Mary is coming to see you

Parishes, Catholic schools invited to host a visit of new diocesan statue

Roxanne King

The Church has dedicated the month of October to the rosary since 1883, when “the rosary pope” Pope Leo XIII directed it. Pope Francis reiterated this call last month, when he invited all the faithful to recite it every day in October.

This month also marked two significant Marian dates. On Oct. 7, the Church observed the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, which recalls the outmanned Holy League’s 16th century victory over Turkish invaders at the Battle of Lepanto, which St. Pius V attributed to mass recitation of the prayer. Oct. 13 marked the 101st anniversary of the 1917 “miracle of the sun” in the last apparition of Mary at Fatima, Portugal. Our Lady of Fatima urged praying the rosary.

Fittingly, the Archdiocese of Denver’s new statue of Our Lady of Fatima is now on pilgrimage throughout the diocese to encourage the faithful to recite the rosary. The rosary is a centuries-old Scriptural prayer focused on events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.

“The statue was two years in the making,” said Sam Perry, founder of the Prayer in the Square campaign, which serves to promote the rosary and commissioned the statue. Prayer in the Square partners include The Catholic Foundation, the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Charities.

The Our Lady of Fatima statue was commissioned in Portugal in 2016 as a gift to the archdiocese to mark the then-upcoming 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. Unfortunately, those who carve the statues were overwhelmed with centennial orders and Denver’s didn’t arrive until this spring.

The exquisite five-foot tall statue is made from a single piece of African wood. It depicts Mary in bright white garments with gold trim, holding a rosary and wearing a gleaming gold crown. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila blessed it in May. Such statues are believed to carry the moral presence of Mary.

“We wanted the statue so it could visit schools and parishes where time could be set aside to pray the rosary,” said Tom Morroni, a member of the Prayer in the Square Committee. “This is meant to pass the rosary on to the next generation.”

Catholic schools and parishes are invited to host the statue for a two-week period. It arrives with rosaries made in the Holy Land and pocket-sized blue-covered books (in English and in Spanish) on how to recite it that are given away for free.

Organizers encourage parishes to offer special events related to the visit to foster devotion to the rosary, such as a time for daily public recitation of it. A film about the Fatima apparitions is also available for parishes to offer a movie night for families.

The statue’s pilgrimage started in June. It is currently at Queen of Peace Church in Aurora. The first parish to host it was Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield. Our Lady Mother of the Church in Commerce City soon followed.

“I wanted to have it because our parish is dedicated to Mary,” said Msgr. Jorge de los Santos, Pastor of the predominately Hispanic parish. “It’s good to have devotion to Our Mother [Mary], the Mother of God. She is the first disciple, our mother and our model of discipleship.”

As a result of the visit, he said, the parish has continued to pray the rosary as a community before each Mass on Sundays.

Father Michael Freihofer, Pastor of Our Lady of the Snow in Granby and Spiritual Director for the World Apostolate of Fatima’s Denver Division, recently hosted a visit.

“We will accept a life-size statue of Mary at our churches (he oversees five) any time we can get her!” he said. “We get to see how powerful her intercession is. … I get to hear the stories of healing.”

Father Freihofer credits the Blessed Mother with protecting him from falling into mortal sin at age 21.

“The Blessed Virgin beckoned me not to fall into it,” he said. “By God’s grace, I avoided it. My whole path in life could have gone astray if I would have committed that sin.”

He also credits Mary with his vocation to the priesthood.

“In 1995, I felt I wasn’t a very holy person, even though I was going to Mass every Sunday and going to confession bi-monthly. I determined to pray the rosary every day beginning on January 1, 1996. … By August 1999, I was in the seminary.”

His devotion to Mary is summarized in one statement.

“The quickest way to holiness is having Mary at your side,” he asserted.

Schedule the Our Lady of Fatima statue to come to your parish or school  

Go to ccdenver.org/fatimastatue/

COMING UP: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.