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So many ways of honoring Mary at the Woods

Sister Mary Lois Hennel at the May Crowning ceremony

Editor’s note: A version of the following reflection was offered during Vespers Service celebrating the annual May Crowning in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, May 14, 2023.

In Mary’s Magnificat recorded in Luke 1:47-48 she declares to her cousin Elizabeth:
“Oh, how my soul praises the Holy One.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For God took notice of this lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.”

Why are you hearing this today?

Mary’s own words in her Magnificat provide some answer: “from now on all generations will call me blessed.” We gather precisely because we are part of the present generation who wishes to call her blessed.

Saint Mother Theodore and Mary

And we stand on the shoulders of countless other Sisters of Providence who have praised Mary. Beginning with our Mother Theodore Guerin, who wrote in 1840:

“Returning to the moment in which we entered the chapel: having prayed, wept, and thanked Almighty God for past favors and begged his assistance for the future. Having prayed for you, dear Sisters, and for you all, dear friends and benefactors in France, and having placed ourselves under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we went to embrace the postulants who were awaiting us. 

Her first words on Indiana soil were in praise of Mary. Three years later in 1843 she returned to France seeking funds. It was the Queen who came to their aid with much tenderness and kindness. Mother Theodore’s response? She wrote in her Journal …

“My heart full of gratitude, longed to go to the sanctuary of Mary Immaculate to thank her for having granted this day of consolation to us.  Happy to be free, we went straightway to the church of Our Lady of Victory, to pour out our hearts in tears of joy in the presence of our heavenly Protector and Mother.

Shrines and statues

Seventeen years later, in 1860, the Congregation erected the first Our Lady of Lourdes shrine on north campus, the first of several Marian shrines. The Congregation built many more through the ensuing years. They commissioned the statue of Our Lady of the Campus, erected in 1904. As if to provide an exclamation point about whose Woods these are, it towers over Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Mother Theodore’s words much earlier could well be our prayer today as we gaze on it. “O Mary, protect your children of the Woods! Protect thy house of the Woods …We owe you everything! Everything!”

Calling Mary blessed

This brief trip through some of our Marian history captures only the tip pf the iceberg. Marian shrines are now throughout the campus. Countless rosaries have been offered here individually and communally through generations of sisters. For years the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary was sung solemnly before Sunday’s High Mass. And I haven’t even touched on devotion to Our Lady of Providence. Or the many special Marian feasts we celebrate each year. Or the countless images of Mary, be they paintings, statues or stained-glass windows. And now, this month, we celebrate our annual May Crowning praising Mary. We add yet another way to honor her life in the life of our Congregation.

Indeed, we are part of all the generations that call Mary blessed!


Please comment and share below your experience of “…  all generations will call me blessed.”

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Sister Ann Casper

Sister Ann Casper

Sister Ann Casper, SP, retired as the executive director for Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Providence in 2018 and currently serves as minister of Providence Community Cemetery at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Sister Ann has ministered in various scholastic and administrative positions in Indiana and North Carolina. She also was a member of the Sisters of Providence leadership team, serving as General Secretary.

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  1. Avatar Marsha Speth on May 18, 2023 at 7:05 am

    Yes, Mary is our faithful companion on the journey of following Jesus as she was for Mother Theodore!
    Thank you, Ann, for calling us to give thanks for this woman of Providence.

  2. Avatar Debbie Griffey on May 18, 2023 at 7:34 am

    Thank you for this beautiful reminder that Mary walks with us as we travel.

  3. Avatar Susan Paweski, SP on May 18, 2023 at 7:57 am

    S Ann, beautiful article that reminds us of our past and present reliance upon our Mother Mary. Thank you!

  4. Avatar S. Editha on May 18, 2023 at 9:26 am

    Beautiful article, Ann. We continue to place our Providence Family under the protection of Mary and we ask her to send us more postulants!

  5. Avatar Steve Modde on May 18, 2023 at 1:57 pm

    I used to think of Mary as a nice, docile woman. Now thankfully I/we honor her as a strong, gentle woman of deep faith and intercessory for us all. Pope Francis stated that the Church is feminine and Mary is our gentle reminder. He also said that without her, the church is a bunch of old bachelors. Your article reminds me that I appreciate Mary, also strong, gentle women like the SPs, and I myseelf am called to be more tender and encouraging. Whenever I occasionally see the Mary Shrines at the Woods, or when I, in Chicago, pass a statue of Mary while walking to Starbucks, I shall ask Mary to protect us and be a strong reminder to old church bachelors. (esp. the US hierarchy!) Thanks S. Ann!

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