The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/38 – Our Lady of Prompt Succor and the United States of America


Centuries ago, on the Island of Crete, there was once venerated an Icon which was referred to as ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Succor.’ During the times of the Ottoman invasions, it was removed to Rome. The Image was also known as ‘
Our Lady of Never-Failing Help’ and ‘Our Lady of Ever-Enduring Succor.’ It became famous with the locals due to the many miracles wrought when the Icon was solemnly carried during processions. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Augustinians promulgated the devotion to Our Lady of Prompt Succor, and this devotion spread throughout Italy. It remains a fervently observed devotion up till our modern day, especially in the Sicilian town of Caltavulturo, where an Image of the Madonna is kept, holding a club in her upraised right hand, ‘used to drive away enemies,’ and painted by Giovanni da Monte Rubiano.

The devotion to Our Lady of Prompt Succor became well known when a man named Nicolo Bruno beheld a vision of Our Lady holding a club in her hand. At the time he was sick and consequently following the vision, was healed of his fever and a broken neck. Another popular miracle amongst the citizens of Sciacca, Sicily, occurred when Our Lady saved a boy from the tenebrous clutches of the Devil. The event came about when the mother of the ‘naughty’ child in a fit of rage cried out “may the devil take you away,” the devil immediately appeared and was about to drag her son into the abyss of hell, when the mother repenting begged Our Lady of Prompt Succor to save her son. The Blessed Virgin appeared dressed in white and a gold robe and gold diadem, she carried the club with which she struck the Devil knocking him to the ground. The boy, who was now released, ran to the Blessed Virgin and hid under her cape. The Blessed Virgin together with the boy, walked to the Devil and trampled him underfoot. She then proceeded to the boy’s mother saying: “Put your trust in Our Lady of Prompt Succor, for I am the protector of Sciacca (Sicily), fear not my children for I shall never abandon you.”(1)

In 1727, French Ursuline nuns established a monastery in New Orleans, USA. King Louis XV aided their cause, their main apostolate was Catholic education. When in 1763 the State of Louisiana came under the rule of the Spanish Nation, the Spanish nuns were sent to the monastery. On reverting back to the French the Spanish nuns fled, as they feared the Napoleonic regime and his persecution of the Church. In 1803, the Mother of the Congregation, Mother Saint Andre Madier, sent for Mother Saint Michel from France to join her and her nuns. Mother Saint Michel consulted the Bishop, who informed the nun that the permission of her leaving France could only be granted by the Pope. At the time the Holy Father was held hostage by Napoleon Bonaparte, therefore, this permission seemed virtually impossible to obtain. Mother Saint Michel was courageous and hopeful; such a difficulty was not to discourage her. She wrote to the Holy Father and prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She prayed: “O most Holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain for me a prompt and favorable answer to this letter, I promise to have you honored at New Orleans under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.”(2) She sent her letter to the Pope on March 19, 1809, and received a reply on April 29, 1809, by a Cardinal who said: “Madame, I am charged by Our Holy Father, Pope Pius VII, to answer in his name. His Holiness cannot do otherwise than approve of the esteem and attachment you have fostered for the religious state… His Holiness approves of your placing yourself at the head of your religious aspirants, to serve as their guide during the long and difficult voyage you are about to undertake.”(3)

The Holy Pontiff in exile, granted her request and Mother Saint Michel commissioned a statue portraying Our Lady of Prompt Succor. The statue was blessed by a French Bishop, Bishop Fournier. On December 31, 1810, Mother Saint Michel and her nuns arrived at the New Orleans monastery and placed the Statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor within the chapel. A first miracle occurred two years after the statue was placed in the chapel. In 1812, nuns praying before Our Lady of Prompt Succor saved the Ursoline Monastery by way of their prayers and Our Lady’s intervention, from the sure destruction by fire. On January 8, 1815, at the famous Battle of New Orleans, Our Lady of Prompt Succor intervened decisively to grant victory to the Catholic and non-Catholic Americans in Battle. Failing to comply with the Treaty of Paris, the British did not evacuate their forts; they rather proceeded to take under their control, New Orleans, the heart of the State of Louisiana. The British General Packenham had assured his soldiers, pledging: “beauty and booty.”(4) This evidently scared the locals for they understood that the soldiers, apart from pillaging their town, would rape the women. General Andrew Jackson recruited a force of 6,000 men, they were to face a superior force of 15,000 British troops. The enemy troops were the best of Europe, recently defeating Napoleon Bonaparte and the victors of the Peninsular Campaign in Spain.

When the British ‘red coats’ landed, General Andrew Jackson, spent the next four days depriving himself of sleep, organizing the defenses and inspiring his men. When General Jackson was questioned on the reason for which he chose to include free black African men in his army, he replied: “Place confidence in them… engage them by every dear and honorable tie to the interest of the country who extends to them equal rights and privileges with white men.”(5) On January 7, many of the faithful gathered at the Ursuline Chapel and passed the night in prayer before the Statue of Our lady of Prompt Succor and the Blessed Sacrament. Nuns and citizens prayed and wept, amongst them were the relatives of the men who formed part of General Jackson’s army. They fervently beseeched Our Lady, that General Andrew Jackson’s troops would prevail over their enemies. The British encamped at Chalmette near New Orleans, and maneuvered around the city. On the morning of January 8, the vicar general offered Mass at the main altar, before which the Statue of Our Lady had been placed. The prayers were said in special earnest, for the thundering of cannons was constant. Nightly raids by the Americans killed the British sentries, usurping their equipment and keeping the whole army in confusion. At the Ursoline Chapel, around communion time, a courier rushed in to bring the tidings that the British troops were defeated. The courier described the events; a fog had descended upon the British and most wondered into a swamp, where the Americans shot them wounding and killing most. Over 2,600 British soldiers were killed, captured or wounded, whilst the Americans lost only seven killed, and six wounded.

Following the battle, General Andrew Jackson visited the Ursuline Monastery and personally thanked the nuns for their prayers and their charity in nursing the wounded soldiers. General Jackson proclaimed: “By the blessing of heaven, directing the valor of the troops under my command, one of the most brilliant victories in the annals of war was obtained.”(6) He described the victory in a letter to the vicar as a “signal interposition of heaven.” A local newspaper, ‘The Picayune,’ had the following words on the battle: “The result seems almost miraculous. It was a remarkable victory, and it can never fail to hold an illustrious place in our national history.”(7) The Vatican in Rome officially approved devotion to Our Lady of Prompt Succor and the Statue was solemnly crowned through a decree issued by His Holiness Pope Leo XIII. In 1895, after establishing the confraternity of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Archbishop Francis Janssens crowned the Image of the Blessed Virgin. Mass of thanksgiving has been celebrated on January 8, at Saint Louis Cathedral and since 1851, at the Ursuline’s Chapel. The old convent remains the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley, but no longer keeps the Statue or convent, which are now located on State Street.

 

General Andrew Jackson would later become, President Jackson.

 

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