We all know Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, but have we ever heard about the connection the explorer had with the Blessed Mother?
As we celebrate her memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 7 and Columbus Day on Oct. 12, the connection has monumental implications for our country.
In 1992, Jesuit Father John Hardon gave a series of exceptional talks on Columbus for the 500th anniversary of the Catholic discovery of America. He brought to light many vital facts overlooked or ignored by secular historians.
“The underlying motive of Columbus’ historic voyage was the conversion of those who did not know Christ as the living Son of God and son of Mary,” stressed Father Hardon. “Throughout the log, Columbus makes it clear he and his men are sailing across the Atlantic to spread the good news of salvation and convert the natives to Christianity.”
Columbus was deeply devoted to Our Lady. His writings disclose childlike dependence on her. He named his flagship the Santa Maria — Holy Mary. A favorite prayer was “May Jesus with Mary be with us on the way.” For safety in a storm he promised his first act of thanksgiving on returning home would be a pilgrimage to the shrine of Santa María de Guadalupe in southern Spain.
In his major work on Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (Little, Brown & Co., 1991), Samuel Eliot Morison describes all hands on Columbus’ ships praying together daily, closing the day singing theSalve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen).
Nor is this just interesting but irrelevant trivia, Father Hardon insisted in his talks on Columbus. “No less than the America discovered by Columbus had to be evangelized, America today has to be re-evangelized,” he said. “It is our God-given obligation, as believing and practicing Catholics in America to not only commemorate the discovery of the New World. We are to cooperate with God in the spiritual rebuilding of our country.”
Oct. 7 and this Month of the Holy Rosary point the way forward. For one path, consider the Patriotic Rosary. (It’s posted online at PriestsforLife.org and several other websites.)
Columbus Day is a very important day to pray this Rosary “because we celebrate the founding of America, a land that represents freedom of religion and all the freedoms our Founding Fathers established,” says Ruth McDonald of Caritas of Birmingham in Sterrett, Ala., a lay organization whose founder originated the Patriotic Rosary. “Because we’re losing those freedoms, it’s more important than ever to pray this Rosary, especially on days commemorating our country’s history.”
The pressure to revise historical facts was one step leading Caritas’ founder Terry Colafrancesco to put together the Patriotic Rosary. He believes Columbus’ journey was a divine act with miraculous occurrences, including safe passage through a tempest thanks to Our Lady’s intercession. “Columbus said he thought he was being driven by the Holy Spirit,” adds Colafrancesco.
Colafrancesco thanks the Holy Spirit for the next step, which came to him as he prayed late one night outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Soon he learned that at nearby Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church members of the Continental Congress officially attended the first public religious commemoration of the Declaration of Independence.
“From there,” says Colafrancesco, crediting the patroness of our nation, “the Patriotic Rosary was purely from Our Lady.”
This prayer in a special way asks God to bring us back to where we need to be, explains McDonald.
Each of the 50 states receives one Hail Mary pleading the blood of Jesus over every person in that state. The Glory Be is for the country’s conversion, and Our Fathers are said for bishops, priests, religious and specific government offices. Each mystery begins with a meditation-like observation, beginning with thoughts from Founding Fathers such as George Washington and John Adams. Each decade is followed by a patriotic song.
McDonald says the quotes and songs show what the Founding Fathers desired from the beginning. “They put their lives on the line to bring about a nation that was based on the Scriptures and the commandments, and dedicated to God and his principles.”
Michael and Ellen Lobasso find the quotes moving and often put excerpts in their parish’s bulletin to inspire people to join them every Friday. The couple leads the Patriotic Rosary weekly at Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Greenlawn, N.Y. Their group has also spread this Rosary to family members elsewhere.
Ellen says the group sings all the hymns’ stanzas because “it’s in them we learn how godly the hymns were created to be.” For example, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” prays, “Let the Mother of the Savior crush the serpent with her heel,” and “America the Beautiful” prays, “God mend thine every flaw/Confirm thy soul in self-control.”
Having worked actively in the pro-life movement since its beginnings, the Lobassos “have come to realize prayer is the most important ingredient of saving our babies’ lives,” says Ellen. “From a political standpoint, with politics such a mess, more and more people have to see our Rosary is the only answer, our only hope.”
“Prayer is the only thing that’s going to save our country,” agrees Nancy Whitley, who has prayed the Patriotic Rosary since the 1990s and leads it weekly at Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Church inShepherdsville, Ky. Some members pray it from home. Later this fall Whitley will pray the Rosary two days a week.
Although Knights of Columbus councils apparently haven’t yet connected this Patriotic Rosary to Columbus Day, some have linked it to other national holidays. At St. Edmund Catholic Church in Lafayette, La., Allen Laborde reports his St. Edmund Council held a Patriotic Rosary for the Fourth of July, which this year had nearly 300 participants.
According to McDonald, the Patriotic Rosary is prayed in convents, monasteries and military bases, and individuals attending daily Mass in the chapel at the Pentagon pray the Rosary, often the Patriotic Rosary, in which they consecrate the military and the Pentagon to Our Lady.
“More and more are grasping the importance of the Rosary dedicated to the consecration of our nation,” she says, “and of every person in our country.”
Crucial Time to Pray
America is certainly at a most crucial moment of her history because our culture has surrendered many of its core culture-of-life Christian values to the culture of death, notes Carole Duncan, co-founder of the National Rosary Crusade.
The crusade’s goal is to recruit citizens to pray a daily Rosary “to save America and the world.” Duncan reminds that as the Rosary has won major victories in the past, it can again save us as we remember its power and Our Lady of the Rosary’s direction to pray the daily Rosary for peace in her appearance at Fatima, Portugal.
What if Columbus had known that future request before he sailed? Considering his Marian devotion, we can imagine him praying the Rosary for America each day, too — before he first glimpsed its shores.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.