Redemptorists recommit themselves to spreading devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help


[Jennifer Brinker and Rebecca Venegoni Tower attended the Denver Province Jubilee Celebration for the St. Louis Review, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The following article was posted online on  28th June, 2016.]

(Denver, US): For a century and a half, the Redemptorist missionaries have upheld their promise to Pope Pius IX to go out in the world and spread a devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help — the icon of love.

The Redemptorists of the Denver Province renewed that commitment at a jubilee celebration June 27 at St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Church in north St. Louis, where the weekly perpetual novena was introduced in the United States nearly a century ago. Redemptorist Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis was the main celebrant at the evening Mass, which drew about 850 people and was televised on EWTN.

The ancient Byzantine icon of the Blessed Mother holding the child Jesus tells a story of redemption — His incarnation, passion, death and Resurrection. Entrusted to the community in Rome in 1866, it has served as a powerful instrument of evangelization in many countries. Outside of the United States, the devotion continues to draw thousands of people in places such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Nigeria and India. The celebration Mass included prayers, readings and music in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, a reflection of the diverse attraction to the devotion.

There is a clear connection between the icon and the poor, the immigrants, the marginalized and the forgotten, Archbishop Tobin said in his homily. The Blessed Mother “chose an icon of her image to reveal in wondrous ways the redeeming plan of God for all humanity. This image teaches how God chose her to participate in Christ’s merciful and abundant Redemption. All who gaze upon her image are invited to ponder how God is inviting them to participate in redemption as ambassadors of reconciliation.”

The origin of the icon dates back to the mid-14th century. According to tradition, it was stolen from a church on the Greek island of Crete, where miracles were said to have occurred. Oral history suggests the icon was stolen by a Venice merchant and brought to Rome, where it was hidden in a private home for four years.

In 1499, it was publicly displayed in the Church of St. Matthew in Rome. The church was destroyed in 1798 but the icon was rescued and placed in obscurity in a monastery chapel for years. When the Redemptorists learned the site of their new headquarters in Rome had once been the site of the old St. Matthew Church, the community asked Pope Pius IX permission to move the icon to Sant’Alfonso Church, where the original icon is still located. The pope entrusted the icon to the community, asking them to “make her known throughout the world.”

The icon was introduced in the United States in the late 19th century. Public services honoring the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help were introduced at the Rock Church in St. Louis 1873. The original shrine was dedicated in 1893 and was later redesigned and blessed in 1922. The perpetual novena was held weekly on Tuesdays, one of two days during the week that were free from other parish activities. As the story goes, Tuesday was chosen because the other free day was Monday — a popular “wash day” for the women of the house. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics flocked to the church at its height, and the devotion began spreading to other churches.

In honor of the jubilee, the Denver Province commissioned an icon from the Redemptorists in Krakow, Poland. It will travel to 16 U.S. cities where the Redemptorists minister through June 2017. The icon was delivered to the Redemptoristines, a contemplative community of women religious in Liguori, where the sisters prayed before it daily for several months prior to the celebration Mass.

Sister Eleanor Wilkinson presented the icon to Father Stephen Rehrauer

Redemptoristine Sister Eleanor Wilkinson presented the icon to Father Stephen Rehrauer, provincial superior of the Denver Province, which covers about three quarters of the United States. Sister Eleanor credited Our Mother of Perpetual Help with her discernment to religious life when she was in high school. “I put it in her hands,” Sister Eleanor said. “She had to show me where to go. I met a Redemptorist several years later.”

In the coming year, Redemptorists will be trained to preach a five-day mission to teach people about the meaning behind the icon. The community also created a website,, which includes a guide explaining the icon.

“It’s deeper than a pretty picture,” said Brother Larry Lujan, formation director at St. Alphonsus Formation House in New York. “People stare at it and don’t know why they stare at it. I always say it’s like a divine GPS. When you have to recalculate your life and you don’t know where you’re at, you can stand in front of that icon and it’s like she tells you what it is — with that hand pointing — here it is, here’s Jesus.”

Traveling icon

An icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help commissioned for the 150th jubilee celebration will travel to 16 Redemptorist ministry sites in the community’s Denver province through June 17.

The icon will be on display at St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Church, 1118 N. Grand Blvd., through September. The icon’s last stop will be at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Kansas City, Mo., in May 2017. Other cities include Chicago, New Orleans, Houston, Seattle, Denver and Minneapolis.

by stephenkempf, Created 06/28/2016 Submitted on June 28, 2016

Jennifer Brinker | | twitter: @jenniferbrinker

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