By Carolyn Shields
I grew up on the side of a mountain overlooked by a 25ft golden statue of the Blessed Mother on top of a 95ft pillar. My mom would always tell me growing up that we lived on holy land so there was never any need to worry about something happening to our home, and having our back to a rolling Appalachian mountain always helped me feel safe as well.
This statue, located at the Grotto of Lourdes in Emmitsburg, MD can be seen for miles. The way the light would reflect from the statue always drew me home and in many ways, the Blessed Mother calls each of us home to her Son on a spiritual level.
My hometown has always been special to me, partly because my family helped to found it around 250 years ago and we've been there ever since. The natural beauty, the rich Catholic identity, and the fact that I'm related to half of its population (my grandmother was one of twenty) have been such an integral part of who I am. Running wild in the mountains, stargazing in the "the valley folk's" cornfields, that deep, rich scent inherent only to the Grotto, and hours spent working on my grandparents' farm have elevated my childhood to almost an ideal one.
It wasn't until I moved away to a city when I learned how much my hometown has shaped me into the woman I've become. How much I live for that fresh air, that bird song, the earth. The city has a pulse that charges something in you, and in a way I love it. It makes you feel alive when you’re on autopilot. One of my favorite memories I will have of this chapter in my life was when I was in a Eucharistic Procession out in the streets, and I smelled incense and weed in one breath. There was something really powerful about that…and sure, also humorous.
But my hometown has always had a strong hold over me, and these past few months the idea of returning has been growing in my heart.
I had never heard of the Litany of Loreto or the Marian devotion until I began writing the book on it. Mary is quite literally my homegirl, and learning that Loreto was the name of Mary’s childhood home had an immediate affect on me. What a perfect devotion to pray to while I began discerning moving back home!
And you know what? After about a week of praying to Our Lady of Loreto, I got a call out of nowhere. And a week later, I was offered a job in my hometown.
Mary is bringing me home.
We all have a Loreto—a place we’ve come from and a home to return to. It may be less physical and more spiritual, maybe a call back to innocence or safety. But Mary is there, guiding us on our way. Like a tender mother, she wants to welcome us back home.
The Litany of Loreto may be named after this particular Marian devotion, but it actually encompasses nearly fifty different advocations to the Blessed Mother. In the book, we take them on one at a time, from Mystical Rose to Queen of Patriarchs. It’s so easy to rattle things off, utter our responses in Mass, memorize a prayer and lose the significance, which is why we created the Litany Project. We want to take popular prayers and encounter and engage with them in ways we haven’t before.
With Loreto, we take an indepth look at our Blessed Mother.