SAINT AUGUSTINE – For many years, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine has been a renowned landmark for pilgrims who visit from all over the world. It is America’s oldest Marian Shrine, and Oct. 11 Bishop Felipe J. Estévez made a surprise announcement that Our Lady of La Leche Shrine has been elevated to a National Shrine by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
More than 200 people attended the feast day Mass of Our Lady of La Leche including benefactors, members of the recently reinstated Confraternity of Our Lady of La Leche, Knights and Dames of Malta and many others who cherish the devotion to the nursing Mother.
In his homily, Bishop Estévez spoke about how Mary exemplifies what it means to have a relationship with God.
“Mary recognizes the living God who closes the door to the mighty of this world and raises up the little ones, the poor in spirit, who are blessed by God,” he said. “She praises God in his great mercy towards those who obey him and open their hearts to him.”
According to the USCCB, the term shrine signifies a church or other sacred place to which the faithful make pilgrimages for a particular pious reason with the approval of the local ordinary. The distinguishing mark of a shrine is that it is a place to which the faithful make pilgrimages.
In 1609, the Spanish established on the grounds of Mission Nombre de Dios, 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. A statue of the nursing and watchful mother of Jesus was placed in the chapel. The Holy Virgin holds the infant Jesus in her right arm and offers him her breast.
The present chapel was reconstructed in 1915. Throughout its existence, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche remains a comforting place of prayer for mothers-to-be, for families, for special intentions, and for those seeking to strengthen their faith.
In 2012, the Vatican approved a feast day for Our Lady of La Leche to be inserted into the diocesan calendar on Oct. 11. This year, the Holy See approved the title B.V. Our Lady of La Leche, and a canonical coronation of the statue will occur on Oct. 11, 2020, as part of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of St. Augustine. This will be only the fourth Mary crowned in the United States.
For more information, call Joanna Stark at (904) 824-2809 or visit www.missionandshrine.org.