I was recently given a fascinating little book called American History You Never Learned; it contains much information showing that the discovery of the New World, and the founding of our nation, occurred within a direct context of divine guidance and blessing. In particular, Our Lady (who, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is still today our national patroness) played an important role in the establishment of the United States.
For instance: The earliest explorers of North America—sent by the Catholic king of Norway in the 14th century—left behind a carving in modern-day Minnesota in what became known as the Kensington Stone. Dated 1362, it read: “Hail Virgin Mary; save us from evil” (making it the oldest historical record found in the U. S.).
Christopher Columbus dedicated his voyage of discovery to Mary, changing the name of his flagship from Gallega to Santa Maria, and led the crews of all three vessels in hymns to Our Lady each evening. Upon discovering the island of San Salvador (named after the Savior), Columbus and his men went ashore and sang the Salve Regina in Our Lady’s honor; they taught the natives there the Ave Maria (“Hail Mary”) and other Catholic prayers.
Columbus’ three ships were named the Santa Maria (“Saint Mary”), the Pinta (“Paint”), and Nina (“Girl”)–which, put together in a sentence, reads “Holy Mary paints girl.” This refers to the miraculous event which occurred 49 years later, when Mary “painted” an image of herself as a young Indian maiden on St. Juan Diego’s tilma, or cloak—a scientifically-inexplicable image of Our Lady of Guadalupe which still exists in all its beauty today, and which prompted the conversion of nine million Mexican Indians to Catholicism in just one decade’s time.
The French explorer Fr. Jacques Marquette named the greatest river in North America the “River of the Immaculate Conception” (though its name was later changed to the Mississippi). The Spanish and French introduced Catholicism to many Native Americans, but the One True Faith wasn’t welcome in the English colonies. Catholic settlers established themselves in Maryland (the first colony to allow freedom of religion); they were able to name their colony after Our Lady only because they claimed to be honoring the English Queen Henrietta Maria.
It’s believed Our Lady’s intervention may have saved the life of General George Washington on several occasions; it’s also recorded that she encouraged him at the most trying time of the American Revolution, appearing to him at his headquarters in Valley Forge during the terrible winter of 1777-78. He later described her as a “woman of singular beauty,” and related how she said, “Son of the Republic, look and learn!” In the vision of the future he was then given, Washington saw the colonies take root and thrive, only to be fiercely attacked and dreadfully scourged on three different occasions—the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and a future conflict (World War III?) still to take place.
Has the United States remained true to its founding ideals? In particular, are Jesus and His Mother afforded a place of honor in our nation’s culture, politics, and economy? The answer to these questions is obviously a negative one—and so you and I are called to pray, fast, and sacrifice for the moral and spiritual renewal of the United States, and for the mitigation or prevention of any future war involving our country (a very appropriate theme for the remainder of Lent). America is still very dear to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart; our Heavenly Mother will gladly obtain her Son’s blessing and protection for our homeland, if only enough of us humbly beseech her for this grace.
REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.