Papal envoy crowns Florida’s Our Lady of La Leche
by Kate Olivera
St. Augustine, Fla., Oct 11, 2021 / 16:09 pm
The image of Our Lady of La Leche was canonically crowned Sunday, during Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, Florida.
“The Church that walks in St. Augustine is aware that a mother accompanies us in our mission: Our Lady of La Leche and Happy Delivery, whom we crown as queen and lady of all creation,” said Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid, Spain, through a translator, at the Oct. 10 Mass. The cardinal served as an envoy for Pope Francis.
“I have been told, and I have noticed, these few days that I have been with you, the affection and devotion that you have for the Blessed Virgin Mary, our mother. I thank God because you are a people who have known how to fulfill what we have just heard in the Gospel and will have accepted with all its consequences the gift that Christ from the Cross, made through St. John to all men and women: ‘Behold, your mother.’ To accept such a great gift makes the people greater.”
Following the homily, the cardinal placed crowns, crafted of gold from Italy and Spain, on Mary and the child Jesus, depicted in the image of Our Lady of La Leche.
“Today, this Diocese of St. Augustine also says the same words as the woman in the crowd, who listened to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breast at which you nursed”,” the cardinal said.
“May she intercede for us today and make us feel her words in the depth of our hearts: “Do whatever he tells you,” as she said.”
Our Lady of La Leche is the fourth image in the United States to be canonically crowned. The first was Our Lady of Prompt Succor in New Orleans, in 1895. St. Pius X crowned Our Lady of Mount Carmel of New York in Manhattan in 1904, and Benedict XVI crowned Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 2013.
The practice of canonical coronations dates to the 17th century. It is a formal crowning of an image of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or St. Joseph, in the name of the Holy Father. A crowning honors an image’s universal importance for the Catholic Church.
The image of Our Lady of La Leche has roots in Bethlehem, but Spanish settlers from Madrid brought the image to what is now Florida in 1577.
Since then, a National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche was constructed— the first Marian shrine in U.S. history, according to Bishop Felipe Estévez of St. Augustine. The shrine has become a popular pilgrimage site, especially for women hoping to become pregnant or praying for a safe delivery.
Her full title is Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto, which is Spanish for “Our Lady of Milk and Happy Delivery.”
The image of Our Lady of La Leche is unique in that it features the Blessed Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus. The National Shrine commissioned a new image of Our Lady of La Leche in honor of the coronation. The image was sculpted in northern Italy.
“It is kind of a Nativity of the Lord, because it is the child, recently born, in the hands of Mary,” said Bishop Estévez. “The image is Mary embracing the child— Emmanuel— and nursing him in his vulnerability…Her eyes are gazing on him, almost an invitation to us to always have our gaze on Jesus.”
Bishop Estévez said the image can be especially powerful within the pro-life movement.
“To look at this devotion, and to nurture this devotion, is to affirm the dignity of the human person, the protection of human life, the welcoming of the child, the dignity of the woman,” he said. “It wraps up such good news, such good values that our culture is in desperate need of.”