I learned at a very early age that the month of May was very special: a month of grace dedicated to honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary. That lesson was taught by Sr. Imelda, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She was my kindergarten teacher at St. Elizabeth Catholic School, which then was located at 128 W. Burleigh St., Milwaukee, the current site of St. Martin De Porres Parish.
Sr. Imelda was a remarkable teacher. She taught two half-day sessions of kindergarten. I was a student in the morning session, which was comprised of 62 children. The afternoon session included 65 students. And, Sr. Imelda had no teacher’s aides.
One might ponder how a solitary teacher could keep order among so many 5-year old children. But, she maintained an immaculately controlled classroom environment. And, while she must have been gifted with many pedagogical skills, I would contend that she would attribute the serenity of the classroom to the intercession of the Blessed Mother.
Sr. Imelda had a very special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She taught us many of the Marian prayers, songs and devotions. There were frequent lessons regarding the Holy Mother of God, always accompanied with teachings about the intercessory assistance that she would provide. Sr. Imelda frequently reminded us that, “Mary will always be there for you.”
But of all of the lessons regarding the Blessed Mother that we learned, my favorite message dealt with the Kingdom of Heaven. Sr. Imelda instructed us, “Remember, boys and girls, always be good. Live holy lives because you want to get into Heaven someday. But, keep in mind, that if you come to the Front Gates of the Kingdom some day and they are locked and St. Peter blocks your entry, here is what you need to do. Leave the spot where the front gates are located and take a walk around to the back door, because I promise you that the Blessed Virgin Mary will be there, and she will let you in.”
As you can tell, Sr. Imelda planted in our heart a great affection for the Blessed Virgin Mary. She taught us to look to her as an ever-certain source of help. She was someone we always could count upon to come to our assistance.
I have a feeling that some people of a younger vintage may not always appreciate the depth of the Marian devotion of years past. Some might even wonder why the Blessed Mother was so important to us.
Personally speaking, some of this had to do with the fact that it was easier for us to relate to Mary. When I was a child, I sometimes felt intimidated by God the Father. His transcendence and power always were emphasized to a great degree. So, what one mostly felt toward God the Father was a sense of awe. Even Jesus – despite the fact that we knew he was our Redeemer – did not always feel very accessible. At that time, Christological teaching tended to highlight his divinity much more than his humanity. Thus, Jesus often came across as the exalted Lord more than our Savior and friend. So, in this environment, we often turned to the Blessed Mother as a confidant. She was the one that we turned to in troubled times.
And, yet, as much as I cherish the intercessory role which Mary plays in my spiritual life, I also know that there is a greater breadth of devotion to the Blessed Mother. In fact, I once did a little research to discover how many different titles have been applied to Mary in our Catholic Tradition. The results were astonishing. One author that I read claimed that there were more than 1,000 different Marian titles. Here is a sampling of these titles to help you appreciate the admiration, affection and honor in which Mary is held: Flower of Jesse’s Root, God’s Vessel, Handmaid of the Lord, Help of Christians, Immaculate Conception, Immaculate Heart, Lady of Good Help, Lady of Sorrows, Mediatrix, Morning Star, Mother of the Church, Mother of Good Counsel, Mother of Perpetual Help, Mystical Rose, New Eve, Queen of All Saints, Queen of Angels, Queen of Apostles, Queen of Heaven, Queen of Martyrs, Queen of Peace, Refuge of Sinners, Star of the Sea, Virgin Undefiled and Woman Clothed with the Sun.
Of course, the month of May is very special for another reason as well. It is the month in which we celebrate Mother’s Day. This year, it will take place on May 9. How fitting that we cherish our mom and those who love with a mother’s heart in a month dedicated to our Blessed Mother Mary. Sr. Imelda taught us a lesson on that topic, too. She introduced us to the concept of a Spiritual Bouquet. Under her guidance, we made a colorful decorative card for mom, but included in its text was the promise of a bountiful number of Hail Marys offered on her behalf. As always, Sr. Imelda knew what she was doing when she instructed us to give this present. Years and years later, that Spiritual Bouquet was one of the cards which I found in a special box where my mom kept her favorite memories.