Anita DiGregory

On Sunday, May 7, 2017—despite the chilly temperatures, windy conditions, and occasional rain—approximately 1,800 people were in attendance to witness the third annual crowning of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmitsburg.

The ceremony, which was preceded by Mass in the glass chapel, included prayers, hymns, and a procession. Mount Saint Mary’s Interim President Timothy Trainor and his wife, Donna, were in attendance, welcomed everyone, and initiated the procession. Several seminarians from the Mount processed carrying the 12-foot long silk flower crown from the chapel to the crane, which was donated for use during the ceremony by Steve and Cecilia Gregory (Mount alum).

Owners of Big Hook and Crane Rigging, the Gregorys have donated the services of the crane and its operators for each of the three years that the statue of Mary has been crowned. In fact, according to National Shrine Grotto Director Lori Stewart, the Gregory’s generous donation helped make the idea of crowning the Mary statue a reality.  Due to space limitations around the tower, a fire-truck ladder could not be used. Additionally, the high cost of renting a crane made the idea seem almost impossible. However, the Gregorys just happened to be visiting the shrine one day when the topic was being discussed. They offered then to donate their services.

This year, their son, Brock, assisted Mount Rector of the Seminary Rev. Msgr. Andrew Baker with the crowning. Adorned with hard hats and crane rigging belts, both men were hoisted over 100 feet in the air to crown the 25-foot-tall gold-leafed bronze statue of the Blessed Mother. “We do it all for our Mother, Mary. Some people think it is extravagant, but we think she is that special.”

The crown will remain atop Mary’s head for the entire month of May. This Catholic tradition, which originated in Italy during the Middle Ages, with the institution of “The Thirty Day Devotion to Mary,” is often referred to as a May crowning. The ceremony honors Mary as the Queen of May and the Blessed Mother. Although the statue of Mary is crowned, Catholics recognize that it is not the statue which is celebrated but that which the statue represents: Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Clearly visible to all travelers along that area of Route 15, the 25-foot statue of Mary sits above much of the Mount Saint Mary’s University campus, atop the Pangborn Campanile (bell tower) and measures 95 feet tall all together.  With Mary overlooking the shrine and picturesque countryside, the Grotto continues to be a beautiful and peaceful retreat for the local community, pilgrims, and visitors, averaging about 280,000 guests a year. Stewart added,”It is beautiful being around the people and seeing how they react to Mary. It is the best part.”

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