Today we American Catholics celebrate our patronal feastday, since Our Blessed Mother under her title of Immaculate Conception is the patron saint of our nation.
That came about in an interesting way. In the year 1792 — just nine years after the end of the Revolutionary War, there was only one diocese in this country of ours, namely, the diocese of Baltimore which comprised the entire nation. And one bishop: John Carroll, the brother of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a representative of the colony and then the state of Maryland who signed the Declaration of Independence.
In that year, 1792, Bishop Carroll placed his diocese and his nation under the patronage of the Mother of the Lord under her title of the Immaculate Conception. That dogma had been held by the Church since the earliest days, but had never been formally and therefore infallibly defined. A few years later, in 1846, the American bishops, now more numerous, ratified Bishop Carroll’s choice and placed their nation again under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception.
In 1854, Pope Blessed Pius IX formally and infallibly defined the dogma that Our Lady had been totally without sin and full of grace from the first moment of her conception. And four years after that, Our Lady appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes and identified herself by saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
In 1920, thanks to the initiative of a Monsignor Shahan, the rector of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., the American bishops began the collection of funds and the construction of a national shrine proclaiming the devotion of American Catholics to Our Lady, immaculately conceived. It took years, since it was slowed down drastically by the Great Depression of the 30s and then World War II. But in 1959, it was completed and dedicated. Since then, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have visited it. We can be very proud of it — the largest Catholic church in the western hemisphere and a very imposing place of worship and devotion.
Today, as we celebrate our patronal feast, we say, in the words which appear on the Miraculous Medal of the Immaculate Conception: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.