Sunday, October 10th saw the Canonical Coronation of Our Lady of La Leche by the papal representative and the local bishop of St Augustine.
It was a very blessed day for all devotees to Our Blessed Mother. Catholics in the United States were reminded that they have had a special patron through a 400-year long devotion to Our Lady of La Leche dating from a time when all the land was claimed for the purpose of spreading of the Catholic Faith.
Many of us also have relatives or friends who have a “La Leche Baby” that we know and love. This is especially so for St. Thomas More parishioners, who for the past ten years have made her home in Str. Augustine a destination of their Pascua Pilgrimage.
Many parishioners from St. Thomas More made the trip to honor Our Lady’s Coronation, including a group that made a weekend of the event. The Cadets also took the opportunity to go, knowing that attendance was reserved for a special few, and they opted to pass out information promoting devotion to Our Lady along crowded St. George Street. The Sanford Knights of Our Lady were also present to support the Cadets and honor Our Lady with their presence. One Knight who arrived early was able to direct the visiting Cardinal Sierra Osoro (Archbishop of Madrid) to the Cathedral after he had taken a wrong turn! Another knight has practicing apologetics with a young mother, who had come to the Cathedral with her family to show her children her name inscribed in the list of Minorcan families on a church memorial. The mother spoke of how one of her ancestors was a martyr slain for feeding the missionaries near the present-day city of Jacksonville. Sadly, she is now a Mormon.
An amazing chain of events then began to unfold. The mass in the Cathedral was attended by the Cardinal, three Florida bishops, and a great many clergy and faithful. Fr. Vernoy was on the sidewalk following the Mass, and as everyone exited the church, Bishop Estevez of recognized Father from his several visits over the years. His Excellency offered Father his Episcopal ring to kiss, which Father promptly did, much to the delight of the bishop!
Father had planned to escort the freshly-crowned statue of Our Lady on foot to the shrine as she rode in a special charted bus, but we were invited by a friendly diocesan priest to ride in a bus reserved for the event. Upon arriving at the Nombre de Dios Mission, we thanked the priest who, reminding him that we were accustomed to arriving after walking and canoeing 120 miles on our annual pilgrimage.
Because we were then “on the inside,” Father and I fell in directly behind the Cardinal and Bishop as the procession made its way through the throng of pilgrims who had come to be part of the event. Joyous songs were sung, and flowers were showered on our deserving Mother, who was greeted by the crowd that had watched the coronation ceremony on a video screen and who were now showing their devotion in grand Catholic form. The entourage of Our Lady included many clergy, Franciscans, Knights of Malta, Knights of Jerusalem, Knights of Columbus, Sons of Our Lady, and now SSPX clergy and an SSPX Knight of Our Lady of the Assumption. Many SSPX parishioners and the Cadets also walked the route, singing hymns to their mother.
Next followed a short ceremony at the podium with an address by a very happy Bishop Estevez, after which the procession continued to cross the bridge to the Sacred Acre where so many martyrs lay and where Our Lady of la Leche has had her home for over 400 years. Upon arriving at the humble little coquina chapel, Father and I waited for the entry of Our Lady and the group to fill the tiny church. Once again, however, it seemed as if Our dear Mother was reserving a place for us: as the flow stopped, we both were amazed and delighted to slide into the back corner to witness her being placed on her throne behind the altar to await the petitions and devotion of the future pilgrims. After she was safely set, the Cardinal led the small group inside in three Hail Marys. The serenade of the SSPX Cadets singing from across the cemetery and over the fence became more audible. Father and I joined in the traditional Salve Regina with them as a fitting welcoming.
Outside, Father was warmly greeted by local priests and by Dr. Mary Soha, the vice-postulator for the cause of the Florida Martyrs. Dr. Soha is also visitor to SSPX Chapels and Seminary for the purpose of explaining the Cause for the canonization of over 1,000 Florida Martyrs, many of whom had shed blood there on the grounds.
As we departed, Father and I discussed the incredible chain of events that had unfolded that day. It seemed that Our Mother had arranged a special place for us on her great day. We both felt as if we had received a gesture of gratitude from her for our efforts to make her more renowned, which certainly happened that Sunday with her Canonical Coronation.
Our Lady of La Leche, pray for us!