The commemoration of the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine and the founding of America’s first parish continues Sunday, Oct. 11, at Mission Nombre de Dios. Bishop Felipe Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine will dedicate the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at a 2 p.m. Mass open to the public.
In February 2015, work began to renovate the Prince of Peace Votive Church, which originally was built and blessed by Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley on April 17, 1966 to commemorate the 400th anniversary. It served as a place dedicated to prayers that God would spare the world from atomic warfare.
An additional 2,500 square feet has been added to the church, which now serves as the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. A chapel has been added to the shrine dedicated to Prince of Peace and the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima.
A new altar configuration features a large statue of Our Lady of La Leche and smaller statues depicting St. Joseph, custodian of Jesus Christ; St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order whose missionaries evangelized the Native Americans in Florida for two centuries; St. Katherine Drexel, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to serve Native Americans and African Americans, and a major benefactor of St. Benedict the Moor School in St. Augustine; and St. Kateri Tekawitha, the first Native American saint in the United States and Canada.
Structural improvements also include two offices for priests assigned to the shrine who will provide liturgical services, conduct pilgrimages and provide a pastoral identity for ongoing evangelization. There are new confessionals, a new sacristy and narthex or entrance area, a new sound system, flooring and seating for 200 to 300 people. The total cost of construction was $1.5 million.
Since the 17th century, the devotion to Our Lady of La Leche has been kept alive by countless people of faith who travel from all over the world to the shrine seeking our Blessed Mother’s intercession for a safe pregnancy and delivery of their child, for families, for strengthening their faith, and for healing from breast cancer and other illnesses.
In 2012, the Vatican approved bishop’s request to celebrate Oct. 11 as an annual diocesan feast day to honor Our Lady of La Leche, further elevating the shrine’s status.
“This shrine has monumental importance because of its historical and theological significance,” said Bishop Estévez. “It dates back to 1565 – where evangelization was firmly planted in the United States and it is the oldest devotion to Mary as the Nursing Mother in the United States,” he said.
The Diocese of St. Augustine contracted with Kasper Architecture, Baker Liturgical Art, LLC, and J.C. Harward & Associates for the renovations.
There will be refreshments served after the dedication Mass and a special reception for donors who have contributed to the renovations of the shrine will be held in the Mission Nombre de Dios Museum.