As Advent leads Catholics toward the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, it’s fitting that the Church also honors Mary, the great mother of God, in the middle of this season. Last week we celebrated the Immaculate Conception of Mary on Dec. 8 and Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. Those two days on the calendar precede Christmas and in so doing lead us to Jesus, as Mary always does.

The faithful of the Philadelphia Archdiocese have traditionally held intense devotion to our Lady. One example of our love for Mary lies in the names of parishes of the Archdiocese. A total of 57 parishes of the Archdiocese’s 268 are named after Mary. Parishes named in her honor beginning with “Our Lady of” number 37 alone, far more than any other parish name. {{more}}

An interesting news item regarding Mary emerged from Wisconsin last week as Bishop David Ricken of the Green Bay Diocese gave the first approval of a Marian apparition in the United States.

Today, a small shrine-chapel marks the spot where in 1859 Adele Brise, an uneducated 28-year-old Belgian immigrant living in then-frontier Wisconsin, witnessed three apparitions of Mary. After the first, Brise asked the local bishop for guidance. If she saw it again he told her to ask the apparition its name and what it wanted of her.

A couple days later Mary again appeared and answered Brise’s question saying, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.”

Mary told Brise to “gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation. Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the cross and how to approach the sacraments.”

Brise then began to teach children in this way for the rest of her life.

“We need this message today as much as they needed it 150 years ago,” Bishop Ricken said, “the message to proclaim the Gospel, each one of us, in our families and in our workplace.”

Catholics must provide children “adequate catechetical formation” so they understand the Gospel and “are able to defend and explain the teachings of the Church,” he added.

Regardless of whether one’s parish is named for Mary but especially if it is, this coming fourth week of Advent presents an ideal time to pray for our Lady’s intercession with Jesus, son of God and son of Mary, in heaven for our needs on earth.