Editor's Note: Included in the Register's Catholic Identity College Guide, which can be found here.
Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., took another step forward in its strong Marian devotion Sept. 8: It consecrated the college to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the feast of her Nativity.
The day’s consecration ceremony began with Mass at St. Benedict’s Abbey Church and included a procession to the Marian shrines around the campus and the blessing of the new 21-foot fountain statue of Our Lady of Grace at the center of the main quad.
"In recent years, we’ve relied upon and called upon the Blessed Virgin Mary many times for her intercession for the college," said Benedictine’s president, Stephen Minnis, who then shared examples:
"We created Memorare Armies for enrollment increases, which happened; for the building of the Mary Grotto, which happened; for the building of the new Ferrell Academic Center, which happened."
The college expanded its Memorare Army into a national campaign for religious liberty in 2012, with more than three million Memorares pledged.
"We called on the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she has interceded on our behalf, and success has come to the college. It becomes clear we hold a special place in our heart for her," Minnis said. "We always say Benedictine College is chosen by Mary to be in this place at this time."
This Marian connection goes back to the foundation of the 155-year-old college.
"In many ways, Benedictine College owes its very existence to Mary, the Mother of God," said Minnis, recounting the dramatic story linked to the founder of St. Benedict’s Abbey and the college.
In 1856, Benedictine Father Henry Lemke found himself in the middle of a driving rainstorm on the pitch-black prairie. Lost, disoriented and exhausted, he ended up in a ditch, with water pouring on him.
"At the time, he thought he was not going to come out alive," related Minnis. "Father Lemke was a convert to the faith and had not really asked for Mary’s intercession [before], because it was not part of his upbringing. But he looked to heaven and said, ‘Mary, I have never called upon you before; but if you can help me, I’ll be forever devoted to you.’
"At that moment, a faint light shone in the distance — a light that had not been there before. The light gave him hope. He crawled out of that ditch toward the light."
It was a lantern in the only window of a prairie house. The mother there told him the family was in their beds, but when her 9-year-old daughter called for her, she lit a lantern and put it on the window sill.
The child said she was awakened by a woman dressed in white, who was standing at the foot of her bed and told her to call for her mother.
"Father Henry believed that was the Blessed Virgin Mary interceding to save his life," Minnis explained. "Two years later, he founded our college." That was 1858, the same year a "woman in white" appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes.
"If Father Henry lost his life that night on the prairie, you and I would not be speaking today," Minnis said. "That’s why I believe the Blessed Virgin Mary has chosen this place through her intercession to save his life and also chosen us to be as successful as we’ve been in the last several years, through enrollment increases and important building on our campus."
Mary’s Grotto, which was dedicated on the 150th anniversary of both the college and the Lourdes apparition, is constructed much like the Lourdes original, including stones from the shrine in France.
"There’s no question we owe a great deal of thanks to the Blessed Virgin Mary," said Minnis, who decided on the consecration not long after he participated in the 2012 "Ecclesia in America" international conference in Rome that was dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Star of the New Evangelization.
"I thought, ‘What a perfect time in our history to consecrate the college to the Blessed Virgin Mary.’ It was so significant and important to make a public statement of our love and reliance upon our Mother," Minnis said.
So important that the college invited every bishop in America and Marian and Catholic leaders to attend the consecration.
St. Benedict Abbey Abbot James Albers, the main celebrant of the Mass and the consecration ceremony, also blessed the new statue of Our Lady of Grace.
The college decided to re-create this beautiful statue from photos of the original one that once stood by St. Benedict Hall, the college’s original academic building that was built in 1910. The fountain deteriorated and was removed some years ago.
The new statue joins several different images of Mary around campus, noted Abbot James, who, as a student at Benedictine, founded the school’s annual March for Life trip to Washington.
Abbot James explained the importance of the consecration. "If we use Mary as our model for contemplation, as she ‘pondered all these things in her heart,’ we see that beauty of developing that relationship with Christ through Mary’s intercession," he said. "She is that model for us on how we develop that relationship through prayer and meditation. Life would be pretty dry and unfulfilling if we didn’t have that relationship."
Abbot James emphasized: "She is the avenue of Christ to the world. We need to model our Yes on her Yes in bringing Christ to the world."
Elated students see the consecration as another step forward in Marian devotion on campus.
"Mary is a part of our central formation, and our Mother is the way to Christ’s heart," said senior Kate Kyle. "It only makes sense that we consecrate ourselves to her here, where we spend nine months of the year."
Kyle noted the number of students who consecrate themselves to Mary on Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, each year, after completing the St. Louis de Montfort method of Marian devotion. Minnis puts the number at 250 annually.
That doesn’t include others like Kyle and her fiancé, senior Jeff Reimer, who together used Marian Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory Marian consecration preparation.
Kyle emphasized the way students pray at Mary’s Grotto — located at the heart of the campus — and pray the Rosary every Wednesday with President Minnis.
Kyle said this Marian devotion extends to the classroom: "Many of the professors remind us of how important Mary is in our faith lives, that through Mary we can be closer to Christ’s heart and live our lives in a more efficient and straighter path to salvation."
Senior Michela Brooks, who completed her personal consecration to Mary during her freshman year, is excited to see the impact of the school-wide consecration: "The consecration is bringing all the little aspects of devotion to Mary to one larger act of devotion."
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.