Friday, January 8, 2016

Our Lady of Prompt Succor

National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, New Orleans, Louisiana

With the recent celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God on January 1, and with the annual Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated today in New Orleans, Louisiana, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, I thought it fitting to publish my first post of 2016 on the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The annual Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving is celebrated in appreciation for Our Lady's prompt succor (help), saving the lives of the people of New Orleans in an extraordinary way on two separate occasions; the extinguishing of a raging fire that threatened to destroy the Ursuline Convent in 1812, and the surprising military victory of General Andrew Jackson in 1815 against a larger, better equipped invading British force. This in addition to the countless times Our Lady has come to the aid of individuals in Louisiana, which as the National Shrine notes on its History of the Devotion page, is so numerous that "We will never know them all."

I came to know of this Marian devotion from a book, Seven Days With Mary, written by's Michael H. Brown. In addition to Our Lady of Prompt Succor, the book also includes six other Marian devotions that are accompanied by full page colour photographs of statues or images representing each devotion: Our Lady of Saragossa, Our Lady of Montserrat, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, and Our Lady of Lourdes. All these devotions are officially recognized and sanctioned by the Church.

This book can be purchased at's
book store (Michael H. Brown books)
Seven Days With Mary, is not a history lesson, but a time of meditation and prayer. As Brown explains in the Preface, reading and praying with this book is about "...[S]eeking the aid of Mary. Meditating on her role. Walking with her as we try to find our way through the current darkness." (vi) Brown's recommendation is that you pray this devotion for seven consecutive days to receive the maximum benefit. It doesn't matter which particular devotion you begin with, just choose one for each day. 

So what might you experience from Seven Days With Mary. In addition to the anticipation of a closer relationship with Mary, you will come to know of seven Marian devotions that will bring with it an abundance of graces. During "your seven days," you will develop a greater trust and confidence in Our Lady's intercession in your life; your recitation of the Rosary and other prayers will be reinvigorated or you will be introduced to the Rosary and other devout prayers; you will be placed under Our Lady's mantle, and under her protection and guidance, your life will be better known and understood; you will grow in your love for Mary and deepen your relationship with her; your desire to love Jesus and have a closer relationship with Him will increase as a direct result of that improved and closer relationship with Mary; you will experience a new or renewed hope for the future and learn that Our Lady's prompt succor is always available to you, that as Our Mother, she always hears the pleas of her children, and will come to our aid in time of need and danger.

The Preface to this book, alone, will easily draw any Marian devotee to these devotions. Brown instills in the reader a clear and complete understanding of Mary's role and purpose in our lives. To capture just some of the content that Brown has written, I have provided an excerpt below:
...For Mary's role has not been a political one. Her role is not on the world stage. Her role is spiritual preparation of her children and getting us to Heaven. Her goal is your soul. You are crucial to Heaven. You are important to the Virgin Mary. And she has come not to make big headlines but rather to help you with the intricate and difficult aspects of living upon this earth. She wants to have a personal relationship with you. She wants you to have a more personal relationship with Jesus. And that's why she comes. That's why she appears with such frequency. She has something to give everyone personally. She has something for you. (vii)
Each day's devotion begins with: a concise history of the devotion; a Meditation and Ejaculation devised by Brown; the Angelus; and may include prayers from saints, prayers of Consecration and Morning Offerings, and other formal prayers; a Litany to Our Lady, all of which have received imprimaturs and come from many different and ancient sources. Each devotion is concluded with a Contemplation and the Rosary, which as Brown suggests, would be best recited if it were the Scriptural Rosary.

On a personal note, I have taken Brown's advice (praying the devotions for seven consecutive days) several times over the years. Reading about and meditating on these devotions, immersed in prayer for seven consecutive days, was a time of Divine Intimacy with Our Lady, and absolute peace; better than any retreat I have ever been on, and closely resembled the peace I felt, and the grace I received during my pilgrimages in Medjugorje.

If you have never heard of this devotion or know very little about Our Lady of Prompt Succor, I hope you will consider reading the concise history that follows. Not only as a matter of curiousity, but for your own benefit as you will soon discover, this is "the" devotion that brings quick and speedy help from Our Lady in time of great need.

History of the Devotion

The Ursuline Convent in New Orleans, Louisiana, was founded in 1727 where the good Ursuline sisters educated children of European colonists as well as slaves and Indians. They were the first nuns to arrive in what became the United States, and founded the oldest school for girls in America.

In 1800, the sisters became somewhat worried because Louisiana was ceded back to France. This was during the time of the French Revolution, one not very beneficial for the Catholic Church to say the least. Many priests and religious fled France or were killed. Pope Pius VII himself was eventually placed under arrest in Rome, held captive by Napoleon. Fearing that the horrors of the French Revolution might spread to French territories across the ocean, a large group of the nuns fled to Havana, Cuba, in 1803. Those that remained were seven in total. 

During that same year Louisiana became part of the United States (Louisiana Purchase), which was of great concern to the Ursuline sisters, who did not know what would happen to them and their land. They sent an anxious letter to President Jefferson, inquiring if the property rights of the Ursuline Order would be honoured by the new government. Here is what Brown included regarding Jefferson's response:
I have received holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institutions by the former governments of Louisiana...the principles of the Constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority...Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it. (78)
Although Jefferson's assurance alleviated their concerns, it was a temporary reprieve. The sisters had to confront other problems. The sisters were short staffed and the work was overwhelming. All this was made worse when one of the nuns, a mainstay of the community, Mother St. Xavier Farjon, died in 1810. This prompted another nun, Sister St. Andre Madier to appeal to her cousin Sister Michel Gensoul in France, to join their community in Louisiana.

Mother St. Michel had not been killed, nor did she flee France during the revolution. There was much work to be done in France, but taking into consideration how desperate the situation was for the nuns in Louisiana and inspired by the Holy Spirit, she appealed to Bishop Fournier of Montpelier. The response was not positive. The bishop informed her that he had lost too many nuns already, the last thing he needed was to lose another nun. It was only the Pope who could authorize her to go.

At this time Pope Pius VII was cut off by Napoleon's men, under arrest and held in Rome; he was in essence incommunicado with the Church and the world. This fact did not deter Mother St. Michel. Knowing that if it was God's will and trusting in Our Lady's intercession, she wrote a letter to the pontiff on December 15, 1808, requesting a transfer to Louisiana. 

When it was clear that there was no opportunity for the letter to be sent, Mother St. Michel prayed in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, "O Most Holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain a prompt and favorable answer to my letter, I promise to have you honoured in New Orleans under the title of 'Our Lady of Prompt Succor.' " (79)

After Mother St. Michel's prayers were completed, the letter left Montpelier for Rome on March 9, 1809. Pope Pius VII miraculously received the letter and granted her request. The answer to her prayers was astonishingly prompt. Mother St. Michel ordered a statue carved and it was blessed by Bishop Fornier. The statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, arrived in Louisiana with Mother St. Michel in 1810.

It was soon after the statue's arrival that two momentous miracles occurred in Louisiana: the extinguishing of a raging fire that threatened the Ursuline Convent, and General Andrew Jackson's victory over a much larger invading British force.

In 1812, a terrible fire erupted in New Orleans and burned much of what is now the French Quarter, where the convent used to be located at that time. Propelled by wind, the fire was heading right for the convent. One of the nuns placed a small statue of Our Lady at a window facing the fire; Mother St. Michel then began to implore Our Lady's intercession. It is known that the wind instantly shifted its direction away from the nuns; the Ursuline convent was one of the buildings spared from destruction. I would like to share with you a very important point that Brown noted regarding this event, one that we should never forget, "Such events show us that nothing is beyond the reach of prayer, no problem, no disaster." (81)

Only a few years later in 1815, more trouble appeared in New Orleans during the war between the Americans and the British. Louisiana was at this time apart of the United States, but England had planned to reacquire its former territory back. The British arrived with 15,000 troops near New Orleans on the plains of Chalmette to square off against General Andrew Jackson and his smaller force of only 6,000 men.

It appeared that there was no way the Americans could win; they were outnumbered, and the British were better equipped and prepared. The night before the battle, January 7, the Ursuline sisters prayed before the Blessed Sacrament and did so all night long. Others joined the nuns in prayer and by morning, a Mass was celebrated and offered up by the vicar general. Above the altar at this Mass was the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Prayers were recited in earnest as the thunder of the cannons could be heard.

At Communion time, a courier had rushed into the chapel to announce the miraculous victory over the British. During the battle, a fog appeared, confusing the British who wandered into a swamp, in full view of the Americans who were waiting to ambush them. From the battle, 2,600 British died with very few American casualties. General Jackson visited the nuns at the convent to personally thanked them for their prayers.

Rome officially approved devotion to Our Lady of Prompt Succor in 1912, and the statue was solemnly crowned through a decree issued by Pope Leo XIII.

The lessons to be drawn from this devotion's history are crystal clear, that we can obtain prompt help from Our Lady, what ever may be the problem, need or danger in our lives; Our Mother hears our prayers and will hasten to come to our aid. 

When we seek a quick answer or are in need of immediate help, even if it seems like an impossible situation, this devotion as Brown notes, "...[W]ill accomplish such requests if they are the will of the Father." (83) If it is the will of the Father, we can be assured that this devotion will obtain for us what we ask, and we must never forget this or doubt it in any way.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor, pray for us.

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