Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

Being born in Chicago in 1955, there were many Catholic parishes, and most of these parishes had schools. These schools were by and large staffed by sisters of various orders, St Alphonsus was no exception, having the Sisters of Notre Dame de Nemours as teachers. I began kindergarten in Sr. Mary Rategunde's class in 1960. God Bless Her. To me in 1960 she seemed to be 100 years old. At my late fathers funeral my cousin Jennifer who also had Sr. Mary Rategunde told me she had just passed away in 2008! On of the most common features of each class was the Icon which graced every classroom, office and in the rectory. The Icon was Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This is the story, thanks to Credidimus Caritati.

In 1498, the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was in a church on the island of Crete, in Greece. The picture had been there for some time and was known to be miraculous. One day a merchant from Crete stole the picture of Our Lady. He hid the picture among his things, boarded a ship and set out to sea. When a great storm arose the terrified sailors begged God and Our Lady to save them. Their prayers were heard and they were saved from shipwreck.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help A year later, the merchant went to Rome with the picture. There he got a disease and became terribly sick. He asked his Roman friend to take care of him. The merchant grew worse and realized that he would soon die. He called on his friend and with tears in his eyes, begged his friend to do him one last favour. When the Roman promised to do so, the weeping merchant continued, “Some time ago I stole a beautiful, miraculous picture of Our Lady from a church in Crete! You will find it with my belongings. I beg you, please place it in some church where the people will give it much honour.” In time the merchant died. The Roman found the picture and showed it to his wife. She wanted to keep the picture, so she put it in her bedroom.

One day, the Blessed Virgin appeared to the Roman saying, “Do not keep this picture, but put it in some more honourable place.” But the Roman did not do as Our Lady asked him and kept the picture. Some time later Our Lady begged him a second time not to keep the picture, but to place it in a more honourable place. Again, he did not do as Our Lady asked him to do.

Then the Blessed Virgin appeared to the Roman’s six year old daughter, and told her to warn her mother and her grandfather saying, “Our Lady of Perpetual Help commands you to take her out of the house!”

Finally, after many delays, the Virgin Mary appeared to the little girl a second time, “Our Lady of Perpetual Help commands you to tell your mother, to place my picture between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran, in the church dedicated to St. Matthew the Apostle!” The mother did as she was told and sent for the Augustinian Fathers who were in charge of that church. Then on that very day, March 27, 1499, the picture was taken to the church of St. Matthew the Apostle on the Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills in Rome. It was placed between two beautifully carved columns of black Carra marble above a splendid white-marble altar.

For three centuries from 1499 until 1798, the church of St. Matthew in Rome was one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Rome, because of the miraculous picture. Many pilgrims who came to the shrine: saints and sinners, Cardinals, Bishops and priests, kings and princes, rich and poor. They came to see the miraculous picture of Our Lady and pray before it.

But this was not to last. The French armies led by Napoleon Bonaparte, invaded the Papal States in 1796. Rome was in danger of being attacked and taken over by the enemies. By February 17, 1797, the Pope was forced to sign the Peace Treaty of Tolintino. The Holy Father did not want to do this but he had to, in order to protect the Papal States from the enemy.

A year after signing the Treaty, the French General Berthier marched into Rome and proclaimed the “Free Roman Republic.” He lied, there was no freedom. Then shortly after, Berthier was replaced by the French General Massena. On June 3, 1798, General Massena commanded that thirty churches be destroyed! One of them was St. Matthew’s! He cried out, “There are too many churches in Rome. The church land can be used for better things!” He wanted to make the people realize that worse things would happen if they did not obey his every command. The terrified Romans prayed to Our Lady and she helped them in all their troubles.

Because the Augustinian Monastery was destroyed, the monks were allowed to return to Ireland, their homeland. A few returned but most of them stayed in Rome. Some went to St. Augustine’s, the main church and monastery of the Augustinian Fathers. The rest of the monks took the miraculous picture of Mary and moved to St. Eusebio’s, a poor old church with a huge monastery. St. Eusebio’s was in terrible condition and needed much cleaning and repairing.

The picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help stayed at St. Eusebio’s for twenty years. Since the place was too large for the few monks who lived there, in 1819, the Pope asked the Jesuits to take over St. Eusebio’s. The Holy Father gave the Augustinian’s the small church and monastery of Santa Maria, in Posterula, on the other side of the city. The monks took the miraculous picture of Mary with them, and gave it a place of honour in the monastery chapel.

In 1788, Augustine Orsetti joined the Augustinian Order at St. Matthew’s and became Br. Augustine. As a young religious, he used to spend much of his free time praying before the miraculous picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He studied and memorized the history of the picture.

When St. Matthew’s was destroyed, Br. Augustine was transferred to St. Augustine’s. Then in 1840, he was transferred to the Monastery of Santa Maria in Posterula. When he arrived at Santa Maria he went to the community chapel. There he saw the beautiful miraculous picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It was just as he remembered it, when he had been at St. Matthew’s.

Br. Augustine looked after the sacristy at Santa Maria. He cleaned the chapel and its holy images. He also trained altar boys and taught them how to serve Mass. Michael Marchi, one of the Altar boys, became a good friend of Br. Augustine. The Brother often spoke to him about the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help saying, “Do you see that picture Michael? It is a very old picture. Know Michael, the Madonna from St. Matthew’s is the one that hangs here in the chapel. I am not trying to deceive you. It certainly is. Have you understood, Michael? It was miraculously saved from destruction. Many people used to come and pray before this miraculous picture. Always remember what I am telling you.” More of this remarkable story...

Thanks and a tip of the beret to Credidimus Caritati.

Dieu le Roy!

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