Editor's Note: This story was originally posted on Aug. 11 to highlight the prayer initiative that starts today, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Millions of Americans witness how, in the wake of the 2015 Obergefell decision that legalized same-sex “marriage,” congressional and state legislation, executive actions and court rulings conflict increasingly with God’s laws on marriage and family values. Since the enshrinement of Roe v. Wade into law in 1973 and the enactment of subsequent state laws to allow for assisted suicide, unborn children and the elderly and weak are under attack like no other time in U.S. history.
And now, an acrimonious presidential campaign has exacerbated the differences among Americans, leaving many with seemingly nowhere to turn.
A Wisconsin priest offers an answer.
“I call this our Nineveh moment,” said Father Richard Heilman, assessing the situation in our nation in reference to the story of Jonah’s warning to a wayward people.
Father Heilman is spearheading a major spiritual initiative to turn the tide and heal the country — the “Novena for Our Nation.”
The “54-Day Rosary Novena” will begin on Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption. The faithful are asked to pray daily for the nation to return to holiness, through the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 7.
Knowing that Father Heilman, a priest of the Diocese of Madison, had experience with 54-day Rosary novenas through social media and that he recently launched the national Holy League, a group — including Father Stephen Imbarrato of Priests for Life — approached him to head this nationwide prayer campaign.
“They thought: ‘What better time than now, in this election year, the terrorism going on and the condition of this world and our nation, to do this,’” explained Father Heilman.
“All the signs are there,” said Father Imbarrato. “We have an immoral and corrupt government that is becoming more and more tyrannical. The fact of the matter is: We need a conversion of our culture, but, more specifically, of our elected officials or leadership. This 54-day novena and the Rosary Rally [on Oct. 7] is all part of the effort we need to end preborn child killing and attacks on marriage and the family.”
Father Heilman, pastor of St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff Church in Cross Plains, looks to biblical models like Nineveh. “I feel we’re in the same place we were at that time,” he explained. “I think of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, too. Prior to that, Abraham was making a deal with God — what if there are 50 just people, 40, 20, 10? Can a remnant appeal to God?”
Plenty of Precedents
In 1571, St. Pius V called on besieged Christian Europe to pray the Rosary. The well-known victory at the Battle of Lepanto was spurred on by faithful believers.
As the Rosary is credited with saving European Christian civilization then, so can this Novena for Our Nation rescue the United States today, Father Heilman said: “This novena is specifically for our nation and to pray for freedom and faith in America.”
Father Heilman discovered if the novena started on the Assumption, it “miraculously landed on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary — exactly 54 days from point to point.” Not coincidentally, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary commemorates the Oct. 7 victory at Lepanto 445 years ago.
Father Heilman says now, amid all of the turmoil in modern America, “it’s a time when we have to fall to our knees and say, ‘God, you take care of this.’”
A traditional novena lasts nine days. But this 54-day prayer puts six novenas together for a singular purpose. In 1884 (the year Pope Leo XIII wrote the Prayer to St. Michael), the Blessed Virgin Mary purportedly appeared in Italy to a young girl named Fortuna Agrelli, gave her the 54-day Rosary novena for herself and told her to pass it along to others. The girl had three different incurable diseases. Her doctors said cures were hopeless, but the Agrelli family turned to Our Lady as Queen of the Most Holy Rosary. In one of Fortuna’s reported apparitions, Mary told her, “Whoever desires to obtain favors from me should make three novenas of the prayers of the Rosary and three novenas in thanksgiving” — thus the 54 days.
The girl obeyed and was fully healed. This novena and her healing impressed Leo XIII, who wrote 17 encyclicals on the Rosary.
The 54-day devotion consists of five decades of the Rosary prayed daily for 27 days in petition; immediately thereafter, five decades are prayed daily for 27 days in thanksgiving, whether or not the request has been granted yet. (See the explanation for the simple rotation of the mysteries for this novena.)
“God has demonstrated in many ways that this is a prayer he truly delights in,” Father Heilman said. “First, we’re coming to him through Our Lady. … He has given us this great gift of our Blessed Mother and given us a very humble way to pray.”
“It’s such a simple prayer,” he added, “and such a wonderful act of obedience to say that prayer and reflect at the same time on all the wonderful ways God has come to us through the mysteries of the Rosary. We’re calling upon our Blessed Mother, and she delights when we come to her.”
Seeking Mary’s Aid
Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, officially endorses the Novena for Our Nation.
“There is no doubt that our beloved nation is in one of the worst crises which it has ever experienced, a profound moral crisis, which generates division on all levels and results in an ever-greater more pervasive violence and killing,” Cardinal Burke wrote at the novena website.
“For Roman Catholics, who have always been known for their faith-filled patriotism, the first response to this crisis is fervent prayer and, in particular, prayer through the intercession of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, Mary Immaculate, who is also the patroness of our nation.”
“Let us now turn to the powerful prayer of the holy Rosary, asking Mary Immaculate to intercede with Our Lord to bring healing to our nation and to inspire in her citizens the holiness of life which alone can transform our nation,” he said.
Deacon Dave Profitt, who prays a daily Rosary, will be joining the novena because “the Rosary is one of the great tools we have available to us for our prayer life. It helps remind us and center us to what it means to live a life in Christ.”
The director of the St. Anne Retreat Center in Melbourne, Ky., sees another benefit to this novena: “It’s a great way to remind ourselves what we’re called to be, particularly in this country today, with the divisiveness and rhetoric out there.”
Those praying the novena may add daily “training in holiness” to their prayers by meditating on reflections from Scripture, the saints and the Catechism about the theological and cardinal virtues, gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit via the book 54 Day Basic Training in Holiness. Reflections will also appear on the novena website.
D.C. Rosary Rally
The Rosary novena will be capped off on Oct. 7 with a special “Rosary Rally” in Union Square in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, to call on the Lord for our nation’s spiritual restoration. The faithful across the country are encouraged to have a Rosary Rally in their areas, too — in a parish church, at a government facility or in front of a Planned Parenthood business, for example.
As Father Heilman said, “We should prefer not to go through suffering, but to do what the people of Nineveh did — repent and see a reparation for where we’re at right now.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.
What: Rosary “Novena for Our Nation”
When: Aug. 15 to Oct. 7