Image Courtesy of Preborn Jesus Ministry
When Bernadette Conklin came to practice the faith more fully through the Divine Mercy devotion, and then consecrated herself to Jesus through Mary in 2009, she didn’t realize where it would lead.
“The very next week, after Easter, when I attended the Divine Mercy Sunday celebration,” she recalled, “the words ‘There needs to be a greater devotion to Jesus within the womb of Mary’ were resonating in my soul for days.”
In short order, Conklin would be inspired to begin Preborn Jesus Ministry (PrebornJesus.com) in the Pittsburgh area, to bring to fruition a new icon called Vessel of the Preborn Jesus, and then to follow it with a statue combining the ministry and a specific role of our Blessed Mother in a unique statue called Mary, Ark of the New Covenant.
Conklin asked her son James to draw an image showing Jesus within Mary’s womb. Since he needed a model of a baby, Conklin said God provided the answer: Her search turned up pictures of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mother and Child in High Italian Renaissance. Among the images Da Vinci sketched was a study of a 9-month-old in the womb.
Then, while praying the Angelus during a Holy Hour in church, Conklin said, “The image came in my mind’s eye of the umbilical cord around Jesus, the physical lifeline between mother and child. Slowly, the umbilical cord turned into the Rosary. The Rosary is the spiritual umbilical cord of prayer, which is the spiritual lifeline in the battle between Mary and the evil one.”
From James’ initial sketch, Lea Ravotti completed a watercolor called Vessel of the Preborn Jesus. Conklin said the Archdiocese of St. Louis Respect Life Apostolate used it for its pro-life ministry. This image has been used by pregnancy care centers, and it appears on prayer cards from PrebornJesus.com.
“This is about a devotion to Jesus in the womb of Mary, an aspect of his life we haven’t contemplated enough,” Conklin said. “It helps us realize so many truths about the sanctity of life and Mary’s role in God’s plan.”
Then in 2011, reading Scott Hahn’s description of Mary as the Ark of the Covenant in his book Hail, Holy Queen, Conklin realized that Mary is the first tabernacle.
She also spotted the Catechism reference (2676): “Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells.”
Consequently, Conklin was inspired to have a unique statue of Mary, Ark of the New Covenant made. A 9-month-old Jesus is visible in the womb of the Virgin Mary, with the Rosary encircling him in the womb. Mary is atop the Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament, superseding it as the New Ark. The 12 stars on Mary’s crown, each a Swarovski crystal star in a different color, recall the Old Testament priestly garment, which had different precious stones that represented the 12 tribes of Israel and then the Twelve Apostles.
Conklin is not the only one inspired by her efforts. When she left “Preborn Jesus” holy cards for each woman at a prayer group, a woman said she would “underwrite the whole cost” for the statue.
The original two-and-a-half-foot wooden statue was carved by Douglas Vasko and blessed on May 31, 2014, the feast of the Visitation, after which the statue began making many visits to churches, nursing homes and pro-life venues.
That September, Conklin was invited to bring the statue to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington to be placed in the sanctuary for the 22nd International Week of Prayer and Fasting.
Afterward came requests for replicas. With help from Adam Miller of A.T. Merhaut Inc. in Allison Park, Pa., a three-foot replica was made in Columbia, South America, and blessed on Feb. 22, 2015. It began traveling, including stops to the 40 Days for Life in Pittsburgh. This statue was then followed by requests for a 16-inch statue (available through Merhaut’s at Merhaut.com).
Later that year, at the Defending the Faith Conference in Steubenville, Ohio, Conklin providentially met a new congregation in the diocese called Family of Jacopa from Mary, Ark of the Covenant Monastery.
The sisters were immediately drawn to both the statue and the image of the unborn Jesus and wanted to use the sacred art at their Marian shrine.
“It’s amazing how God works,” Conklin said. “Bishop Jeffrey Monforton [of Steubenville] looked over the prayer we have, which the sisters presented him for use, and granted it an imprimatur.”
The ministry is touching hearts everywhere it goes.
“She melted hearts,” Conklin recalled of one trip with the statue. “The woman at the ticket counter came rushing over to see the statue and said, with tears streaming down her face, ‘I really need this today, after my night last night.’”
On the plane, the crew treated Our Lady with special affection and reverence and wanted their photos taken with her.
EWTN viewers heard the story when Conklin was a guest on Father Andrew Apostoli’s Sunday Night Prime.
“A picture speaks a thousand words — and so can an icon or a statue,” Steve Ray of CatholicConvert.com explained.
“The statue of the preborn Jesus in Mary’s womb … will help many Catholics and non-Catholics alike to see beyond the curtain of the here and now to discover the amazing eternal truths of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Son of God in her womb.”
He added, “We see the little human life in her womb — 100% human and 100% divine. Though the Baby Jesus has not seen the light of day, nor breathed fresh air with his infant lungs, he is very alive and very human” in this depiction.
As Father Joseph Mele, episcopal vicar for leadership development for the Pittsburgh Diocese and chaplain of that Legatus chapter, shared, “What is unique about the ministry and the image, both, is faithfulness to Scripture and the Catechism. The role of Our Lady in salvation is premier.”
Later, Conklin’s Preborn Jesus Ministry and Jesus-The Divine Mercy Foundation combined the statue and Divine Mercy image into one piece of art. Collaborating with Conklin, Pat Polachek contacted Father Seraphim Michalenko, former vice postulator of St. Faustina’s cause for canonization, to entitle it. He did, with a threefold title: The Virgin Mary of Nazareth, Ark of the New Covenant, Throne of the Divine Mercy Incarnate.
Then, for this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the faces of aborted babies were added within the Divine Mercy rays for a new Pro-Life Divine Mercy icon. Reproductions were recently blessed by Bishop Edward Malesic of the Diocese of Greensburg, Pa., and Father Mele.
Conklin, Polachek and others gifted Pope Francis with the Pro-Life Divine Mercy icon and a 16-inch statue of Mary, Ark of the New Covenant through his appointee at a Wednesday audience in Rome. Their gifts also included customized liturgical vestments with the image of Mary, Ark of the New Covenant.
“The statue helps those who don’t understand Mary’s role to start to love her and have a greater devotion to her and come on board with the battle,” Conklin said. “It’s always Our Lady who brings us to Jesus.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.