Did You Know the Immaculate Conception Is Patroness of the United States?

Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, has been patroness of the United States since the mid-19th century

Detail of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, ‘The Immaculate Conception,’ c. 1678
Detail of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, ‘The Immaculate Conception,’ c. 1678 (photo: null / Public domain)

Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, has been patroness of the United States since the mid-19th century. But her protection of the nation dates back to its earliest history. 

One of the first Catholic churches in what is now the United States was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in 1584: the now-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Jacksonville, Florida. 

John Carroll, the first bishop in the United States, had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1792, he placed the Diocese of Baltimore — which encompassed the 13 colonies of the young republic — under her protection.

Over the next 50 years, seven more dioceses were created, including New Orleans, Boston, Chicago and Oregon City.

“The colonies were now the U.S.A., and Baltimore was not the only diocese, so the American hierarchy felt a need for a national protectress for this new republic,” said Geraldine Rohling, archivist-curator emerita for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

U.S. bishops unanimously named Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the nation in 1846, during the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore. 

“We take this occasion, brethren, to communicate to you the determination, unanimously adopted by us, to place ourselves, and all entrusted to our charge throughout the United States, under the special patronage of the holy Mother of God, whose immaculate conception is venerated by the piety of the faithful throughout the Catholic church. ... To her, then, we commend you, in the confidence that ... she will obtain for us grace and salvation,” the bishops wrote in a letter at the time.

Blessed Pius IX approved the declaration in 1847.

The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without original sin. Today, it is a dogma of the Catholic Church. But back in 1846, it was not. Blessed Pius IX would promulgate the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, and many believe the U.S. bishops’ declaration may have influenced the Pope’s decision. 

The largest Marian shrine in the United States is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception: the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The first public Mass for the national shrine was celebrated on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 1917, though the shrine was not yet constructed. 

The Immaculate Conception is also patroness of several other countries, including Spain, South Korea, Brazil and the Philippines. 

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated Dec. 8, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary. It is a holy day of obligation in some places, including the United States, Ireland and the Philippines.

José Benlliure Ortiz, “Leaving Mass in Rocafort,” 1915

On Suffering and Hope and Forever

‘In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.’ (CCC 1368)

José Benlliure Ortiz, “Leaving Mass in Rocafort,” 1915

On Suffering and Hope and Forever

‘In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.’ (CCC 1368)