“Make her known throughout the world”
The month of May is devoted to Our Blessed Mother Mary, who is honored under many titles including Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Mary holds a special place in the hearts of Haitians and is honored by the people of Haiti and our local Haitian population under the name Notre-Dame du Perpètuel Secours. Many Catholic Churches throughout the United States, including the Catholic Church in Quaker Hill (part of Divine Mercy Parish), also honor our Blessed Mother under this title and contain the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It is the most universally-loved Marian icon in the world.
The devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is connected to an icon said to have originated on the island of Crete according to a document in the Vatican Library stating that the Holy Virgin has worked many miracles through it. The icon, painted on wood, reflects the style of the earliest Marian portraits and was carbon dated to 1325-1480 and arrived in Rome in 1499. Its composition and style are classically Byzantine, with the Greek abbreviations for “Jesus Christ” and “Mother of God” above the image and Byzantine-style angels on either side of Our Lady. Tradition says Our Lady herself, in an apparition, gave the icon the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Blessed Pope Pius IX presented the original icon to the Redemptorist Religious community in 1866. Tradition says he told the Redemptorist Superior General, “Make her known throughout the world.” The icon was placed in the newly-built Church of the Most Holy Redeemer and St. Alphonsus, enshrined above the main altar in the Church that is located near the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. Thanks to the Redemptorist Community, devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help has spread throughout the world, especially in Haiti.
In 1881 a plague of cholera and smallpox struck Haiti, devastating the capital city, Port-au-Prince. The plague worsened in the beginning of 1882, with no relief in sight. The doctors knew it would take heavy rains and thunder to clear the air so Haitians could breathe more easily, but unfortunately it was Haiti’s dry season.
During this time, a lady from France arrived in Haiti and had with her a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. She offered this to the pastor of the Cathedral in Port-au-Prince. She hoped the parishioners would invoke the Holy Virgin to come to their aid and help alleviate the deadly catastrophe taking place. On Feb. 5, 1882, a solemn procession displaying the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help walked to a small chapel on the mountain, where they began a Novena. On Feb. 10, against all odds and weather forecasts, heavy rains fell on Haiti, after which the epidemic subsided with no new cases of contagion. The sick began to recover.
All the Haitians became aware that it was Our Lady of Perpetual Help who heard their prayers and saved the city. Since that time she has been called the “Miraculous Virgin.”
The National Bishops Conference placed the Haitian people officially under the patronage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and in 1942 the president of Haiti petitioned the Holy See to declare Our Lady of Perpetual Help the National Patroness of the country. Pope Pius XII approved the request and our Blessed Mother, under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, has been honored by both the church and the civil government in Haiti.
Her Feast Day is June 27 and Haitians in their own country and abroad hold an annual Novena in the days leading up to the celebration of Her feast day. Many people of Haiti have an image of their “Protectress” in their homes and say the following prayer:
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, help us,
protect the Church,
protect the whole world,
protect our homes and bless our children. Amen.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help is as important to us and our ministry in Haiti (Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti) as it is to all the Haitians who pray to and honor Mary, the mother of God.
If you would like more information about our ministry and to support our work in Haiti, please visit https://outreachtohaiti.org or call us at (860) 800-3601. Thank you and please pray for all of us, especially the Haitian people.
By Father Frank Rouleau
Chaplain & Director of Twinning
Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti