In a letter to the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops, Archbishop Burke, then the Ordinary of St. Louis, Missouri, now
Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, revealed the results of his review
of the history and canonical status of devotion to Our Lady of America.
See the original letter.
31, 2007 —
Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed
To the Bishops of the United States Conference of
Dear brothers in Christ,
During the November meeting of our Conference of
Bishops, you may have had occasion to view the statue of Our Lady of
America, which was displayed in one of the meeting rooms; and to receive
one of the Our Lady of America prayer cards or other information about
Our Lady of America, which was available, thanks to the devout lay
faithful who made the arrangements for the display of the statue. The
faithful involved in the promotion of the devotion to Our Lady of
America have asked me, some months ago, to review the history and
present state of the devotion to Our Lady of America, in what pertains
to its canonical status. Finally,
I am able to
give them a report of the results of my study, which I want also to
communicate to you.
The devotion to Our Lady of America has its source in
private revelations to Sister Mary Ephrem (baptized Mildred) Neuzil, who
was born in 1916
and was professed, in
in the Congregation of the Sisters of the Most
Precious Blood of Jesus, which has its generalate in Dayton, Ohio. She
later became part of a contemplative branch of the same congregation.
The contemplative branch was located at Our Lady of the Nativity Convent
at New Riegel, Ohio. After the suppression of the contemplative branch
the Sisters who were members took up residence in
Seneca County, Ohio. From the time of the suppression, Sister Mary
Ephrem used her baptismal name, Sister Mary Mildred Neuzil. Sister Mary
Ephrem (Mary Mildred) died in 2000. One of the Sisters survives and
continues to live in Seneca County, Ohio.
Having reviewed the correspondence between Sister Mary
Ephrem and her spiritual director of many years, Monsignor Paul F.
Leibold, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, who later
became the Bishop of Evansville and, then, Archbishop of Cincinnati, it
is clear that the devotion, as
proposed by Sister Mary
Ephrem, received his approbation. In addition to the
correspondence by which Monsignor Leibold declared the approval of the
devotion, he also carried out the first of Our Lady of America's
requests, made through Sister Mary Ephrem, namely, he had a medal struck
with the image of Our Lady of America on one side and the coat of arms
of the Christian family on the other.
The coat of arms symbolically represents the substance
of the private revelation received by Sister Mary Ephrem, namely,
Indwelling of the Holy Trinity in the Christian
home, which is the source of life and unity in the family. The coat of
arms points to the purity and selflessness of love in the family,
because of the Indwelling of the Holy Trinity, the model of which
is the Mother of God, under
her title of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of our nation. In a
particular way, Our Lady of America expressed her desire that the United
States of America, through her intercession, be devoted to the purity of
love. She identified herself to Sister Mary Ephrem as "Our Lady
of America, The Immaculate Virgin." In the consecration of our nation to
our Blessed Mother, made in 1959 at the National Shrine and renewed, in
our name, by Bishop David Ricken on November 11, 2006, the Saturday
before the November meeting of our Conference of Bishops, our Blessed
Mother is addressed as "Immaculate Virgin."
The contents of the private revelation received by
Sister Mary Ephrem were published in a booklet, first in 1960, and,
again, in 1971. Both of these editions were published with the
Imprimatur of Archbishop Leibold. A final edition, with some new
contents, was published in 1989. The new contents were added at the
direction of Father Edmund Morman, S.V.D., the last chaplain of Our Lady
of the Nativity Convent at New Riegel. Father Morman was sadly killed in
an automobile accident on February 17, 1986.
As Archbishop of Cincinnati, Archbishop Leibold
commissioned a wooden plaque with the image of Our Lady of America,
which he gave to the cloister at New Riegel, at which it was displayed
for many years in a public area. He had the wooden plaque created for
the specific purpose of its use in processions at the New Riegel
Archbishop Leibold also authorized the Weberding
Woodcarving Shop at Batesville, Indiana, to carve a statue of Our Lady
of America. The statue was carved for Our Lady of the Nativity Convent
at New Riegel, Ohio, at which public devotions to Our Lady of America
were regularly celebrated.
Other bishops have permitted the public display of a
statue of Our Lady of America for devotion. For instance, the late
Bishop William G. Connare of Greensburg permitted a statue to be
displayed at the Carmel of the Assumption at Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Also, a statue of Our Lady of America was carried in procession in the
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in
Washington, D.C., on several occasions by the Apostolatus Uniti and
other groups. On May 31, 2006, a statue of Our Lady of America was
enthroned at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of
the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama, by the Franciscan Friars of
the Immaculate. The statue which was enthroned at Hanceville is the very
same statue which Bishop Connare authorized for public devotion at
A specific request of Our Lady of America was that her
statue be placed in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the
Immaculate Conception. There is a providential connection between Sister
Mary Ephrem and the late Archbishop Bishop John Francis Noll of the
Diocese of Fort Wayne, who is celebrated as the Apostle of the National
Shrine. The principal apparitions of Our Lady of America to Sister Mary
Ephrem took place in the chapel of the Precious Blood Sisters Convent in
Kneipp Springs Sanitorium, near Rome City, Indiana. Archbishop Bishop
Noll, who died in 1956, maintained a summer residence at the Sanitorium,
within a few hundred feet of the place of the apparitions. While the
National Shrine is the largest shrine in the world at which there was
not a previous apparition, the private revelation to Sister Mary Ephrem
very much confirms the mission of the National Shrine.
The prayer attached to the devotion also
received the imprimatur of the then Monsignor Leibold, Vicar General of
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Archbishop Leibold was Sister Mary
Ephrem's spiritual director from the time that he was Vicar General of
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati until he died in1972. Archbishop Leibold
was always clear that the approved devotion had its origin in private
revelation received by Sister Mary Ephrem over many years.
What can be concluded canonically is that the devotion
was both approved by Archbishop Leibold and, what is more, was actively
promoted by him. In addition, over the years, other Bishops have
approved the devotion and have participated in public devotion to the
Mother of God, under the title of Our Lady of America.
Although the devotion to Our Lady of America has
remained constant over the years, in recent years the devotion has
spread very much and has been embraced by many with special fervor.
Seemingly, as has been suggested by Father Peter Damian Mary Fehlner,
F.I., in his homily of August 5, 2006, at the Shrine of the Most Blessed
Sacrament in Hanceville, the moral crisis of our time, which demands a
new teaching and living of the virtue of purity, has found an especially
fitting response of loving care from the Mother of God in her message to
Sister Mary Ephrem.
Some have raised with me the canonical question
regarding the status of Our Lady of the Nativity Convent in Seneca
County, Ohio, which has been the residence of any remaining member of
the suppressed contemplative branch of the Congregation of Sisters of
the Most Precious Blood of Jesus. In response, I observe that the
canonical question has no bearing on the devotion or its approbation.
As one deeply devoted to fostering the devotion to Our
Lady of Guadalupe in our nation, I have wondered about the relationship
of the devotion to Our Lady of America to the devotion to Our Lady of
Guadalupe. Archbishop Leibold, in fact, raised the question with Sister
Mary Ephrem. Sister Mary Ephrem responded that Our Lady of Guadalupe is
Empress of all the Americas, whereas "Our Lady of America, The
Immaculate Virgin," is the patroness of our nation, the United States of
America. The two devotions are, in fact, completely harmonious. As our
late and most beloved Pope John Paul II reminded us, Our Lady of
Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, draws
all of the nations of America into unity in carrying out the new
evangelization. Our Lady of America calls the people of our nation to
the new evangelization through a renewed dedication to purity in love.
I hope that the above may be of some help to you in
responding to questions regarding the devotion to Our Lady of America.
May the Immaculate Virgin intercede for the intentions
of our dioceses and our nation. With fraternal gratitude and esteem, I
Yours devotedly in Christ,
(Most Rev.) Raymond L. Burke Archbishop of Saint Louis