Stained glass depiction of Mary, Queen of Heaven in St. Mary Church, Bordentown. File photo
Stained glass depiction of Mary, Queen of Heaven in St. Mary Church, Bordentown. File photo
As the month of May unfolds, the centuries-old custom of celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary is underway globally and locally.

This Marian month is always part of the Easter season’s 50 days marking the Resurrection of the Lord and a time of awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Catholic scholars write that as such, the cascade of love and devotion poured out to the Mother of God fits in well with those liturgical celebrations.

Mary’s identity as the Mother of God conferred on her a singular place of honor and preference among the Communion of Saints, theologians note. The titles flowing from the recognition began evolving in the earliest days of the Church and accumulated over the centuries as Marian devotion increased.

These many faces of Mary are commemorated and, in some cases, enshrined in thousands of Catholic churches and cathedrals across the world, including in the United States with such spiritual sites as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Locally, the Mother Church of the Diocese of Trenton is the namesake of our Holy Mother – St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral – and dozens of parishes and churches have embraced the Mother of Jesus as their patroness.

Mary’s House

Often referred to as “Mary’s House,” the Basilica in Washington is the largest Catholic church in North America and one of the largest in the world.

Home to more than 80 chapels and oratories honoring the Mother of God and representing people from every corner of the globe, the Basilica mirrors the ethnic and cultural diversity of the United States and the unity and universality of the Catholic Church.

Built by generations of American Catholics to honor the patroness of the nation under her title of the Immaculate Conception, the Basilica is also affectionately referred to as America’s Catholic Church, according to the website.

A place of worship, pilgrimage, evangelization and reconciliation, the Basilica offers faithful the chance to pray among universally honored representations of the Blessed Mother situated throughout the vast structure.

Among the faithful tributes to the Mother of Jesus are those that depict her as African, Austrian, Chinese, Cuban, Czech, Filipino, French, German, Guamanian, Hungarian, Indian, Irish, Italian, Korean, Latin American, Lebanese, Maltese, Polish, Slovakian, Slovenian and Vietnamese.

Each is rendered with a sensitive religious and artistic touch, capturing the devotion and love that generations have expressed for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the Lithuanian Chapel, for instance, the statue of Mary tenderly holding the Baby Jesus is framed by a decorative border of pinecones in keeping with her title of Our Lady of the Woods. The treasured icon representing this theme in Lithuania is often referred to as the Baltic nation’s greatest treasure.

The lovely oratory of Our Lady of Vailankanni of India in the Crypt Level of the Basilica shines with brilliant blue tile. Known as Our Lady of Good Health, her statue is a replica of the original in the shrine in India. Visitors learn that it was crowned and consecrated in Vailankanni before being brought to the Basilica.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, is designed with curving walls to replicate the location of the apparition in Guadalupe. Glorious mosaic figures to the left and right represent the people of North, Central and South Americas carrying lit candles in procession to the Virgin Mary.

Patroness of Trenton

St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral was the spiritual home to generations of Catholics even before there was a Diocese of Trenton. The property, which spans a city block or more in the state capital, was purchased in 1865 and the then St. Mary Church was dedicated in 1871.

The first Bishop of the Trenton Diocese, Michael O’Farrell, chose the church as the diocesan cathedral. After the disastrous fatal fire that destroyed it on March 14, 1956, Bishop George W. Ahr was quoted as saying, “Of this we can be sure: in God’s good time, and we hope soon, the Diocese will have a cathedral and Our Lady her church.” That promise was kept three years to the day.

Neighboring the Trenton Diocese are major shrines honoring the Virgin Mary, including the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa – known as the American Czestchowa – in Doylestown, Pa., which houses a reproduction of the Black Madonna icon to which many miracles are attributed. Papal recognition of the miraculous image was made by Pope Clement XI in 1717.

The National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Washington Township (Warren County) hosts more than 50,000 pilgrims from across the country and the globe each year.

With her many faces and titles, Mary is embraced by a diverse world that sees her and understands her in their own cultural experiences.  Yet, she is universal and unites us as Mother to us all.