Eighth-grade boys carried the statue of Mary during a May Crowning and Procession, held by St. Josaphat School. (Photo by David Bernacchi)

St. Josaphat Parish School celebrated May as the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary by holding a procession and crowning of the school’s statue of Our Lady.

Approximately 175 students and staff, as well as about 50 Basilica parishioners and other archdiocesan guests, processed for several blocks before returning to St. Josaphat Basilica for the May crowning. Eighth-grade boys carried the statue of Mary throughout the streets, followed by eighth-grade girls wearing formal gowns with white jeweled collars, and schoolchildren and teachers singing Marian hymns.

“The electricity among the students leading up to the event was undeniable — the entire building was buzzing for days,” said Principal Karin Strasser. “Immediately following the May Crowning Ceremony, we gathered students in the parking lot for an ice cream bar celebration, where they had a moment to release their energy and reflect on the experience.”

Maria Flores Ruiz decorated the Mary with greenery and flowers and a floral arch, which was placed on a platform with wooden handles to carry.

“From start to finish, it took Maria about a week to decorate the platform; this included multiple trips for supplies and flowers,” said Strasser. “She is such an incredible gift to our school. She lives her faith out loud by using her God-given gifts to spread a very Catholic message to all. We are truly blessed to have Maria and her son, Luis, as part of the St. Josaphat Parish School family.”

Since the procession occurred in the morning, few onlookers were present; however, a man from Kosciuszko Park saw the students gathering on the school sidewalk before the processional began and walked toward the group.

“When he reached the concrete median on Lincoln Avenue, he knelt facing our Mary statue and made the sign of the cross. This was particularly moving because he appeared to be wearing a hospital bracelet around one wrist while the opposite arm was bandaged,” said Strasser. “Another incident involved a woman driving through the neighborhood during the rosary processional — following us in her car. At one point, she stopped in the middle of the road and waved a staff member over to answer questions — seemingly mesmerized by the experience.”

The students seemed giddy with excitement and touched by the concrete expression of the Catholic Faith.

“It was beautiful; I wouldn’t believe it with my own eyes,” said Anthony Patraca, a fifth-grade member of the SJPS Children’s Choir.

Guadalupe Ortega, another fifth-grade member of the Children’s Choir, agreed.

“I am speechless,” she said.

Renee Manikham, St. Josaphat Parish School Program Coordinator, said in her 20 years serving SJPS students and families, they have not experienced the types of devastating challenges that defined the 2020-21 school year.

“Today’s rosary and May Crowning breathed life back into our students, who had forgotten the wonder of childhood. Our kids are smiling and excited again.” she said.

Kindergarten teacher Jean Marie Scheele was moved to tears over the experience.

“The SJPS May Crowning touched my heart and spiritual being with the majesty, beauty and sacred presence of Our Blessed Mother in the very core of my faith as a lifelong Catholic,” Scheele said. “I was crying throughout the procession, as I now know in a very intimate way Mary’s deep and profound love for her children, which will guide me in my prayers and daily walk with our Savior for the rest of my life.”

The experience has increased the students’ appreciation of their Catholic Faith, especially under the leadership of the school’s pastor, Fr. Lawrence Zurek, O.F.M. Conv., Strasser said.

“It was Fr. Lawrence who suggested we recreate a traditional May Crowning Ceremony with all the beauty and reverence past generations once enjoyed. It was he who provided the statue, direction and support required of a fitting homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” she said. “Our students have deepened their understanding because of this most memorable experience. We are forever grateful for Fr. Lawrence’s commitment to our school and our students’ faith journey.”