine years ago, he felt the shrine could be better developed as an evangelization opportunity. “I perceived the potential, especially in a city of so many pilgrims and tourists,” he said. “the purpose of the shrine is to bring people to Christ.”


Bishop Estevez began a campaign in 2018 to expand and attract more pilgrims to the “Sacred Acre” where holiness and history intersect. It was on the feast of St. Augustine, August 28, 1565, that General Pedro Menéndez de Avilés of Spain, commander of a fleet of ships sent forth by King Philip II, sighted land. His goal was to establish a colony for Spain and convert the native people to Christianity. On September 8, the feast day of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the sailors, soldiers, tradesmen, and priests came ashore. Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales celebrated Mass in honor of the feast.

Following Mass, the Spaniards shared a meal with the native people who had come to watch—56 years before the first Thanksgiving meal in Plymouth. Menéndez christened the land Mission Nombre de Dios (Name of God). It became the starting point for the oldest, nonindigenous city in North America and the first in a network of missions up the Atlantic coast.

Those same tranquil grounds shaded by tall cedar and oak trees became home to the Shrine Our Lady of La Leche, (or La Leche y Buen Parto— Spanish for “Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery”) in 1577 by the Spanish settlers. It is believed this ancient Marian devotion began in a cave in Bethlehem where the Holy Family took refuge while fleeing Herod’s soldiers during the Slaughter of the Innocents. Known today as the Milk Grotto, it is credited with miraculous answers to prayer and is especially popular with both Christian and Muslim women seeking intercession for infertility or problem pregnancies.

King Philip II built a shrine to Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto in a Madrid church, and Spanish settlers established the U.S. shrine to the Blessed Mother in 1577. The ivy-draped, Spanish-styled chapel, reconstructed in 1915, seats about 40. Three earlier structures fell victim to war and hurricanes. Behind the altar, the two-foot wooden statue of Our Lady of La Leche sits on a throne barefoot, with her right foot resting on a pillow. At her breast is the infant Jesus clutching his mother’s dress.

The original statue was lost, believed to have been taken to Cuba during war with the British. Replica statues were later placed in the chapel. The one there now was made in the 1970s and the museum also holds one dating to the 1930s.


“The seeds of Christianity were planted here,” explained Joanna Stark, executive director of the shrine. “Some people come just for the history but then we have that additional opportunity to share our faith and our story.”

Even for Catholic visitors, Stark said that the peace and holiness found there leads many to deeper conversions of faith. “For some, it’s learning more about Mary and for some it’s a deeper conversion.”

A leather-bound book in the chapel contains thousands of intentions and testimonies of answers to prayer. Last March, two dozen roses arrived at the shrine with a note from a 42-year-old woman thanking the Blessed Mother for the birth of her first child.

One couple recently had a memorial tree planted in thanksgiving for the renewal of their marriage. After coming to the chapel to pray, they realized their lack of faith was the problem. The couple recommitted to marriage and faith and planted a tree to memorialize it.

“We want our children to grow up knowing the value of faith in the marriage,” they explained to Stark. “And we want them to have a place to celebrate our marriage and their own marriages.”


Three couples belonging to the Jacksonville Chapter are regular visitors to the shrine. “I believe this is the most important acre in the state of Florida,” says John Clegg, who visits often with his wife Clare. “There is such peace. Pilgrims are not in a rush; they want to observe all that is there and be connected to the Holy Acre.”

The Cleggs, originally from England, first learned of the shrine when they moved from Chicago to Florida 24 years ago. John and Clare are dedicated to pro-life efforts including being involved with Homes of Hope in India where they visited in February. “Our Lady of Le Leche fits right in with our interests and causes for children and the unborn,” John said. “I believe that if enough people pray and visit, it will be a turning point in the abortion issue.”

Mary Pat and Dave Kulik began visiting 30 years ago when their daughters went there on grade school field trips. They go several times a month now. “As soon as you get on the grounds, you feel a sense of sacredness,” Mary Pat said. “Our heavenly mother does that for us.”

One recent Sunday afternoon, she and Dave went to the chapel to pray for a special intention. “It was raining so hard you could barely see the road,” she said. “The number of cars parked here was a surprise—around 50. No matter the dangerous driving conditions due to the weather, the Blessed Mother was drawing us to her, as only she can.”

Jacqueline and Daniel Brown first visited in 2008, praying to conceive a baby. “People would tell me to go there and the Blessed Mother would take care of it,” Jacqueline said. “I would hear, ‘I prayed there and got my baby.’ That’s why I went.

She and Dan had been married for 16 years and had struggled with infertility. “That first time, I just went and prayed,” Jacqueline said. “The beauty of the place and history overwhelmed me.” Instead of a pregnancy, she and Dan came to accept infertility as God’s will. That led to the adoption of their two sons ages nine and eight, from China. “They are such an incredible gift,” Jacqueline said. “I would pick them every time.”

Jacqueline credits Our Lady of La Leche with a deep spiritual healing that began at the shrine. “I now feel massively in love with God, but didn’t then. I did not have a relationship with the Blessed Mother and now I do. I needed the spiritual healing more than physical healing.”

PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.


Expansion And Evangelizing To A Modern World

When hurricane Matthew hit in 2016, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios was deluged with water and suffered extensive damage forcing it to close for 6 months. But it has been rebuilding better and stronger according to shrine executive director Joanna Stark. “We’ve embarked on a lot but are seeing the grace daily,” she said. Repairs were made and bulkheads were put in to reduce erosions. Being installed now are a pavilion with a covered picnic area, new walkways, signs, mobile maps, and a rosary garden.

Under Bishop Felipe Estevez, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche had already taken on a new life. Two priests from The Immaculate Conception Marian community in Colombia were brought over in 2013 to offer daily Mass and Confession, oversee adoration and minister to the many pilgrims. In 2015, a church on the grounds originally built in 1965 in thanksgiving for aversion of the Cuban Missile Crisis was expanded to accommodate 225 people and renamed as the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche.

Bishop Estevez started a campaign in 2018 to promote expansion of the shrine to include a pilgrim center, outdoor amphitheater, and excavation (already begun) of the first chapel, believed to be the oldest stone church in the country. Last year on October 11, the feast of Our Lady of La Leche, he announced that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declared the place a national shrine, worthy of pilgrimages. And at the Holy See’s suggestion, there will be a crowning of Our Lady of La Leche this October on her feast day, making it one of only three other Marian sites in the U.S. to have done so.

A notable attraction on the grounds is the stainless steel “Great Cross,” erected in 1966, towering 208 feet high and illuminated at night proclaiming the birth of Christianity in America. Other devotions include Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Byzantine icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, monuments of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, a pietà, and Stations of the Cross.


Fruitcake reaches back 2000 years – to Christ

As this season of faith, family, and food approaches, I reminisce not only about holiday seasons past, but also about the original Christmas day so many centuries ago. On a 2013 trip to Israel, I had the privilege of standing in Shepherd’s Field, once traversed by Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, still cradled in His mother’s womb. This was the field where shepherds first saw the rising Christmas star and angels heralded the birth of the newborn king. This was Bethlehem. In Hebrew, “Bet Lehem,” meaning “House of Bread.”

While it may have been wanderlust that brought me to Israel, it was wonder that overcame my senses at every turn of this journey. How can you stand at the genesis of salvation history and not be overcome with wonder? In Bethlehem, I knelt in amazement, as a child does on Christmas morning, when placing my hand on the site of the nativity. I thought of the Magi’s gifts: gold for the child’s kingship, frankincense representing His priestly role, and myrrh foreshadowing the God-man’s destiny on Calvary. There is no greater gift that any of us receive than redemption through the sacrifice of the Bread of Life.

We receive the body and blood of Jesus every Sunday; we break bread with family and friends at meals; we give gifts during the Christmas season in the form of cookies, cakes, and breads. My favorite holiday bread – to give or receive – is fruit bread, which you may know as fruitcake.

According to some researchers, fruit bread was first made 2,000 years ago with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins mixed into barley mash. In the Middle Ages, fruit bread consisted of spices, honey, and fruit preserves. In the 19th century, fruit bread became the traditional wedding cake of England. Fruitcake by any other name is still fruit bread: Italian Panettone, German Stolen, Bulgarian Keks, Mexican Three Kings Bread, Spanish King Cake or Twelfth Night Epiphany Bread, Dutch Ontbijtkoek, Norwegian Julekake, Czech Vanocka, Provence Pompe de Noel, Slovenian Potica, Greek Christopsomo or “Christ Bread,” and Romanian Cozonac.

My gift to you this Christmas season was actually bequeathed to me from my maternal grandmother: her recipe for Super-Moist Fruitcake. Don’t laugh! There is no doubt that this humble yet remarkable dessert will make you wonder why you never tasted such a delicious fruit bread before.

CHEF JOHN D. FOLSE is an entrepreneur with interests ranging from restaurant development to food manufacturing, catering to culinary education. A cradle-Catholic, he supports many Catholic organizations including the Sister Dulce Ministry at Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, LA.

MICHAELA D. YORK is vice president of communications for John Folse & Company.


MAMÈRE’S SUPER-MOIST FRUITCAKE • prep time: 3 hours • yields: 1 cake


4 oz. each, candied red and green cherries
8 oz. candied pineapple, coarsely chopped
8 oz. packaged pitted dates, coarsely chopped
1 c. raisins
1 c. Craisins® Original Dried Cranberries
1 c. each, chopped pecans and walnuts
3 c. self-rising flour, divided
4 large eggs
1½ c. sugar
1 c. melted butter
2 tsps ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 c. pineapple juice
½ c. brandy
6 each, candied red cherries and green cherries, optional
additional brandy or cognac for flavoring, optional


Preheat oven to 275°F. Grease one (10-inch) tube pan, set aside. In large mixing bowl, combine fruit and nuts with 1 cup flour until well coated. Set aside. In separate bowl, combine eggs, sugar, and melted butter, blending well with spatula. Continue to stir, while slowly adding remaining flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pineapple juice. Whip ingredients thoroughly until well blended. Add fruit-nut mixture and ½ cup brandy; then mix until thoroughly combined. Pour batter into greased tube pan and bake approximately 2½ hours or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
NOTE: After 1½ hours of cooking, you may wish to gently press 6 candied red cherries and 6 candied green cherries into the top of the fruitcake for decorative purposes. Continue to cook for the remaining hour. Once cake is done, remove from oven and cool. Once cooled, cover with aluminum foil and store in refrigerator. From time to time, ladle 1 or 2 tablespoons brandy or cognac over cake for a spiked flavoring.
NOTE: You may wish to bake 4 or 5 of these cakes at a time and offer them as Christmas gifts to family and friends.

Priest presents largest relics collection – with piece from Cross, Mary’s veil


Father Carlos Martins, a Companions of the Cross priest, will be bringing the world’s largest collection of saints’ relics – outside those at the Vatican – to the 2020 Legatus Summit.

Father Martins has been running the Treasures of the Church ministry for more than 23 years, and presents 200 to 250 expositions each year around the world. Numerous conversions and healings have been reported from people who have encountered the relics of some of the Church’s greatest saints.

In an interview with Legatus magazine, Father Martins described his ministry and the spiritual value of relics. More information is available on his website, www. TreasuresOfTheChurch.com.

What will you be presenting at the 2020 Legatus Summit?

I bring a Vatican exhibit of approximately 150 relics, including those of St. Maria Goretti, St. Therese of Lisieux (the “Little Flower”), St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Faustina Kowalska. The supreme highlight is one of the largest certified relics of the True Cross in the world, and a piece of the Veil of Our Lady. The Vatican grants for all in attendance a special plenary indulgence which it has attached to Treasures of the Church. I will be explaining that indulgence and how to obtain it as part of the event.

What is Treasures of the Church?

Treasures of the Church is a ministry of evangelization. Its purpose is to give people an experience of the living God through an encounter with relics of his saints in the form of an exposition. I begin each exposition with a presentation and teaching on relics which provide the catechetical and spiritual basis for, what I call, the Walk with the Saints that follows the presentation. The point of the teaching is to present the basic Gospel message of Jesus Christ: that God is here right now, and wants to be encountered; He touches us through the lives and the sacred remains of His saints.

What have been the responses to your ministry?

God never disappoints … He always “shows up.” There are healings at every exposition. Thousands have been reported to me over the decades. I have seen cancer, heart disease, tumors, osteoporosis, physical deformities, etc., disappear immediately and completely. Though a great number of miracles have been physical, the most spectacular are the healing of faith where a new and deeper relationship with God and His saints are formed in the faithful. It is a most wonderful thing to see a parish, school, or prison renewed after an exposition. That is the reason why I have this ministry.

How did you acquire your collection of saints’ relics?

I work with the Holy See, thus acquiring relics for the ministry is part of my job. The Vatican is “relic central.” The collection changes regularly. Relics are swapped in and swapped out, depending upon such things as where in the world the ministry will be. If certain saints are particularly beloved in a certain part of the world, I will try to include their relics on that particular tour.

What spiritual value do relics have for Catholics?

The veneration of relics is a communion with the heroes of our Christian faith, asking for their powerful intercession. As St. Paul tells us, they are members of the Body of Christ. One day, the very remains that we are looking at within a particular reliquary will be resurrected and re-united with the soul of its saint. Nevertheless, that soul, who is even now beholding God face to face, is just as present to their mortal remains here and now. In some sense, one can say that the closest you can get to a saint is through their relics. And people are very touched by that reality.

Any other thoughts?

Attendees are encouraged to bring their articles of devotion (such as rosaries, holy cards, etc.) and pictures of ill friends/family members which may be touched to the reliquaries as a means of intercessory prayer.

Mary and my brace of Saints

All my life, I had the custom of writing JMJ on the top of every piece of paper I wrote on. This was a common practice in my day. I remember Bishop Fulton Sheen used to do it on the top of his chalk board on his TV show. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are certainly the three people most central to salvation history. Jesus, of course, as the second person of the Trinity is not only man, but is God. Mary, who is the Mother of God, has long been venerated as the Queen of the Angles and Saints; and St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, among many other titles, is honored as the Patron of the Universal Church.

Tom Monaghan

Over time, I have added four more saints to the list. First, my patron saint, St. Thomas the Apostle. Then, being Irish, I invoke St. Patrick’s intercession; without him, I probably would not be Catholic, nor most of us who are of European descent. It is said that he was blessed with the same power as the Apostles to work miracles, even raising the dead. Recently, after learning about St. Rita of Cascia, the patron saint of the impossible, I added her to my list. Countless miracles have been attributed to her intercession. And finally is St. Sharbel, whom I learned about from the Maronite monks who serve our chapel community at Domino’s Farms. (They celebrate four Masses daily and hear about 500 confessions weekly.) St. Sharbel is the patron saint of the Maronites, and is referred to as one of the greatest saints of our time.

I am not aware of any saints who are responsible for more miracles than Saints Patrick, Rita, and Sharbel. Bing Crosby used to refer to the Mills Brothers as a “brace” of guys. I liked the sound of that and adopted it to describe my short litany of saints. I ask for the intercession of Mary and my brace of saints every time I pick up a sheet of paper to write on. I also ask for their intercession every day after I receive Communion, as I pray for humility, charity, and for whatever other intentions I have at the time.

As we start the month of November with the Feast of All Saints, I thought I would share my personal devotion to Mary, and my brace of saints. The Church encourages us to develop relationships with saints – whether it be those who share our baptismal or confirmation name or those who we have just a special devotion to. So, during this month, maybe think about coming up with your own personal litany of saints.

TOM MONAGHAN is Legatus’ founder, chairman, and CEO.

Growing up with La Madonna

As we watched on TV the 13th-century Christian masterpiece of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burn in surreal fashion on Holy Monday of Holy Week, it begged many questions. Was it a modern-day metaphor for the widespread wreckage of the faith? Or a burning parallel to contemporary trashing of Mary’s holy integrity through defacing her truths and images – or in so-called entertainment? Did it mimic the apparent collapse of longtime teachings and traditions of the Church, and of the Mass and sacraments?

Christine Valentine-Owsik

This charred iconic church, where faithful gathered under Mary’s patronage since the great Christian Renaissance, involved the toil of workers for centuries. Among priceless items saved were The Blessed Sacrament, Christ’s crown of thorns, the altar, Holy Cross, and others.

I would guess that what made many of those devoted workers in the 12th and 13th centuries give their lives to building and beautifying that great cathedral was not unlike the allegiance to Mary that many of us absorbed from our own devout lineage — especially parents and grandparents.

My first impression of Mary didn’t come through any formal instruction. It came from my Italian grandmother, whose name was Mary, an immigrant working as a Philadelphia garment-factory seamstress. A beautiful Madonna picture hung beside her basement sewing machine. As a child, I often walked with her several blocks to the parish church in West Philadelphia, still under construction as it had been for years (for lack of funds which begun during the Great Depression). She pointed out the precious Jesus, Mary, and Joseph statues, mosaics, and carvings – reminding me who they were, and telling me of the Italian towns and artists who produced them. The parish had an Italian priest, and she didn’t hesitate to gabble with him – hands waving, laughing, making requests, and blessing herself when we left. She did the sewing and repairing of their altar cloths, priests’ vestments, and nuns’ habits. Father usually had a huge bagful waiting for her. At the Italian butcher on the way home, he always greeted her as Bella Maria.

On warm nights after cooking and cleanup were done, she’d sit outside her cozy rowhouse, in her porch chair near the rose bush planted for Mary, and recite prayers in Italian – the rosary, prayers to the Holy Family, and to Mother Cabrini (of whom she was eminently proud as America’s first immigrant-saint). Her prayers were typically interrupted with “hellos” from neighbors walking by, and from the much-awaited street vendor, Tony’s huckster truck. We’d hear him coming almost a mile away, announcing his ‘specials’ via megaphone … baccala (salted codfish), tomatoes, and cucuzza (Italian summer squash, which we called “ca-GOOTZ”). She’d send me to the truck to get what she wanted, and I could see a Scotch-taped picture of La Madonna on the inside wall. At the time, I resented chasing Tony’s raucous food truck up the street for Italian stuff I thought no one else ate.

But those inspiring days – with so many infused lessons – live on as a great treasure.

La Madonna really lived among us.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

The song that God loves to hear

In 1983, there began a series of apparitions in Argentina to a simple, uneducated woman named Gladys Quiroga de Motta. As in so many other apparitions in this century, the rosary would be the central theme. From the start of the apparitions, Mary appeared to Gladys holding Baby Jesus in one arm and displaying a large rosary that stretched across both her hands. In the apparition of November 26, 1983, Mary expressed the desire to be known as “Our Lady of the Rosary of San Nicolás.” On the following day, Gladys visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Rosario (a town near San Nicolás) and saw a statue of Our Lady that she claimed was an exact representation of what Mary looked like during the previous day’s apparition. Upon inquiring, Gladys was informed that this particular statue of Our Lady of the Rosary had been given to Argentina in 1884 by Pope Leo XIII for use in the cathedral of Rosario. At some point during construction of the cathedral, it had been placed in the bell tower and forgotten. Below is the account that Gladys gave regarding this episode:

For the first time, I saw a statue of the Virgin that is the same as what I see. It had been stored away at the cathedral. This image of Our Lady of the Rosary, that had been brought from Rome to San Nicolas 100 years ago, for the inauguration of the cathedral, [and was] blessed for that intention by Pope Leo XIII. Our Lady said to me: “They had me in oblivion, but I have reappeared; place me there [where Mary requested a shrine to be constructed] because you see me such as I am.”

In 1990, the local bishop gave his approval for the publication and distribution of the messages given to Gladys by Our Lady. There were no less than 1,800 messages! Even after the local bishop gave his approval for the spread of the messages, Gladys continued to have almost daily apparitions. …[She] requested the rosary be prayed every day, especially among families and in groups, and specifically asked that a perpetual novena of the rosary be undertaken by the local people…These apparitions were officially approved by the diocesan bishop on May 22, 2016.

… Mary described the rosary as a song that God loves to hear and a tie that binds us to our spiritual mother. Our Lady stressed that the rosary is so powerful that it can change the heart of anyone for the better [and] has the greatest influence in overcoming evil; every danger can be faced with the rosary…One of the most powerful messages Mary gave was on April 10, 1986 when she said: “The holy rosary is the weapon which the enemy fears. It is also the refuge of those who look for relief for their sufferings, and it is the door to enter into my heart.”

Excerpt from Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon, by Donald H. Calloway, MIC (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2016), pp. 150-51, “San Nicolás, Argentina (1983-1990).” www.frcalloway.com. Used with permission.

Modern-day prodigal son, FR. DONALD CALLOWAY, MIC, is a convert to Catholicism and a member of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. Prior to his conversion he was a school dropout and involved in crime. A prolific author on Mary and other faith topics, he is a popular speaker on the Divine Mercy, and has written seven books.


“My impression is that the rosary is of greatest value not only according to the words of Our Lady at Fatima, but according to the effects of the rosary one sees throughout history. My impression is that Our Lady wanted to give ordinary people, who might not know how to pray, this simple method of getting closer to God.” Sister Lúcia of Fatima

Mary at the Rock’N’Bowl

John Blancher Sr. knew more about brokering crawfish than bowling when he took over New Orleans’ Mid-City Bowling Lanes in 1988, but he had a real pro for a partner in the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The father-and-son team of John and Johnny Blancher, members of Legatus’ New Orleans Chapter, pose for a photo at the Rock’n’Bowl.

On a pilgrimage earlier that year to Medjugorje, site of reported Marian apparitions, Blancher had petitioned Mary for help in finding a business that would enable him to better provide for his family. A week after his return to New Orleans, a friend asked if he wanted to buy a bowling alley.

“I said, ‘A bowling alley!?’ I had bowled, but never in a league. I didn’t know anything about bowling.”

Nor did he know that soon he would be transforming the struggling business into the Rock’n’Bowl, now one of New Orleans’ most popular night spots.

Help from above

Blancher, a member of Legatus’ New Orleans Chapter with his wife Deborah, took over the bowling alley on All Saints Day in 1988, thinking it might make a good party venue or a sports bar. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I really just went on faith and said, ‘If this is it, let me know.’”

He hung a picture of Our Lady of Medjugorje over the staircase and painted the place what he calls “Blessed Mother Blue.” Only Deborah knew that Mary had inspired the acquisition. Everyone else, he said, thought he was crazy.

“If I had told them the Blessed Mother wants me to do this, they really would have thought I was nuts.”

rocknbowl-maryDeborah believed otherwise. “I knew that Mary was very powerful, and if he thought that Mary told him to buy this bowling alley, I was all behind it.”

More than a month later on Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Blancher’s application for a business loan was rejected. He went straight to Mary. “Blessed Mother,” he said, “this was not my idea. I only did it because I thought it was what you wanted me to do.”

Blancher says he somehow managed to keep things going. Deborah taught school during the day and helped at the bowling alley a few nights per week and on Sundays. A newspaper story generated more customers, and then the theater crowd discovered Mid-City as a place to dance to juke box music and bowl on Saturday nights.

“That was the first influx of fun-loving, celebrating people,” Blancher recalled. More stories appeared about people hanging out at a retro bowling alley. After adding live music on Friday nights, Blancher renamed Mid-City the Rock‘n’Bowl. “It was suddenly a sensation — almost the hottest music club in town.”

Divine Providence

The club’s growth didn’t stop, and neither did Blancher. With his prayers for his family answered, he was now thinking about the family’s future. His son Johnny and son-in-law Jimmy Hankins were working with him, but he knew the Rock‘n’Bowl wasn’t enough to sustain everyone long-term. When he heard that the owners of Ye Olde College Inn down the street wanted to sell, Blancher offered to buy the restaurant with plans to have his son and son-in-law run and eventually own it.

After the sale, in keeping with his devotion to Mary, Blancher searched for an image of her to hang in the restaurant, but could only find a depiction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When one of the former owners saw it, he told Blancher that he and his wife had made a novena to the Sacred Heart, asking for a buyer for their property. “On the ninth day of the novena is when you called,” he said.

Both businesses have since been consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary with the help of Legatus chaplain Fr. Jim Wehner and the seminarians at Notre Dame Seminary. Father Wehner is rector of the seminary, which is across South Carrollton Avenue from the College Inn and Rock‘n’Bowl.

Although the College Inn has always been on South Carrollton, it wasn’t until four years after Hurricane Katrina that Rock‘n’Bowl moved there. The business had survived Katrina and was the first in its neighborhood to reopen at the original location after the storm. But as property became available near the College Inn in the wake of the hurricane, the Blanchers decided to relocate Rock‘n’Bowl to a site behind the restaurant. The College Inn, meanwhile, moved to another building on the property after the storm destroyed its original building.

“Now, we’re all on the same footprint across from the seminary, the archbishop’s home and archdiocesan headquarters,” said son Johnny Blancher, also a member of Legatus’ New Orleans Chapter. “It’s sort of a Catholic corridor down here. We couldn’t have planned it if we’d tried.”

“It may be coincidental,” added his father, “but when the Lord has a plan, you don’t always see the plan while it’s happening. When it’s all over, you recognize all the things that went into it.”

National phenomenon

"If I had told them the Blessed Mother wants me to do this, they really would have thought I was nuts ‘‘ John Blancher Sr.

“If I had told them the Blessed Mother wants me to do this, they really would have thought I was nuts ‘‘ John Blancher, Sr.

John Blancher said his faith in God’s providence extends to promoting the business. “In some kind of way, the magazines, the articles, they just come. I’m just a tool that the Blessed Mother uses occasionally to get her message out.”

In 1995, for example, a 19-page National Geographic article on New Orleans included an entire page about Blancher, his trip to Medjugorje and Mary’s influence on his business, spawning stories by other national media, including USA Today, Rolling Stone and the Today Show.

“All of a sudden, [Rock’n’Bowl] wasn’t a local phenomenon, but a national phenomenon and tourists started coming,” he said.

Even better, Blancher said, “Every story mentions the Blessed Mother. There’s no way it’s a coincidence. I’m trying to make this be a testament to her love and her power. I really don’t go out pursuing it. It just comes.”

Blancher, 63, also believes Mary and her Son saw him through a health crisis earlier this year. Despite what he called “almost legendary” endurance that was regularly demonstrated on the Rock‘n’Bowl dance floor, he began noticing a change in his heartbeat during exertion.

Knowing his father had had a heart attack and bypass surgery, he requested a cardiac evaluation, which revealed three major blockages. On June 1, the start of the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Blancher had triple-bypass surgery.

Johnny Blancher, who shares his father’s devotion to Mary and Jesus, said, “The Blessed Mother’s been good to our whole family. She’s kept us safe and healthy and, in some kind of way, we always end up through our trials and tribulations better than we were before. I attribute that to her and her Son.”

The Blanchers’ faith is evident in the way their business gives back to the Church. They often make Rock‘n’Bowl available for Catholic fundraisers, and on designated nights, give 20% of net College Inn sales to Catholic schools and other groups.

Father Wehner said Rock‘n’Bowl also is host for an evening of bowling and food for the incoming class of Notre Dame seminarians each year as well as for Legatus events. In addition, the Blanchers sponsor a nativity scene on the seminary campus each Christmas and have turned a piece of adjoining property owned by the Archdiocese of New Orleans into a spiritual greenspace where they maintain a vegetable garden for the restaurant and have placed Divine Mercy and Marian images, as well as the stations of the cross.

“I think what’s most important,” Fr. Wehner said, “is that as business leaders, they’re successful, but their faith is an inspiration for their success.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

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Feminine genius leads to Our Lady

Editor PATRICK NOVECOSKY writes that the Catholic Church has always elevated women . . .

Patrick Novecosky

Patrick Novecosky

Despite the cries of secularists that the Catholic Church keeps women down by not ordaining them to the priesthood, the exact opposite is true. The Church has always been a champion of the “feminine genius.”

The early Church recognized the pivotal role of Our Lady in salvation history. The Third Ecumenical Council in 431 was held in a church dedicated to Our Lady. Council Fathers condemned Nestorius who questioned the title of Mary as “Mother of God.” The Church went on to hail the “first disciple” under many titles, including Queen of Heaven and Earth. As the model for all Christians, she is the one who Revelation says will crush Satan.

But what about women in our day and age? There has been no greater champion of modern women than St. John Paul the Great, who was elected after decades of modern “feminism” wreaked havoc on our culture. He responded with the “Theology of the Body,” his first major teaching given during 129 Wednesday audiences from 1979 to 1984. The Theology of the Body is a response to certain distorted ideas fundamental to the sexual revolution.

Christ “assigns the dignity of every woman as a task to every man,” John Paul said at his general audience on Nov. 24, 1982, “and simultaneously … he also assigns to every woman the dignity of every man.”

He continued in 1988 with the apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem on the dignity of women. The letter advocates the complementary roles of men and women in line with the philosophy of new feminism. He went a step further with his 1995 Letter to Women in which he appealed to all states, nations, and institutional organizations to improve conditions of work and life for women around the world.

Tom Monaghan was intent on following John Paul’s lead when, in founding Legatus in 1987, he insisted that spouses (most of them women) be granted full membership in the organization. Over the years the number of female executive members has grown rapidly. More women have taken leadership positions at the chapter level and on Legatus’ board of governors. (Click here for a related story.)

Men and women are equal in dignity and worth, the Church teaches, but they’re also different on purpose as part of God’s plan for humanity. While the world seeks to keep women enslaved with contraception, abortion and other vices, we recognize women’s irreplaceable gifts. As John Paul II wrote: “The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the ‘feminine genius’ and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration.”

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.

The Mary month of May

Monsignor Connelly writes that Catholics have a host of reasons to celebrate in May . . .

Monsignor Chris Connelly

Monsignor Chris Connelly

May is an especially significant month. It’s a month that begs us to recall so many aspects of our nation, our culture and our faith that we hold dear.

Memorial Day prompts all Americans to recall with gratitude the military personnel and others who have secured for this nation the irreplaceable treasures of freedom and peace. Mothers Day annually provides the opportunity to be particularly mindful of women who have shared the precious gift of life, as living mothers are honored and the deceased are prayerfully remembered.

In the Church, the Marian month is often a time for youngsters to receive First Holy Communion, a popular month also to celebrate marriage and other worthy moments in the sacramental life.

We recall and commemorate the saints of the Church on particular solemnities and feast days throughout the liturgical year, and May is no exception. In addition to Our Lady who is especially honored, many holy ancestors in the Catholic faith are highlighted. To review a few:

May 1: Saint Joseph the Worker. May 2: St. Athanasius, bishop and Doctor of the Church. May 3: Sts. Philip and James, apostles. May 10: St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai, priest. May 13: Our Lady of Fatima. May 14: St. Matthias, apostle. May 15: St. Isidore the farmer. May 18: St. John I, pope and martyr. May 20: St. Bernardine of Siena, priest. May 22: St. Rita of Cascia, religious. May 25: St. Bede the Venerable, priest and Doctor of the Church. May 25: St. Gregory VII, pope and St. Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi, virgin. May 26: St. Philip Neri, priest. May 27: St. Augustine of Canterbury, bishop. May 31: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

All the holy men and women of May and the entire communion of saints point the way to Jesus Christ and, from their place in heaven, forever inspire the faithful. It’s providential that a month traditionally dedicated to the Blessed Mother begins with St. Joseph and draws to completion on the Feast of the Visitation.

Consider Mary’s prayer: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Of this initial line of the Magnificat, St. Bede offered in a homily, “With these words Mary first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God’s universal favors, bestowed unceasingly on the human race.”

Mary’s prayer encourages all who endeavor to grow in faith to be mindful of the favors, the gifts that God lavishly provides. When Mary, the Immaculate handmaid of the Lord, said “yes” to the message of the archangel, she followed the One who bestows universal favors, and the human race would never, ever be the same. Mary trusted in the will of God to the fullest measure: “Blessed are you Mary because you believed that the Lord’s words to you would be fulfilled.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the teaching from Lumen Gentium, notes, “Thus, giving her consent to God’s word, Mary becomes the mother of Jesus. Espousing the divine will for salvation wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son; she did so in order to serve the mystery of redemption with him and dependent on him, by God’s grace” (#494).

Men and women of Legatus, and all who hold the Catholic Church dear, have reason to rejoice in this month of May, with Mary and all the holy ones. Striving daily to fulfill the Pauline mandate to become ambassadors for Christ, Legates rely not on any human power, rather on faith, ever mindful of the power and greatness of God alone.

Saint Bede concluded his reflection on Mary by encouraging all humanity, “When a man devotes all his thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, he proclaims God’s greatness. His observance of God’s commands, moreover, shows that he has God’s power and greatness always at heart. His spirit rejoices in God his savior and delights in the mere recollection of his creator who gives him hope for eternal salvation.”

MONSIGNOR CHRISTOPHER D. CONNELLY is the chaplain of Legatus’ Western Massachusetts Chapter and vicar general of the Diocese of Springfield, Mass.

Was Mary perfect?

Mary could have decided not to participate in God’s divine plan, but she didn’t . . .

Fr. John Trigilio

The quality of perfection in Mary centers on the theological fact that she is the mother of God. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary teaches that she was preserved from original sin from the first moment of her conception in the womb of St. Ann.

This preservation is an attribute of perfection. Think of a stained glass window. There are many pieces of colored glass that come together to form a magnificent picture. Salvation is like a stained glass window. There are many pieces of doctrine that come together  to form our salvific history. Mary is the daughter of God, our heavenly Father, mother of Jesus, and spouse of the Holy Spirit. She is central in the plan of salvation. Therefore, God perfected her like no other in creation.

Being preserved from original sin means she did not have to suffer the consequences of sin—namely death. However, the perfections of Mary in no way obliterated her free will. Throughout her life, Mary always made a free will act of love and obedience to God. In the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel announced God’s plan for Mary to become the mother of God. Mary questioned the Archangel, “How can this be since I do not know man?” Then the Archangel responded by saying that the conception of Jesus would be of divine origin; in other words, the Holy Spirit would overshadow her. Mary responded, “Yes, Thy will be done.”

This simple response is a powerful testimony to the perfection of Mary’s spiritual life. Indeed, God endowed Mary with many special privileges, graces and attributes because she was to be the mother of God; however, it was her humility and obedience to the Father that is the hallmark testimony of her faith.

She could have said no. She could have decided not to participate in God’s divine plan and done her own thing. Yet she did the opposite; she united her will to God’s will: “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” In her humble obedience, not only did she exalt women and motherhood, but she also expounded by her example what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

The disobedience of Adam and Eve brought us into the mess of sin, and it was the obedience of the new Eve (Mary) and the new Adam (Jesus) that brought about redemption and salvation. This perfection of Mary is an example for any faithful follower of her Son to practice: “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

Reprinted with permission from The Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions by Rev. John Trigilio Jr. and Rev. Kenneth D. Brighenti (Sourcebooks, 2007).

Catechism 101

But while, in the most Blessed Virgin, the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle, the faithful still strive to conquer sin and increase in holiness. And so they turn their eyes to Mary: in her, the Church is already the “all-holy.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #829

Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #491