Parish History - The Shrine of the Blessed Virgin

1884 picture of the Shrine of the Blessed Virgin - click to view largerThe Shrine of the Blessed Virgin (previously called Rock Spring) is located near the Rosary Walk behind the Main Church. It was built in 1856 after the Apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1854, inspired by that miraculous event. This spot became the destination of several well-attended pilgrimages. On May 14, 1874, the Feast of the Ascension, a pilgrimage was held at White Marsh that was attended by over 3,000 persons from Washington and Baltimore. It was a great event and was well covered in the Catholic and secular press. The Catholic Mirror reported in its issue of May 23, 1874:

"The first noted pilgrimage made in America appears now in that of White Marsh, and it may yet be remarkable in being the forerunner of others more imposing, more numerous, although not more animated by zeal and piety."

Faith in God and the reverence for the Blessed Virgin were rewarded at the Shrine at White Marsh as at the Shrine at Lourdes. A leaflet prepared under the direction of Father Wiget in 1874 reads:

"The scenery around, so picturesque, the rocks, the gushing waters, must remind the pious pilgrim of the hallowed place and miraculous waters of Lourdes. There (White Marsh Shrine) many a prayer has been said by pious country people around, and tears of devotion have shown the deep feeling of visitors from the neighboring cities. Many a grace has there been obtained through the intercession of the Queen of Heaven, and even cures, singular, certainly, if not miraculous, have been wrought by the use of the waters of this spring, substituting, as it were, the waters of the Rock Springs for those of Lourdes."

The Catholic Review described the procession to the Shrine:
The pilgrims formed in procession on the top of the hill and were preceded by numerous acolytes and the celebrant. Father Wiget moved in pious company down the slope of the hill to the plain below. As the solemn train winded its way down the narrow land, the sweet perfume of the incense, ascending the hill like the vapors of the oracle at the Delphic cleft, the beautiful green banners and the starry flag and Papal flag fluttering in the breeze, the inspiring strains of music from the different bands falling with rapturous melody upon the ear, proved clearly that something more than ordinary was about to be witnessed. The sky overhead was beautiful and clear, and the azure canopy of heaven, with its vaulted arches, and the beautiful imagery of the earth, rendered still more lovely on this bright May day, combined to impress the happy pilgrims that her humble shrine at the spring would be pleasing to her, and that as such it would be accepted.

When the procession arrived at the Shrine, Rev. Father Wiget addressed the pilgrims in a few words calling for his text the words of Scripture, "All nations shall call me blessed." He said, "All Christian nations have forever called her Blessed. She showers down her blessings on mankind in many ways. Who has not heard of the wonderful apparition of the Virgin at Lourdes, where thousands go to drink the waters she has blessed? Is she not the same Blessed Mother here as there? If God will give us one place like that of Lourdes in America, shall we not accept it, and thank Him for it with all the graces following it? What a beautiful sight to see the vast multitude in this humble plain. May it be to all a day of true devotion." After the conclusion of these remarks the pilgrims all knelt around the Shrine where the gathering recited the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. At this solemn moment when their souls were blended in the most holy union of prayer, there was but one feeling amongst them and that feeling was of the most intense and sublime devotion. When the Litany was finished, the pilgrims arose and chanted the beautiful hymn "The Sovereign Lord We Grateful Praise" which was sung with so much unction that it impressed all with the idea of supereminent excellence of the grand old Catholic faith, besides affording an index to the sincerity of their belief in prayers to the Mother of God.

In 1874 Father Maguire of St. Aloysius Church, Washington, preached an eloquent and powerful sermon at Rock Spring. "We are all pilgrims here, winding our way to Heaven," was Father Maguire's explanation for the success of the pilgrimage. It was likewise the reason for the European pilgrimages that were documented in the history of the Church. Recounting that they were about to have a grand one to Rome, where the pilgrims would lay their grateful and sympathetic offerings before the Holy Father, Pius IX, and also to Lourdes, Father Maguire asked, "Why then should not Catholics honor this humble shrine of the Blessed Virgin: Was not America dear to her?" He reminded those assembled that "the very soil upon which they stood was called Mary's Land." He promised "she would bestow her favors upon those who honored her shrine today."

Restoration of the Shrine - click to view largerFrom Washington and Baltimore people traveled by the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad to Collington, a depot located some two or three miles from White Marsh. From Collington, the various Catholic societies formed in procession and marched to the Church.

After early years of notoriety and use, the Shrine fell into disuse and neglect. In 1957 the OSMA Caravan of the Alhambra searched for the Shrine and began a beautiful restoration. This work was gradually taken up by James Maloney who completed it with the help of the Knights of Columbus and some members of the Caravan. A unique Rosary Walk adjoining the shrine was built almost single handedly by James Maloney and dedicated as Fr. Ganser's Rosary Walk.

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