St. Vincent de Paul ceremony honors Mary in May

Monday, May 4, 2009
St. Vincent de Paul High School senior Sarah DeWilde places a crown of flowers on a statue of Mary as her escort, Joel Fischer, watches during the May Procession Mass Sunday in Perryville, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- Rain shortened the annual May Procession of St. Vincent de Paul School students, but it didn't shrink the ceremony.

The Rev. Henry Grodecki said the intent of the Perryville tradition did not change once it moved to St. Vincent de Paul from The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

The shrine, built in 1929, is part of St. Mary's of the Barrens Church. St. Mary's was founded in 1818 and dedicated as a church in 1837. The day started with an 11 a.m. Mass at the National Shrine, followed by tours after 1 p.m. Wet weather prevented an outdoor ceremony. Traditionally the May Procession features graduates, recent first communicants and newly confirmed students walking from St. Mary's to a grotto nestled among trees on the church's parklike property.

But Grodecki, estimating that at least three inches of water was standing around the low-lying grotto, said having the ceremony inside not only kept the crowd dry, it allowed St. Vincent's students to honor Mary in their home church.

Senior Joel Fischer said the annual May procession is a celebration of Mary and her role in the Roman Catholic Church.

"She was the mother of Jesus and she's our mother, too," he said.

A cadre of parents armed with cameras clustered at the front of the altar before services started to take photos of the six members of the May Court. The court is reserved for the three boys and three girls who have the highest grade-point average after the valedictorian and salutatorian.

Diana Buchheit, whose youngest son, senior Adam Buchheit, participated in the ceremony, said it was "a very, very special ceremony."

She said she was surprised to see how many people attended Sunday's service, but in talking to some visitors, learned they had come to Perryville as part of a religious pilgrimage.

Megan Hennemann, 8, and her classmates dressed in their First Holy Communion outfits -- girls in white dresses, boys in dark suits -- and carried flowers to put at the statue's feet.

Older children, who had made confirmation during the school year, carried small boxes filled with written appeals to Mary from people around the world coping with illness or other difficulties.

The procession started with the choir and congregation singing the words used to pray with a rosary as the students entered the nave of the church, where the congregation was seated.

Grodecki told the crowd of more than 500 Mary's role may seem small, because she is rarely mentioned in the Gospels. But as the mother of Jesus, she was "his first disciple and a model of the church," he said.

Senior Sarah DeWilde, leader of the high school chapter of St. Vincent de Paul Sodality, placed a crown of flowers on a statue of Mary, after the first communicants placed roses at her feet.

"May the flowers always remind us to bring this fragrance of God's blessing to those around us," Grodecki said.

The May Procession coincides, like many Catholic celebrations, with other ancient cultures' rituals, Grodecki said. Honoring Mary with a crown of flowers reflects the Druids' celebration of the return of spring and Maypole celebrations.

Grodecki ended the services by urging the congregants to "go in peace to continue to love and serve the Lord."


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