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The Catholic New World
Our Lady of Guadalupe’s mission, message growing

By Michelle Martin
Staff Writer

For more than 15 years, Our Lady of Guadalupe has been drawing pilgrims to the grounds of Maryville Academy in Des Plaines.

In 1988, the campus, which once housed the largest residential child-care institution in Illinois, took in a statue of the Patroness of the Americas brought from Mexico City by Joaquim Martinez, a parishioner and staff member at Our Lady of the Brook in Northbrook.

Like the roses that pilgrims bring, the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe took root at Maryville and grew, to the point that up to 3,500 worshippers attend Mass at the site every weekend, and upwards of 60,000 come to observe the Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and its surrounding festivities.

“The first year, for las mañanitas (the 5 a.m. traditional devotion on Our Lady of Guadlaupe’s feast day) we had maybe 12 people,” Martinez said.

Today, the hill that forms the centerpiece of the shrine is surrounded with colorful flowers, real and artificial, and rows of candles in glass containers line the raised outdoor sanctuary. On the back of the hill, a cave holds an image of the Risen Lord, with more candles, photographs of babies in incubators and sonograms, hospital bracelets and, stacked near the entrance, crutches.

“Those were left by people who prayed for a miracle and received it,” said Martinez, still one of the leaders of the volunteer group that cares for the shrine.

The wide lawns that surround the hill fill with people every Sunday—people who bring their own chairs and picnic lunches for after Mass, people who drive from surrounding states, people who come to fulfill their “mandas,” or promises to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe in return for answered prayers.

“They see this place as a little basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Father Miguel Martinez, (no relation to Joaquim), who was appointed rector/chaplain in July.

The size of the congregation, gathered for Mass outside in December last year, exposed to the Midwestern weather, drew the notice of Auxiliary Bishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, the archdiocese’s liaison for Hispanic ministry, when he visited in 2004.

“He said to the cardinal, ‘We have to give it some kind of status,’” said Martinez, explaining how he came to be appointed the shrine’s first full-time priest.

While the oratory’s canonical status might be new, the “Cerrito del Tepeyac,” (Grotto of Tepeyac, named for the site where the virgin appeared to San Juan Diego in 1531 in what is now Mexico City) is not.

The hill—a stone creation with fountains, topped by bronze statues of Our Lady and San Juan Diego—includes dirt from the real hill.

The chapel now has daily Masses and a regular schedule of weekend Masses, with the 9 a.m. Spanish Mass, celebrated outdoors when weather permits, the largest. An 11 a.m. English Mass is celebrated in the chapel, where a replica taken directly from the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the shrine in Mexico City is housed.

The shrine now holds daily Mass at 7 p.m. in Spanish (though Martinez said he includes some English in the liturgy if he sees people who look like English-speakers in the congregation) and an additional Spanish vigil Mass at 7 p.m. Saturday and a Spanish Sunday Mass at 1 p.m. in the chapel.

Most pilgrims come from Chicago, but a fair number make the trip from Indiana, Michigan, even Canada, and most are Mexican, with a generous sprinkling from other Latin American countries, along with some Polish immigrants and others.

The chapel also is home to two weekly Assyrian Catholic liturgies, and sometimes the scheduled ceremonies overlap, Martinez said, requiring intercultural cooperation—especially in the parking lot.

The virgin does not belong to any nationality or ethnicity, Martinez said.

“There’s a kind of mindset sometimes that there’s no place for you if you’re not Hispanic or Mexican,” Martinez said. “There is no space for that here. Father (John) Smyth has always said that everyone is welcome, because everyone is a child of God.”

That spirit of tolerance can be seen in the way mostly Spanish-speaking worshippers accepted Smyth and other English-speaking priests—and even some visiting clerics who spoke other languages—when Spanish-speaking priests were not available.

That should be alleviated with Martinez’s assignment.

At the same time, the members of the lay committee that has run the shrine over the years now must get used to working with a priest, and following archdiocesan protocols, Martinez said.

“Sometimes we have to do things more by the book,” he said, including asking people to participate in marriage preparation programs before weddings or prepare for baptisms. The committee has responded enthusiastically, he said.

“I thought they might be very apprehensive, but they are very easy to work with,” he said.

Joaquim Martinez started it all on a pilgrimage to Mexico City in 1987 when he ordered the statue that stands in the indoor chapel. He brought it back to Our Lady of the Brook, where the pastor, Father Robert Herne, and parish leaders suggested he make it a traveling statue.

“I asked, ‘Who’s going to handle the mission?’” Martinez recalled. “He said, ‘You.’”

It was dedicated in a public ceremony at Lake Opeka Park in Des Plaines in June that year, and began visiting area parishes, starting with St. Mary’s in Des Plaines. After a year, Martinez began looking for a permanent home.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but nobody wanted it, not even for free,” he said. So he went to Smyth, the longtime leader of Maryville.

“Father Smyth said, ‘If I receive the children, I’m not going to say no to the Blessed Mother,” Martinez said.

When the statue was formally presented to Maryville in 1988, Bishop Placido Rodriguez said, “Maybe in the future this will be a second Tepeyac.”

That planted the seed, and in 1995 work started on the hill that exists now. It’s still under development, with the most recent addition being the addition of two massive boulders bearing Maryville’s logo and the name of the shrine.

There are plans to add to the site, both additional areas for prayer and practical facilities such as bathrooms so the congregation doesn’t have to rely on portable toilets. They also expect more sacraments to be celebrated there, especially since Cardinal George gave permission for outdoor weddings at the shrine.

But exactly how the shrine will grow, they are not certain.

“To me, it’s something God is leading,” Joaquim Martinez said. “You make plans, and then you see them change with God’s action.”


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