On this Independence Day, we should remember and honor The Immaculate Virgin, the Patroness of America. Since the earliest days of the Church, Catholics have believed that Mary was preserved from Original Sin from the moment of her conception. When Christopher Columbus came over, his flagship was named in honor of the Immaculate Conception. Eventually, American bishops had devotions to the Immaculate Conception. And since that time, many cathedrals and parish churches, plus the massive shrine in Washington, DC, have been dedicated in honor of the Immaculate Conception.
In 1792, the first bishop of the United States, John Carroll, consecrated the nation to Mary under her title The Immaculate Conception, and in 1846, the United States bishops unanimously chose Mary under that title as Patroness of the United States of America. Also, Pope Pius IX, the bishops of the United States declared the Immaculate Conception to be the Patroness of the United States of America.
Devotion to Our Lady of America grew forth from alleged apparitions to Sr. Mary Ephrem, CPPS (Sister of the Precious Blood) starting when she was assigned to work at the Kneipp Springs Sanitarium (Hospital) in Rome City, Indiana in 1956. Although her primary active vocation was a kindergarten teacher, she spent just a few weeks in domestic service at Kneipp Springs in the Fall of 1956. It was here that her life was changed as she felt called, in grace-filled prayer, to help Our Lady be more widely recognized and honored as Patroness of America. She felt Our Lady was calling her children in America to know and imitate the infinite holiness and fruits that are in the Holy Family and then promote this to the world.
Sister Mary Ephrem felt this call first in prayer centered around Our Lady of Lourdes, the Immaculate Conception, on September 25, 1956. The next day, she felt inspired to turn to the title given by the U.S. Bishops: Our Lady, The Immaculate Virgin, Patroness of America, in the short form, “Our Lady of America.” Over the next four years, through prayer, Eucharistic adoration, and contemplation, her devotion matured into a spiritual calling to seek the purity of the Immaculate Conception and to imitate the Holy Family and to help others to do so under this title. Sister Mary Ephrem went on to discern that imitating the Holy Family, fervent prayer, and frequent participation in the Sacraments (especially Reconciliation), would nurture the indwelling of the Holy Trinity in the hearts of the faithful as they are purified more and more. The diary of Sr. Mary Ephrem as printed in 1960 by her spiritual director, Archbishop Paul F. Leibold (Archdiocese of Cincinnati) contains a series of prayerful and graced inspirations that have emerged to be the devotion to Our Lady of America, the Immaculate Virgin, Patroness of America.
At the dedication of the National Shrine of The Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC on November 20, 1959, Cardinal Patrick A. O’Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, again consecrated the United States to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This consecration was renewed by the U.S. bishops on Nov. 11, 2006 in Baltimore, Maryland. Days later, the processional statue of Our Lady of America was first publicly displayed at the USCCB conference in Baltimore, Maryland. On November 15, 2006, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke (then Archbishop) blessed the statue. This same statue is now on public display in the West Wing of the Mother of Mercy Chapel, in Rome City, Indiana.
In May of 2020, the six Roman Catholic Bishops, who have jurisdiction over this devotion because the alleged apparitions occurred in their dioceses, released a joint decree discussing the supernaturality of what Sr. Mary Ephrem experienced as the basis for this devotion. This group of Bishops was led by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Fort Wayne – South Bend Diocese. These ecclesiastical authorities have determined that what Sr. Mary Ephrem experienced cannot be said to be of supernatural origin in the sense of objective occurrences such as those seen at places like Guadalupe and Lourdes, but rather: “It seems that these were authentically graced moments, even perhaps of a spiritual quality beyond what most people experience…” On the other hand, it was recognized that, at least at one point, the alleged apparition taught a doctrine that the highest magisterium of the Church has avoided endorsing. They further recognized Kneipp Springs as the birthplace of the devotion where there have been many reports of good fruit including reported healings and conversions. The Devotion to Our Lady, the Immaculate Virgin, Patroness of America, in short, Our Lady of America, has been allowed as a Private Devotion of the lay faithful.
Officially, she is Our Lady, The Immaculate Virgin, Patroness of America. This title refers to the dogmatic recognition that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from the stain of any sin, both in her conception and in her life. This singular privilege was given only to her who was destined to be the Mother of God Incarnate. This Catholic Doctrine is perfectly in harmony with her wonderful sanctity and preeminent dignity as Mother of God.
Our Lady of America has a unique role as Intercessor for our nation. Ever since the establishment of the first diocese in our nation, the Catholic Church in America has called on her as our Protector, Intercessor and Queen.