07 June 2009

Memories of OLG

June 9th on the liturgical calendar is the feast of "Nuestra Señora de Gracia" or "Our lady of Grace". This has particular significance for me because "Our Lady of Grace" is the name of the parish in the Logan Square neighborhood in Chicago where I grew up and attended grammar school from kindergarten through the eighth grade. In those days we usually called it "O.L.G." for short. When someone would ask us where we went to school we would just say "O.L.G.". Then when they asked us what "O.L.G." stands for we would very naughtily and irreverently say something like "Old Ladies Graveyard" or "Oranges, lemons, and Grapefruit". I just hope that God has a sense of humor and that these little attempts at frivolity didn't leave any indelible marks on our young and adventurous souls. The thing that makes this year's feast day memorable is that the parish is getting ready for the parish centennial in 2010. For me this is a time for reflection because I was in the eighth grade at O.L.G. during the fifty year Jubilee. I find it very hard to believe that fifty years have passed since that event. Somehow, a half century has gone by and I can't help but ask myself, "And what have I done with it?", or even better yet, "What haven't I done with it?".

The origin of the Blessed Virgin in the aspect of Our Lady of Grace is very interesting. It goes back to the early 13th century and two gentlemen named Dominic de Guzman and Giovanni Francesco Bernardone. We know them better today as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic. St Francis was born in 1182 and died in 1226. St. Dominic was born in 1171 and died in 1221. They were contemporaries and they actually knew each other. They met in Rome in 1215 at the Basilica of St. John Lateran which is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. They were there for the Fourth Lateran Council. They were both reformers at a time when the Catholic Church was in serious trouble and under attack by heresy and corruption from both within and without. It is said that they liked each other immediately even though they had very different styles. St Dominic was called to convert people by speaking to their will through their intelligence. It is clear that part of the Dominican mission is an intellectual work – the study and teaching of philosophy, theology, and apologetics. On the contrary, the role of Saint Francis was to move the will through a manifestation of zeal. The great conversions of the Franciscans came about through the consideration of the passion, poverty, and spirit of sacrifice of Our Lord. Their two different approaches complimented one another. A Catholic instructed in the philosophical and theological arguments of the Dominicans should also be touched by the energy and fervor of the Franciscans. In honor of the friendship between Dominic and Francis, a noble tradition has developed among their disciples. Dominicans and Franciscans celebrate the feasts of their founders together. Franciscans join Dominicans on August 8, and Dominicans join Franciscans on October 4. At the Mass of St. Dominic, a Franciscan preaches, and at the Mass of St. Francis a Dominican delivers the homily.

Both Saint Francis and St. Dominic believed in the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary both as a disciple of her son Jesus and as someone who was directly infused with God's grace. St Dominic in particular was a champion of the Blessed Virgin and in a vision that he had she told him to preach the "Psalter of Mary" which evolved into what we call today, the Holy Rosary. While non-Catholics see the Rosary as a mindless chant, what they don't understand is that the Rosary is a meditation on the lives of Jesus and Mary. It began as a recitation by early monks of 150 psalms that were divided into three groups of 50 psalms each. It evolved into a recitation of the prayer we call the "Hail Mary" 150 times broken into three groups of 50. Each ten "Hail Marys" in the circular part of the five decade Rosary beads represents a single mystery in the the story of the Gospel and each set of ten beads are interspersed with a single bead that marks the recitation of the prayer we call the "Our Father". The Rosary that you may have heard recited as prayers for a sick or dying person or at a funeral is generally only one third of a complete Rosary of 15 decades of beads.

Fast forward to 1830. On the night of July 18, 1830. Sister Catherine Labouré, a novice in the community of the Daughters of Charity in Paris received a vision of the Virgin Mary. The Blessed Virgin instructed her to have a medallion struck of Her image (see picture below). On the front of the medallion Mary is standing upon a globe, crushing the head of a serpent beneath her foot. Streaming from Mary's fingers were many rays of light. Mary explained that the rays symbolize the graces she obtains for those who ask for them. On the back of the medallion the twelve stars can refer to the Apostles, who represent the entire Church as it surrounds Mary. They also recall the vision of Saint John, writer of the Book of Revelation (12:1), in which “a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars.” The cross can symbolize Christ and our redemption, with the bar under the cross a sign of the earth. The “M” stands for Mary, and the interleaving of her initial and the cross shows Mary’s close involvement with Jesus and our world. In this we see Mary’s part in our salvation and her role as mother of the Church. The two hearts represent the love of Jesus and Mary for us. The Blessed Virgin told Catherine that blessings would be bestowed upon people who wore the medal in good faith There is no superstition, nothing of magic, connected with the Miraculous Medal. The Miraculous Medal is not a “good-luck charm”. Rather, it is a great testimony to faith and the power of trusting in prayer. If you recall the The "Marian Cross" on the Casket of Pope John Paul II and on his coat-of-arms you will recognize the markings on the medallion.

I have discovered that there are quite a few "Our Lady of Grace" parishes in the United States and many of them go back to around 1900 when there was a great influx of immigrants from Europe who would have been familiar with the Miraculous Medal and who wore one themselves. Many of these churches also had Dominican Nuns who taught in the parish schools just like the Our Lady of Grace School that I went to. It was a wonderful time for me and so I will always be thankful to the Dominican Sisters and their heavenly Mother and mine, Our Lady of Grace. Every year in May at the end of the school year we had a May Crowning when we crowned a statue of Our Lady with a crown of flowers. I can still hear the childrens' voices singing our favorite song which was "Bring Flowers of the Rarest" composed by Mary E. Walsh in 1871.

"Bring flow'rs of the fairest,
Bring flow'rs of
the rarest,
From garden and woodland

And hillside and vale;

Our full hearts are sw
Our glad voices telling

The praise of the loveliest

Rose of the vale.


O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen
of the May,
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,

Queen of the Angel
s, Queen of the May.

Our voices ascending,
In harmony blending,

Oh! Thus may our hearts turn

r Mother, to thee;
Oh! Thus shall we prove thee
How truly we love thee,
How dark without Mary

Life's journey would be." (Chorus)

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.