May 18, 2011 // Uncategorized

Our diocese and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

I am already looking forward to our diocesan pilgrimage in September. One of the highlights of the pilgrimage will be a day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. As you may know, there is a special connection between our diocese and the National Shrine.

The famous fifth Bishop of Fort Wayne, John Francis Noll, led the diocese from 1925 until 1956. He was nationally known as the founder and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor and as a leader in the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the forerunner of our national Episcopal Conference. He was a prominent figure in battling anti-Catholic bigotry and defending the faith as well as fighting atheistic Communism.

Construction of the National Shrine honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception (the patroness of the United States) began in 1920. The crypt was completed in 1927, but construction on the great upper church was postponed due to lack of funds. With the Great Depression in 1929 and the 1930s, followed by the Second World War, the National Shrine remained incomplete. After the war, in 1946, Bishop Noll chaired the bishops’ committee to raise $7 million to complete the great church.

How were the funds raised? Bishops were asked to raise funds in their own dioceses. Since not enough was raised, it was decided to have a national fund drive in 1953. In our own diocese, Bishop Noll had a diocesan collection that raised the largest amount ever raised in a collection in our diocese up to that time: $104,486 for the National Shrine. Incidentally, it was in 1953 that Pope Pius XII raised Bishop Noll to the personal rank of “archbishop” due to his outstanding service to the Church.

When we go on pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine, the largest Catholic church in the United States, we will have the opportunity to pray in and to visit this magnificent edifice that was completed in 1959, thanks to the efforts of our own Archbishop John Noll. He was given the title “Apostle of the Shrine.” We must look for the bronze bust of Archbishop Noll and the plaque honoring him and his efforts when we visit the crypt. The bust was the gift of our sixth Bishop, Leo A. Pursley, to the National Shrine.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception contains over 70 chapels and oratories. Beautiful mosaics and sculptures abound throughout the upper church and in the crypt. I have served on the Board of Trustees of the National Shrine since 2006. My most active role was helping to raise funds for the Oratory of Our Lady of Pompei (the “Italian Chapel” and I am not even Italian!). This is one of the newest chapels in the Shrine and its walls are adorned by the Mysteries of Light (the luminous mysteries) which were added to the rosary by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

I love walking through all the chapels and oratories of the National Shrine, enjoying the art, reading the inscriptions, and reflecting on the many Biblical scenes and Marian devotions depicted there. Besides the bronze bust of Archbishop Noll, there is another “Indiana” contribution to the Shrine. A limestone sculpture of Saint Mother Theodore Guérin, donated by the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, is located on the North Terrace, next to “Mary’s Garden,” an outdoor area for rest and prayer that has a fountain and reflecting pool amid the trees, shrubs, and flowers.

The mosaics in the interiors of the domes of the National Shrine are amazing works of art. The succession of decorated domes is the chief characteristic of the interior of the upper church. Covering all the interior domes of the upper church with mosaics is an ongoing effort. When I became a member of the Board of Trustees, the major project at the time was the decoration of the dome (3,780 square feet) in the south nave. It is called “The Incarnation Dome” since it depicts four scenes of the Incarnation and manifestation of Jesus: the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Wedding Feast of Cana, and the Transfiguration. The four pendentives of the dome portray the prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Micah and the matriarch Sarah. Around the bottom of the dome are the words of the Gospel of John 1:14: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And we saw his glory — glory as the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and of truth.” The Incarnation Dome was completed in 2007, thanks to the generous $1 million gift from the Knights of Columbus.

Planning has begun for the ornamentation with mosaic of the largest dome in the upper church, located at the crossing of the nave and transepts. It will be called The Trinity Dome.

When asked what is my favorite chapel in the National Shrine, it is very difficult for me to respond since they are all beautiful. But the most meaningful for most of us is probably the one with which we relate due to our ethnic background (most of the chapels and oratories reflect ethnic devotions and titles of Our Lady). Since my “Catholic” roots are Irish, I have to say that the Oratory of Mary, Queen of Ireland is most meaningful to me. It has a statue of Our Lady and the Holy Child. The mosaics and carvings in the chapel reflect the heritage of Irish Catholics. The mosaic depictions of the four evangelists from the Book of Kells are beautiful.

The exterior of the Basilica also has an abundance of iconography. On the east façade, one finds another “Indiana connection.” There are five mosaic tympana within the interior of the east porch that highlight events in U.S. church history. One is a mosaic of the ordination of Father Stephen Badin in 1793, the first priest to be ordained within the original U.S. colonies. Father Badin was a devoted missionary to the Indians, a pioneer of the Catholic faith in our area. He served among the Potawatomi Indians. In 1832, he purchased the 524 acres in northern Indiana with two small lakes and named the site “Saint Mary of the Lakes,” the future Notre Dame! Father Badin also visited Fort Wayne regularly to celebrate the sacraments. He convinced Catholic laymen to purchase the land on which our cathedral now stands. When you visit Notre Dame, stop by the Log Chapel and pray over the place where he is buried (his remains were transferred from Cincinnati to Notre Dame in 1906). When we are at the National Shrine, we will have to try to find the mosaic of Father Badin’s ordination since he was the pioneer of the Catholic faith in our diocese.

If you are interested in making a reservation for our diocesan pilgrimage to Washington and Emmitsburg (September 8-11, 2011), please visit our website, or call Jeff Krudop at Travel Leaders at (260) 434-6540.

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