In the early 1600s, Spanish settlers brought with them to the New World a special devotion to Our Lady of La Leche y Buen Parto. Four hundred years later, the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche has kept this devotion alive through countless people of faith. And the Holy Father himself has recognized the importance and sanctity of this devotion by granting a Canonical Coronation for Our Lady of La Leche on Sunday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. This once-in-a-lifetime and completely unique event is an incredible blessing for the Diocese of St. Augustine and the oldest Marian shrine in the United States!
A canonical coronation is a formal act of the pope to crown an image of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or St. Joseph in the name of the Holy Father. The crowning acknowledges that the specific image, while having local significance, also has universal importance for the Catholic Church as it pertains to the Salvation Christ won for us by the Paschal Mystery of his death and resurrection. The practice began in the 17th century but became increasingly popular in the late 1800s. Many people are familiar with a May crowning as many parishes and schools annually have one as a sign of their devotion to Mary. A canonical coronation is different in that this will only happen once to this specific image of Our Lady of La Leche.
What is a Canonical Coronation?
by Father Tom Willis
A canonical coronation is a formal act of the pope, as supreme pontiff of the church, to crown in his name an image of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary or St. Joseph in the name of the Holy Father. The crowning acknowledges that the specific image, while having local significance, also has a universal importance for the Catholic Church as it pertains to the Salvation Christ won for us by the Paschal Mystery of his death and resurrection. The practice began in the 17th century but became increasingly popular from the late 1800’s.
Many people are familiar with a May crowning as many parishes and schools annually have one as a sign of their devotion to Mary. A canonical coronation is different in that this will only happen once to this specific image of Our Lady of La Leche. Once the ceremony of coronation takes place on Oct. 11, 2020, no other crowning of this specific image will take place since the pope, as vicar of Christ and successor of St. Peter, has had placed on this image crowns to symbolize the universal and perpetual nature of the graces that flow to the church from Christ through Mary’s intercession under her title as Our Lady of La Leche.
Why is this a big deal for the diocese?
A canonical coronation places a “papal stamp” on a particular devotion of the church, in this case to Mary under the title of Our Lady of La Leche. Devotion certainly dates back centuries in various parts of the world; however, this particular shrine – which recently was named a national shrine in the United States – is noteworthy for the centrality of the devotion for almost 400 years.
It also is only the fourth site in the United States to receive this honor. The others are Our Lady of Prompt Succor, crowned in 1895, in New Orleans; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 1904, in New York City; and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, 2013, in Lake Charles, La.
What happens at the coronation?
As it pertains to the coronation of the image of Our Lady of La Leche, a papal legate will place crowns on the heads of the Baby Jesus and then the Virgin Mary. The Order of Crowning an Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is an official liturgical rite in the Catholic Church for use by bishops, will be celebrated. The ritual designates that, in the celebration of Mass, the coronation takes place following the homily. Our Lady of La Leche already wears a crown. How is this different?
New crowns are being designed to place on Mary and the Baby Jesus she holds as he nurses at her breast. These crowns will be considered permanent on the image in the historic chapel at the shrine in St. Augustine. Other images of Our Lady of La Leche will continue to have the crown on Mary’s head as it presently is used.
What kind of devotions does this encourage?
In the first place, as devotion to Mary under this title manifested over the centuries, the Blessed Mother’s intercession is an important one for mothers and families at the time of a baby’s birth and in the first years of life as the baby suckles at its mother’s breast. In this, the church also calls to mind that Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Mary, was born into this life – the mystery of the Incarnation – and was similarly nurtured at his Mother’s breast. This leads to a second importance which is the sanctity of human life. The care which mothers (as well as fathers and all family members) must have during pregnancy and the early years of an infant’s life is foundational to one’s human life as well as one’s life in Christ.
Thus devotion to Our Lady of La Leche incarnates the scripture verse of all that was said about Jesus at his birth:
Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19), and Jesus went down with them (Mary and Joseph) and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart (Luke 2:51).
Devotion to Mary also points to the centrality of family life which St. Paul writes about most especially in his Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-6:4).
History of the National Shrine
The National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, located at the Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine, is the historical site of the first parish Mass and the first shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the United States. The Mission Nombre de Dios traces its origins to the founding of the city of St. Augustine, America’s oldest city. On Sept. 8, 1565, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pedro Menéndez de Aviles came ashore and proclaimed this site for the church and Spain. The first act was to build an altar and celebrate Holy Mass. Each year, Catholics and the local community celebrate Founder’s Day with a reenactment of the landing followed by the celebration of Mass.
The first Spanish settlers and soldiers, true to their religion, brought with them a great love for Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the late 1500s, they established on the mission grounds the Holy Virgin’s first sanctuary in the United States. They built a chapel and dedicated it to Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto – Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery. They placed a statue of the nursing, smiling and watchful mother in the chapel. The Holy Virgin holds the infant Jesus with her right arm and offers Him her breast. The devotion spread rapidly among the converted Timucua, Guale, and Apalache Indians native to the area. That God sent His Son, to be born of a virgin and live among them, was a powerful image in helping newly converted souls understand the incarnation. The original chapel and several reconstructions were damaged by storms and attacks. The chapel was rebuilt in 1875 by Augustin Verot, the first bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine. It too fell to the ravages of a major hurricane just a few years later.
The present chapel was reconstructed in 1915 and enshrined a replica of the original statue of Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto – Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery. Throughout its existence, the shrine has remained a comforting place of prayer for mothers-to-be, for families, for special intentions and for those seeking to strengthen their faith.
The original chapel seats 35 people. As the feast day celebration grew, and pilgrimages increased, the diocese enlarged the existing Prince of Peace Votive Church located on mission grounds, now known as the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. Bishop Felipe J. Estévez invited the Immaculate Conception Community to serve at the shrine. Today, two priests from the community live on the grounds and provide pastoral care and pilgrimage planning and support. They offer and share a special Marian Spiritual Seminar in three parts for all pilgrim groups. A new liturgical calendar of scheduled times for celebration of the sacraments of confession and Holy Mass are offered daily. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, the Rite of Blessing a Child in the Womb, and daily rosary have encouraged many to deepen their faith, add Marian devotion in their spiritual lives, to heal and bring many closer to God, and even some back to the church.
In 2012, the Holy See’s Congregation of Divine Worship and Discipline of the sacraments granted a petition for a feast in honor of Our Lady of La Leche to be inserted into the liturgical calendar of the Diocese of St. Augustine each year on October 11. And in 2019, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios was approved for national shrine status by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops.
In 2015, realizing the absence of any Marian shrine in the western counties of the diocese of 11,000 square miles, Bishop Estévez was moved by the needs of the poor rural workers unable to travel to the extreme east of the diocese to honor Our Lady of La Leche. On Dec. 5, 2015, a solemn blessing of the new Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche took place. The 18-acre shrine is located at St. Madeleine Sophie Catholic Church, just off Highway 441 in High Springs, and provides the people living on the western side of the diocese a place for pilgrimage and spiritual renewal. More than 1,600 visitors have since signed the visitor book representing eight different countries and 20 different states in the U.S.
History of Canonical Coronations in the U.S.
Our Lady of La Leche (Nuestra Señora de la Leche) is only the fourth site in the United States to receive the honor of a Canonical Coronation. The others include:
- Our Lady of Prompt Succor, crowned in 1895, in New Orleans, La;
- Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 1904, in New York City, N.Y.;
- Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, 2013, in Lake Charles, La.
In addition to the Canonical Coronation, the Mass will include a diocesan consecration to Jesus through Mary.
To view the livestream of the Canonical Coronation, visit the diocesan YouTube Channel at www.YouTube.com/DOSACatholics, the diocese Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/DOSACatholics or the diocesan website at www.dosafl.com/livestream
Canonical Coronation Planning Committee
In April 2019, Bishop Felipe Estevez appointed the following members to the planning committee for the Canonical Coronation of Our Lady of La Leche:
The late Father John Phillips, chair
Dr. Mary Soha (appointed chair after the death of Father Phillips)
Father Tom Willis
Deacon Bob DeLuca
Father Erlin Yoan Garcia, ICC
Below are some informative articles featured in the St. Augustine Catholic magazine that provide the inside scoop on what exactly is a canonical coronation and more:
March/April 2020 – The Devotion to Our Lady of La Leche
January/February 2020 – Canonical Coronation of Our Lady of La Leche