“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided ...”
The opening words of the centuries-old Memorare profess a powerful belief and truth about our Blessed Mother’s aid — of which devotees, like St. Teresa of Calcutta, can attest.
“The Memorare is a prayer that effectively expressed Mother Teresa’s trust in the power of Mary’s intercession as the mediatrix of all graces,” explained Father Brian Kolodiejchuk of the Missionaries of Charity, who was postulator for Mother Teresa’s sainthood cause. “It flowed from the love and confidence she had in Mary and was a simple way to present her petitions to her.”
Mother Teresa saw it as an effective prayer because of her own experiences. “On numerous occasions she prayed the Memorare for various needs,” he said, “and the speedy response she received inspired her with ever greater confidence to have recourse to Mary with the words of the Memorare.”
She often resorted to what’s called her “Flying Novena.” Father Kolodiejchuk explained, “It consisted of nine Memorares, which she would pray as the need arose or a difficulty presented itself. She definitely inspired the same devotion in her sisters, but also in others.”
He quoted Mother Teresa herself describing one of scores of Memorare novenas: “In Rome during the Holy Year (1984), the Holy Father was going to celebrate Mass in the open, and crowds of people were gathered. It was pouring rain, so I told the sisters, ‘Let us say a flying novena of nine Memorares to Our Lady in thanksgiving for beautiful weather.’ As we said two Memorares, it started to pour more rain. We said the third … sixth … seventh … and at the eighth one, all the umbrellas were closing, and when we finished the ninth one, we found all the umbrellas were closed ...” The weather had turned beautiful.
Mother Teresa’s friend and spiritual adviser, Msgr. Leo Maasburg, described her confidence in the Memorare in his book Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait. He called her “Flying Novena” her “spiritual rapid-fire weapon”: “She took the collaboration of heaven so much for granted that she always added a 10th Memorare immediately, in thanksgiving for the favor received.”
“This is the most beautiful prayer,” Mother Teresa would say, as quoted by Father Kolodiejchuk. “When we wanted to get a motherhouse, I promised Our Lady 85,000 Memorares. We were just very few sisters, and how to say so many Memorares? So we gathered all our poor children and all the people and taught them to say the Memorare — and soon we got this house.”
Turning to Mary
The saint’s example has inspired President Stephen Minnis of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. When he took the helm in 2006, that summer it appeared as if enrollment was going to decrease. So he shared the story of Mother Teresa and the 85,000 Memorares with his team of 10.
He recounted telling his staff, “Let us commit ourselves to pray 1,200 Memorares apiece” for an increase in enrollment. “But we got 25 praying, which far surpassed my dream. By the end (of those Memorares), we got 1,232 students, almost 200 more than predicted during the summer. Mary had really helped us with that,” he told the Register.
In 2008, Minnis formed Benedictine’s first “Memorare Army.” “When we wanted to build a grotto and new building, we asked for 1,000 Memorares apiece, hoping to get 50 people. We wound up with 375 people. They promised to pray the 1,000 Memorares apiece for success in building the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.” Joining this army were the likes of Coach Lou Holtz and speaker Immaculée Ilibagiza. Ground was broken for the grotto in 2008, the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions at Lourdes and of the college’s founding. The grotto was dedicated in 2009.
And the school offered a public consecration to Mary Sept. 8, 2013.
In 2012, when Minnis saw an increase of attacks in America regarding religious liberty and the First Amendment, he sought “enlistees” for the Memorare Army to pray 1,000 Memorares apiece. He said, “300 people signed up. That means 3 million Memorares were prayed for religious liberty in this country.”
The latest effort for the Memorare Army was in 2017, in praying for a science building to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the science major on campus. That building is currently under construction.
“Mary has continued to grace us with her love and her support,” Minnis explained.
“This is the five-year anniversary of our public consecration of the college to Mary. … We like to think it’s because we are committed to her as well with the Memorare Army.”
Minnis added, “The prayer itself has been a real strength of ours, and of mine personally. People who have heard of this story have started their own Memorare Armies, hearing of our success and how Mary interceded on our behalf.”
Upon hearing of Benedictine’s Memorare initiatives, the Catholic schools in Traverse City, Michigan, adopted the prayer.
“We set a goal of half a million Memorares said to increase enrollment,” said Eric Mulvany of the superintendent’s administration. “We did achieve that number.” And enrollment increased. “We are still praying the Memorare for enrollment. We continue with that prayer, as we do other prayers,” he added.
The Memorare has proven its effectiveness for centuries, exhibited in testimonies from the laity to the saints. Our Blessed Mother came to the aid of doctor of the Church St. Francis de Sales, when he was a 16th-century teenage student experiencing spiritual torments. His confusion suddenly disappeared as he knelt in a Paris church before a statue of the Blessed Mother, the Notre Dame de Bonne Délivrance, known as the “Black Madonna of Paris,” imploring her help through the Memorare.
He credited her for “saving him from falling into despair or heresy.” He became a devotee of the Memorare, praying it daily.
The prayer is usually attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, but he didn’t compose it. The book Familiar Prayers: Their Origin and History details that the great popularizer of this prayer is Father Claude Bernard (1588−1641), who learned it from his father and through it was himself miraculously cured of serious illness. He printed more than 200,000 leaflets in various languages as an aid to his ministry of evangelizing prisoners. Many converted.
The Memorare has been credited for numerous conversions through the centuries.
Alphonse Ratisbonne lived in 19th-century France, determined and unwavering in his Jewish beliefs. At the persistent request of a Catholic acquaintance, he reluctantly consented to wearing a Miraculous Medal and reciting the Memorare daily. Later he wrote: “As I walked along I could not help repeating the words of the Memorare. Whence was it, O my God, that these words had taken so firm, so deep hold on my mind?” Shortly after, waiting in church for a friend, he saw a vision of the Virgin Mary, an apparition that was eventually approved by the Vatican. Ratisbonne became a priest, devoting himself to the conversion of the Jews. He and his brother Theodore, also a priest, founded the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion for the conversion of Jews, and Muslims, in the Holy Land.
Janet Erskine Stuart, an Anglican, converted to Catholicism through praying the Memorare. She became a nun and in 1911 was elected superior general of the Society of the Sacred Heart, following St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in that role.
In 1909, Mother Janet Stuart wrote, “Did I ever tell you how Our Lady came into my life? It was by the Memorare. … It took me off my feet at once … and I said it constantly and clung to it as the first definite something that seemed to come authentically after my seven years of groping in the dark.”
Perfect for Families
Joe and Megan Wurtz have known the power of the Memorare for years.
At the conclusion of their family Rosary, they always pray the Memorare with their five children, who range in age from 3 to 14.
“My wife has a strong devotion to Our Lady, and when we got married, we committed to saying the Memorare together,” said Joe, dean of students at Benedictine College.
“We always do evening prayer together, and after all is said and done, Megan and I do our Memorare before bedtime. That has become our prayer as a couple. For our marriage, it’s become our central Marian prayer outside the Rosary. The Memorare is the one we pray most often.”
And they enlisted in the Benedictine “army.” “We signed up right away for the Memorare Army,” Joe said. The prayer’s blessings are known to even the youngest Wurtzes, as Joe explained: “The children know that prayer by heart.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.