For more than 75 years, Sisters of Providence and lay people from throughout the world have prayed at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Providence, which is located today in the vestibule of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Countless other intentions have been sent to the shrine via letters and e-mail, seeking the assistance and intercession of Mary in various trials of life.
Devotion to Our Lady of Providence began long before this in Europe. The original work “Mater Divinae Providentiae,” was painted by Scipione Pulzone around 1580. In 1664, the painting became the possession of the Barnabite Fathers who placed the art piece in a corridor of the church of San Carlo ai Catinari in Rome where it drew many faithful visitors.
Sister Gertrude Smith, RIP, made the following observation in a 1978 account of the modest beginnings of the shrine: “Soon not only the parishioners but other Romans from the surrounding country flocked to the shrine. Many graces and even miracles were attributed to the prayers said there, and ‘ex-voto’ offerings soon adorned the walls near the picture. The Barnabites recorded also that a great improvement could be seen in the morals of their parishioners.”
In 1774, Pope Benedict XIV authorized the Confraternity of Our Lady of Providence. Pope Gregory XVI elevated it to an Archconfraternity in 1839.
Devotion to Our Lady of Providence came to the United States after an SP chaplain, Monsignor A.J. Rawlinson, saw a reproduction of “Mater Divinae Providentiae,” at Catholic University of America. During a trip to Rome in 1925, Monsignor Rawlinson gathered historical information on the devotion to Our Lady of Providence and then brought back prints of the painting to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind.
On May 1, 1925, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Providence was canonically erected at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., with the purpose of encouraging families to make Mary the queen of their homes. A Confraternity of Our Lady of Providence was erected, and later a certificate of affiliation of the American Confraternity was established with the Archconfraternity in Rome.
At the request of Mother Mary Cleophas Foley, a copy of “Mater Divinae Providentiae” was painted by Pompei Coccia. Following in Mother Mary Cleophas’ footsteps, Mother Mary Raphael Slattery encouraged all SPs to further the devotion of Our Lady of Providence in students’ homes. “The Bugle Call,” the newsletter for Sisters of Providence students, urged young people in its April-May 1926 issue to give their mothers a copy of the Madonna that appeared on the newsletter’s frontispiece instead of a Mother’s Day card.
Thus, the veneration of Our Lady of Providence came to the United States. Although the Shrine has been moved several times until its present location, it has always stirred deep emotions in those who have sought the help and comfort of Mary. Indeed, a calendar from St. Martin Church, Washington, D.C., best expresses this sentiment: “Wonderful though this picture may be as a work of art, it is still more wonderful as a work of religion; it breathes the very atmosphere of religion; it is a model of religious art. Its beauty as a work of art serves only to deepen its appeal as a work of religion.”