By Kathleen Bagg
The new Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in High Springs, Fla., was officially blessed Saturday evening, Dec. 5, at St. Madeleine Sophie Catholic Church by Bishop Felipe Estévez. Joining Bishop Estévez was Bishop Emeritus John J. Snyder and several clergy from the Gainesville Deanery and diocese, women religious, dignitaries and lay faithful.
The devotion to Our Lady of La Leche has special significance in the Diocese of St. Augustine. From the time Spanish explorers established the town of St. Augustine in “La Florida” in 1565, they brought with them a particular devotion to the Blessed Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. On Sept. 8, 1565, the first Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated on these shores – it was the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Shortly after, a special devotion to Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto – Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery began.
Since the early 1600s, this devotion has been kept alive by countless people of faith who travel to the oldest Marian shrine in the United States to seek the Blessed Mother’s intercession for a safe delivery of their child, for the gift of fertility, for those seeking to strengthen their faith and for many other special intentions.
The Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, grounded in the rich traditions of the shrine in St. Augustine, will provide people living in the western counties of the diocese and others traveling to Florida a place for pilgrimage and spiritual renewal.
During his homily at Mass, Bishop Estévez thanked Father Sebastian George, pastor of St. Madeleine Parish, for his enthusiasm and efforts in making the Santa Fe Shrine available for all the faithful in the area.
“Each one of us should love Jesus as much as Jesus loved his Mother,” said Bishop Estévez. He said Mary will lead many to Christ and the shrine in High Springs is another effort to bring people to encounter Jesus through his Mother, Mary.
The name of the new shrine has rich meaning and historical significance to the people of the High Springs area. Santa Fe (meaning Holy Faith) is derived from an old Franciscan Mission named Santa Fe Toloca once located near the famous 75-mile Santa Fe River, which crisscrosses the High Springs area. The original St. Madeleine Church that was located in the heart of High Springs was moved to the parish’s current site 35 years ago. The building that was once used as an Adoration Chapel by the parish has been renovated for the new shrine. The new wood carved statue of Our Lady of La Leche is from the Demetz Art Studio in Ortisei, Italy.
This beautiful 18-acre setting is perfect for silent prayer and contemplation and includes the Emmaus Walking Trail with many unique devotional opportunities for pilgrims. There is also a Marian Grotto (planned), outdoor Stations of the Cross, Memorial Garden and Cemetery on the property.
The new shrine is under the direction of Carmelite Father Sebastian George. For more information about the shrine, call (386) 454-2358 or email the parish at firstname.lastname@example.org.