Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave, James Hemings, Introduced French Cuisine to America.
Every saint has a feast day, but one could argue that the entire calendar belongs to Mary. Literally each day of the year marks a feast of Our Lady of Something or Other. If you are interested, there is a complete list circulating online, although every year or so the list migrates to a different website.
But a little digging in a good library reveals that Mary’s influence is even more pervasive. Every day of the year is not just a feast day of the Blessed Mother, it is also an anniversary of a Marian-related event in art, music, politics, film, education, literature, even sports. Of course, it’s not possible to list all 365 Marian anniversaries in one article, but we can look at some of the high points.
January 7-8: The intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor grants Americans the victory at the Battle of New Orleans, 1815.
On January 7, 1815, on the outskirts of New Orleans, General Andrew Jackson assembled his motley army of 3500 militiamen, civilians, African-American slaves, and pirates (under the command of the pirates’ captain, Jean Lafite) and prepared to face an army of 13,000 British. Back in the city, the Ursuline nuns and many citizens of New Orleans crowded into the sisters’ chapel to pray before the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor (which means “quick help”) that Americans would defeat the British. The Ursulines made a vow to the Blessed Mother: if, by her prayers, she secured victory for the Americans, the nuns would have a Mass offered every year on the anniversary of the battle.
Religious and laity prayed throughout the night. At dawn, as a priest entered the sanctuary to say Mass, a messenger ran into the chapel shouting, “Victory is ours!” Jackson had defeated the British in a fight that lasted 25 minutes.
The sisters kept their promise. To this day, on the anniversary of the battle, a Mass of Thanksgiving is celebrated at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on the grounds of New Orleans’ Ursuline Academy.
May 13: The Rosary hits the airwaves with the debut of The Family Rosary Crusade, 1945.
Patrick Peyton (1909-1992) was born on his family’s farm in County Mayo, Ireland. Every night, the family knelt down and prayed the rosary together. The rosary became the bedrock of Peyton’s spiritual life.
At age 18 he immigrated to America where he entered the seminary of the Holy Cross Fathers at the University of Notre Dame. Before he could be ordained a priest, Peyton suffered a near-fatal case of tuberculosis. He attributed his cure to the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and in thanksgiving, began what he hoped would become nationwide campaign to promote daily recitation of the rosary. He christened his movement “the Family Rosary Crusade” and chose as it’s motto, “The family that prays together, stays together.”
To reach the widest audience possible, he convinced a radio executive to give him airtime on the Mutual Broadcasting System. For his first program Father Peyton had an all-star line-up: Cardinal Francis Spellman spoke; the Sullivan Family of Iowa, whose five sons had died in combat when their ship went down in the Pacific, led the rosary; and Catholic crooner, Bing Cosby, of Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s fame, appeared as a special guest. The show was a hit, and subsequent programs featured such prominent Catholic celebrities as Pat O'Brien, Loretta Young, Grace Kelly, and James Cagney.
July 29: Pope Callixtus III instructs all Catholic churches to ring their bells each day at dawn, noon, and dusk in honor of the Incarnation, 1456.
No one knows when it became a tradition among Catholics to begin and the end the working day with the recitation of three Hail Marys, but this was the origin of the Angelus. At some point, again we don’t have an exact date, the custom expanded to include three Hail Marys recited at midday.
The devotion is brief, easy to pray, and is a reminder, in the midst of our daily busy-ness and distractions, of all that we owe to Christ Our Lord and Mary Our Mother.
To pray the Angelus say:
The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary and she conceived of the Holy Spirit. Then pray a Hail Mary.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word. Then pray a Hail Mary.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Then pray a Hail Mary. (It’s a centuries-old tradition that when reciting the verse, “The Word was made flesh,” one genuflects.)
August 27: Michelangelo accepts a commission to sculpt a pieta, 1498.
A French cardinal, Jean Bilheres de Lagraulas, wanted a pieta for his burial chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica, so he signed a contract with an up-and-coming, 23-year-old sculptor from Florence named Michelangelo Buonarroti. It took Michelangelo two years to complete the job, and the result was a masterpiece. He depicted Mary as lovely, youthful, and serene even in her grief, and Christ as young, strong, and handsome even in death.
Once it had been set in place in St. Peter’s, the statue attracted a lot of attention. Understandably proud of his work, Michelangelo began to loiter, in a casual, unobtrusive kind of way, in the French cardinal’s chapel so he could overhear what visitors said about his sculpture. What he heard did not please him. As Michelangelo had not signed his Pieta, everyone speculated about the identity of the sculptor—and no one guessed it was Michelangelo. Deeply insulted, very late one night Michelangelo slipped back into St. Peter’s, clambered up onto the altar, pulled out his hammer and chisel, and carved into the ribbon that crosses the Virgin’s breast, “MICHAELAGELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBAT,” which means, “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this.”
October 13: Pope Pius XII names Our Lady of Ghisallo the patron of bicyclists, 1949.
On this day Catholic bicyclists, amateurs a well as professionals, honor their patron, Our Lady of Ghisallo. The story of the shrine dates back to about 1135 when a band of robbers attacked the Count of Ghisallo. In fear for his life he called upon Our Lady for help, and she scattered the would-be killers. In thanksgiving the count built a chapel at the place where the Mother of God had come to his aid.
For 900 years the Ghisallo chapel was an obscure mountain shrine. Then came the first Tour de Lombardy bicycle race in 1905. Almost all the competitors were Italian and Catholic; finding a lovely little chapel dedicated to the Madonna at the summit of an especially grueling climb struck a chord among the racers. From that day bicyclists made Ghisallo a destination, stopping at the shrine to rest and pray to Our Lady for success in upcoming races.
In the 1940s an avid cycling fan, Father Ermelindo Vigano, was assigned to the shrine church. He made visiting cyclists welcome, and began collecting and displaying cycling memorabilia in a little museum he built. Then he decided to “go for the gold”: Father Vigano petitioned Pope Pius XII to formally proclaim Our Lady of Ghisallo the patron saint of cyclists, which the Holy Father granted in 1949.
December 25: The premier of The Song of Bernadette, 1943.
The Song of Bernadette, arguably the finest film ever made in which Our Lady plays a significant role, opened on Christmas Day, 1943. In one of the most memorable debuts in the history of Hollywood, 24-year-old Jennifer Jones dazzled audiences and the critics as St. Bernadette Soubirous, the French peasant girl who received a series of visions of the Blessed Virgin in a grotto outside the town of Lourdes.
The movie was blessed with a strong script, gorgeous music, and superb cinematography. And Jones was fortunate enough to work with a first-rate supporting cast that included Vincent Price and Lee J. Cobb, and the great character actors, Charles Bickford, Anne Revere, Gladys Cooper, and Blanche Yurka. Jennifer Jones won the Oscar for Best Actress, in spite of tough competition—Ingrid Bergman, Greer Garson, Joan Fontaine, and Jean Arthur had also been nominated that year.
In terms of box office receipts, The Song of Bernadette ranked among the top five films of 1943.
More Marian Anniversaries
- February 23: Ancient liturgical calendars list this as the day the Holy Family fled into Egypt to escape King Herod.
- March 21: Birthday of Lucia dos Santos, eldest of the three visionaries of Fatima, 1907.
- April 22: The manuscript of St. Louis de Montfort's classic, Total Consecration to Mary, lost for over 120 years, is rediscovered, 1842.
- June 6: The Catholic bishops of England consecrate the new Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, 399 years after the original was destroyed by Henry VIII, 1937.
- July 25: In a letter to his father, composer Franz Schubert describes the audience’s reaction to the debut of his hymn, Ave Maria, “[It] moved everyone to tears and made them feel devout,” 1825.
- September 26: The first Catholic hymnal published in the United States introduces American Catholics to a new Marian hymn from Europe, “O Sanctissima,” 1805
- October 10: Pope St. John Paul II consecrates the Third Millennium to the Mother of God, 2000.
- November 27: The Blessed Virgin appears to St. Catherine Laboure, giving her the design for the Miraculous Medal, 1830.
- December 12: The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, a Nahua Indian, inspires a massive conversion of 8 million Mexican Indians to the Catholic faith.