Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?
UNIVERSITY DEDICATES OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE PRAYER GARDEN AND STATUE
by Sarah Blanchard
Juan Diego was an insignificant member of his community when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him. One day, as the Christian Indian made a path through the rocky terrain on his way to Mass, he noticed a light coming from the top of Tepeyac hill. There, the Virgin Mother appeared to him and called him “Juanito, my son!”
“Why did God look upon him?” Pope St. John Paul II asked in his homily for the canonization of Juan Diego. Why was Juan Diego, a poor Christian Indian, chosen to see and bear the message of Our Lady? Quoting scripture, the Pope continued in his homily: “God chose what is low and despised in the world … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:28, 29). The proud and the mighty fight for attention on the world stage, but it is the meek and lowly—like Juan Diego—who reflect the greatness of the Lord. God shines unobstructed through the lives of those who are humble.
With this in mind, it isn’t hard to imagine why the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego. Who better than Mary understands how the soul of the humble magnifies the Lord? She too was an insignificant member of her community when God plucked her out of obscurity and made her Mother—first of Jesus Christ, and then, at Calvary, of the whole world. Her motherhood sprung from her humility; with an unadorned Fiat! she accepted her calling to overflow with God’s compassion and love, signatures of maternal care.
These two things—the humble and the maternal—are intimately united in the Virgin of Guadalupe. Understanding from her own experience how God loves “what is low and despised in the world,” the Virgin has a special care for the insignificant and rejected children of society. Juan Diego’s childlike trust in God was met with Mary’s maternal care. She responded to the humble child with her own humble motherhood.
It is with this same childlike confidence that Ave Maria University has placed itself in Our Mother’s care, first in invoking her name as patron at its founding, and then again in publicly consecrating itself to her Immaculate Heart last year. The University has united itself in her care for the “low and despised in the world,” both in its work defending religious liberty, and as it fosters compassionate care for the poor through the Mother Teresa Project.
On December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the University once again embraced the Virgin as Mother with the opening of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Prayer Garden. At the opening ceremony, students processed out from Mass in the Oratory, crossed the canal by way of a newly constructed footbridge, followed a gravel path, and arrived at the base of a 10-foot bronze statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. There, they renewed their consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
On February 19, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of the Diocese of Venice presided over the official dedication of the prayer garden, offering a blessing of the statue. “Under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” he said, “this image will remind us of the close ties of Mary to Jesus, to her Church, and to Ave Maria.” Jerry and Linda Stafford, who generously donated the statue in memory of their son, Jerry T. Stafford (1966-1982), stood by.
Deacon John Jarvis read from the Gospel of St. Luke the account of the Visitation of Mary, in which Elizabeth cried out: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” In reflection afterwards, President Towey invited all gathered at the dedication—trustees, members of the President’s council, the University’s Founder, Tom Monaghan, Chairman Michael Timmis, faculty, administration, staff and students—to look to the example of Juan Diego’s humility and ask, with Elizabeth, “Who are we, that the Mother of Our Lord should come to us?” The answer, he said, lies in the mercy of God, which shines brightly in the person of Our Lady. In God’s mercy, she was chosen to be Mother; in her humility, she carries His mercy to the world.
It is appropriate that the University began this Jubilee Year of Mercy by throwing itself on the mercy of God through Mary. With confidence in her maternal love, the community takes shelter beneath her blue mantel, there carrying out its work united to her in compassion for the poor and lowly, the meek and despised. “What unites people at Ave Maria University,” Towey said, “is a desire to be joyful, intentional followers of Jesus, a love of our Church, and a special devotion to la Guadalupana, la Morena, la Virgencita. A real desire to find ourselves through our work beneath her mantel.”
The dedication ceremony closed with a Rosary led by students. AMU junior Victoria Antram said it was a blessing to be a part of the event. “This statue serves as a reminder that Ave Maria lies in the shadow of Mary’s mantel of grace,” she went on. “I gaze out from my dorm room window every morning, and she reminds me to live out her Fiat to joyfully accept God’s will. I love the statue and all the goodness it foreshadows in this University’s future.”
The garden currently stands across the canal on the westernmost edge of campus, but, as the University expands over time, it will eventually stand at its center. Although not yet the geographic heart, the prayer garden has already become a spiritual one. Students are at the foot of Our Lady morning, noon, and night. The garden gives students something they have been in “desperate need for,” John Gargano, President of the Student Government Association, remarked. “It is a place of prayer, peace, and consolation outside where they can be with Our Lord and his Mother, contemplating life under the watchful eyes of the beautiful 10-foot statue of Our Lady.” He expects the garden to become a place of pilgrimage, one “where miracles and conversions will unfold.” Who knows? Maybe even a few AMU engagements.
“The Our Lady of Guadalupe Prayer Garden belongs at AMU,” Scott King, Director of Mission and Outreach, said. “Here, where the Blessed Mother is woven into everything.” She desired a church to be built on Tepeyac hill, he explained, “in order that she might be present to us.” The message of her miraculous image is that she wants to be with us, and she wants us to know that she is there by our side. The statue of la Guadalupana in AMU’s prayer garden is likewise a daily reminder to the University community of Our Mother’s presence. Her blue mantel is spread wide, ready to cover those who, like Juan Diego, place their trust in her. “I am reassured,” King continued, “in knowing that Our Lady of Guadalupe will be gazing upon the students, faculty and staff of Ave Maria University from Her prayer garden.”
The Virgin of Guadalupe continues to speak to our times. There is a reason John Paul II declared her Patroness of the Americas; her motherhood and her humility continue to be relevant. We must work on practicing the humility of Juan Diego and look to our Mother for care. She will never fail to respond to our childlike trust with her maternal compassion.
“And should we be frightened…or should worldly pusillanimity threaten us,” Pope Francis said in a homily for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “may She return to speak to our heart and enable us to hear her voice … ‘Why are you afraid? Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?’”
From the Spring 2016 AMU Magazine