Yesterday was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and the seminary celebrated with a wonderful lunch. At the end of the meal, a series of toasts were given: to the pope, to the United States, and to the college. The middle toast, to the United States, was given by Fr. Stephen Wyble of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. He did such a good job of succinctly capturing the Virgin Mary’s role in American history (and the history of the Americas more broadly) that I got his permission to post the toast. It’s fitting for both Immaculate Conception, and for today (the feast of St. Juan Diego, to whom the Virgin Mary appeared at Guadalupe):
When asking a NAC seminarian what comes to mind when he thinks of the United States, the answer usually involves a combination of food, family, and the English language.
Not a bad answer, if a bit influenced by homesickness. So instead I asked some Italian friends, why, for example, is Italy and the whole world so fascinated by the US elections, held a month ago today. “Because it’s entertaining!” they said. “But more seriously, because the US at least strives to promote hope and freedom in the world, and that is captivating!”
In preparing this toast, it struck me that it’s no coincidence the Immaculate Conception is the patroness of the United States.
First, there’s the history. She has had a special presence in our country for over 500 years.
From the voyage of Christopher Columbus, sailing the famous Santa María – which has the often overlooked full name “Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción.”
To the first bishop in the first diocese of the United States, based in Maryland, Bishop John Carroll consecrated the thirteen colonies to the Holy Mother of God; that was in 1792.
So in 1846, at the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore, when the 23 US bishops elected the Immaculate Conception as patroness of the United States, it was more of a re-dedication to Mary, who had already been with us for centuries.
The bishops’ choice, by the way, was still eight years before Pius IX would declare the Immaculate Conception a dogma of the Church. Perhaps the piety of the Americans helped facilitate the pope’s decision…
You might say Mary chose the United States rather than we chose her, chose the US to give us a model of true hope and true freedom. For it is our very real hope to be made sinless before God, like her; and the freedom we desire is ultimately the freedom from sin, the freedom to be virtuous.
Hope and freedom. Two reasons that motivated Columbus’ journey and countless other explorers and immigrants who sought then and who still seek a place of hope, a nation that protects freedom: ideals of the United States safeguarded by our dear patroness. May she continue to guide us and correct us and purify our country’s ideals, as she forms us into good citizens, and leads us to her son.
So please raise your glass as we toast our country, providentially under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception. To the United States of America.
Father Wyble notes, by the way, that the historical information used in this toast can be found in Cardinal Justin Rigali’s 2008 letter “Our Lady as Patroness of the United States under her title the Immaculate Conception” and Marion A. Habig, O.S.B.’s “Land of Mary Immaculate.”