Mary and the Midwest: My Queen, My Mother Book Club (Chapters 4-6)

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Welcome to the My Queen, My Mother Book Club! We’re reading My Queen, My Mother by Marge Steinhage Fenelon. Scroll to the bottom of this post for information on how to order our Book Club selection.

My Queen My Mother Book Club (CatholicMom.com)

I remember the day in junior high when I found out that the Immaculate Conception was the patroness of the Americas. I also remember finding that fact boring. Disappointing. Pathetic. “Mary is our patroness? I mean, isn’t she everybody’s patroness? Why couldn’t it be some obscure, way more fascinating saint?”

I hadn’t thought of that sentiment in ages — not until I cracked open Marge Steinhage Fenelon’s My Queen, My Mother: A Living Novena. This book takes readers on a journey across the United States, peeking in at nine of our nation’s many Marian shrines. Each of these shrines holds a piece of a story: the story of a people striving to keep faith and hope across an often stark wilderness, the story of priests and families turning to heaven with core needs for survival, of a nation growing into fruition in the arms of the Queen of Heaven.

I saw these faces of our nation especially clearly in Chapters Four, Five, and Six of My Queen, My Mother. In these three chapters, Fenelon invites us to walk in the footsteps of German, Belgian, and even Luxembourgian settlers as they found new homes for themselves in the heart of our ever-growing country. As they struggled with the challenges of frontier life, they also invited Mary into their communities in unique and powerful ways. The devotion of these Americans invited Mary into the very heart of our nation itself.

Knowing that our nation is often compared to a salad bowl of cultures and customs (an image Fenelon even uses in My Queen, My Mother), I was absolutely charmed to see how each of the shrines Fenelon visited in these chapters offers its own flavors of healing and service to the human soul, providing a sort of salad bowl of spirituality. For instance, when the residents of Starkenburg, Missouri saw that the needs of their community today were no longer the needs of the German settlers who’d built their shrine to Our Lady of Sorrows, they used the opportunity to capture a snapshot of Catholic immigrant life before those image and practices of the past faded entirely away. In Carey, Ohio, where immigrants from Luxembourg built the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, I learned about the practice of clothing Marian statues as a sign of gratitude for how she clothes us with the graces she shares. Then, in the home of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States at The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, I discovered layers of meaning in Mary’s choice to appear between two trees to give a mission of faith to a simple Belgian immigrant.

Through all nine shrines explored in My Queen, My Mother, but especially in these three shrines, I found myself in awe at how God uses the poor and hungry (spiritually and otherwise) to work miracles of healing, feeding, peace, and life. Most of all, I grew in wonder at how God uses Mary to reach the needy — and even in America, what has since become the wealthiest country in the world, we are all needy. By experiencing Marian America through Fenelon’s eyes, thoughts, and prayers, I revisited my first childish thoughts years ago about how “unremarkable” it was to have Mary as the patroness not just of my country but of two whole continents, only one of which I call home. Being able to call My Mother not just My Queen but Queen of all this land, I am humbled. I am grateful — to God, to the people he sent to build shrines to our Queen, and to Mary herself for her humble service to each of us, her children.

My Queen My Mother Book Club (CatholicMom.com)

Questions for Discussion:

  • What feelings do you experience when you consider that Mary is the patroness of the Americas? How do you see her hand at work in our nation?
  • What are some faith customs from your cultural heritage that your ancestors brought with them to where you live now? How do those customs connect you to the communion of saints?
  • What do you think of the idea that you are a subject of Mary, Queen of Heaven? How does this affect the way you see yourself as a free person?

Order My Queen, My Mother from Ave Maria Press and save 20% with coupon code MQMM. This offer expires 10/31/2019.

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Copyright 2019 Erin McCole Cupp

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About Author

Erin McCole Cupp is a wife, mother, and lay Dominican who lives with her family of vertebrates somewhere out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. She's working with Our Sunday Visitor on a book about parenting spirituality for survivors of family abuse and dysfunction. Find out more about her novels and other projects at ErinMcColeCupp.com.

8 Comments

  1. I’m not too proud to go first! I especially liked how Marge got me thinking about what it means to be a subject of the Queen of Heaven. As an American, I was sort of raised on the idea that, “Hey, it’s a free country. I’m nobody’s ‘subject.'” But if, under Mary’s patronage *as* an American, that puts me in a unique place in the Kingdom of Heaven–under God’s jurisdiction before my identity as a human living under the Constitution. I remember a line in one of the Little House books (can anyone else remember which one?) where Laura was at a Fourth of July celebration, pondering on how being a citizen of a free country means we are more answerable to God than we would be otherwise. What does this mean, then, in light of Mary as our Queen and patronees? I think it means that we have someone very powerful rallying for us to *be* free and *stay* free. Thank you, Marge, for making me think about this in such a new way!

    • My resident Little House expert says she thinks the book is “Little Town on the Prairie.”

      I wish my parents had passed on their Catholic cultural traditions. Mostly, I think their German and Italian parents were so concerned with Americanizing their families that they purposely did not pass on language and customs that I now sadly miss.

      I suppose Mary as patroness IS a little unoriginal, but she has so many titles, I guess we can honor her and still mix it up a bit! I’m not much for royal anything, my eyes glazing over at mention of royal weddings and heirs, but I’ll take Mary as my queen, since she embodies everything good, true, and beautiful about that designation.

      • Thank you for the Little House fill-in! Again, it’s sad to have missed out on what should have been passed down to us but got lost in the shuffle between countries and establishing new lives in a strange land. I do suspect that’s to help us Americans remember (those of us looking to remember such realities, anyway) that this is not our home. We are always to be on our way, always immigrating to heaven, our true home.

  2. I’m 75% Irish (both my grandmothers were 100% Irish, one born in Ireland). Both had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, but I don’t know if that’s a cultural thing or just their personal faith. We didn’t learn any cultural faith traditions from our grandparents or parents. We learned the faith, but nothing unique because of our Irish heritage. Was it because we were 60 to 100 years away from our ancestors’ immigration? Or was it because it was the ’70s, where anything faith-related was watered down to a ridiculous degree anyway? I absolutely feel like I missed out in some way — it’s like when you cook a lovely meal but forget to add a crucial seasoning or spice. America is a melting pot, but it’s sad to see beautiful ethnic customs lost or diluted (as Carolyn says, it may have been from an effort to become more Americanized). I would like to have more customs that connect me to my heritage and my ancestors in the faith.
    (Also, I believe Carolyn’s resident “Little House” expert is correct in identifying the book where that episode happened.)

    • It does feel like there were a number of cultural factors here in the States that prevented a lot of us from receiving what our ancestors had to give us… although as an Irish American, I do seem to have inherited a tendency to Blame The English For Everything Possible. (Sorry, English friends! I know it’s wrong! Let me make up for it with a strong devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham and the English Martyrs.)

      Perhaps that’s yet another reason we Americans were given Mary as our patroness. She’s the Queen of Heaven. She’s here to remind us that our past is not our home. Our future is.

  3. I, too, grieve that more of my heritage’s religious customs weren’t passed on to me. Both my paternal grandparents immigrated here from Germany in the 1920s and, although little is known about my maternal grandparents, we believe at least my maternal grandfather was Irish. Perhaps that’s another factor that urged me to set out on my journey across America – the yearning to recapture what was lost. I’ve been digging and researching over the years and have recreated some of those cultural traditions in my own family and for myself. It may not be exactly the way my ancestors did it, but it makes me feel closer to them.

    • Recapturing what could have been lost is so much of what makes My Queen, My Mother work so well! I also like how it connects us to *all* of those who went before us in this nation, including the indigenous people–some of whom were violently afraid of Christianity, but many of whom received genuine love from Christians and learned to hunger for Jesus not as a process of being conquered by humans but for His own sake. It’s like this book re-roots the reader in the new soil of this New World, where all our roots can twine together: we remain individual organisms, but we are nevertheless connected.

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