American author Michael H. Brown will lead a day-long Marian retreat in Toronto May 20. Photo courtesy of Michael H. Brown

Retreat explores Mary’s North American roots

  • May 19, 2017

Dig into the deep historic roots of Canada and you will find the Blessed Virgin Mary, both in name and spirit.

Keeping that connection alive is a vital mission, says American author Michael H. Brown. He is coming to Toronto to lead a Marian retreat that focuses on the role of Mary in founding modern North American society.

“I talk a lot about the Catholic — not just Christian, but the Catholic — foundation of North America, including of course Canada,” Brown told The Catholic Register from his Florida home where he runs the popular web site.

Brown is coming to Toronto at the invitation of the Ave Maria Centre of Peace to speak at a day-long retreat May 20 at Canada Christian College, 50 Gervais Dr.

The crusading author is worried that English-speaking North America has forgotten its Catholic origins in New France and New Spain, and the spiritual ideals that powered the missionary exploration of the continent.

“There was a Catholic foundation to our countries and this has been stripped from us,” he said. “We are currently kind of in a struggle, especially with atheists, to recover our heritage and to remember that foundation…. It’s not taught in public schools.”

In particular, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mother was a pervasive motivation for the early European explorers, including Christopher Columbus who captained the Santa Maria, Jesuit Fr. Jacques Marquette who named the Mississippi River “the River of the Immaculate Conception” (Mississippi means “Great Waters” in the Ojibwa language) and the founders of Montreal who named their settlement Ville Ste. Marie, Brown said.

Though Brown speaks about Mary in many other contexts, including Fatima, his research into her role in early North American history plays an important part in about 70 retreats per year he gives.

The Marian retreat is especially appropriate as Canada’s 150th birthday looms on July 1, when Canadian bishops will reconsecrate their dioceses and the country to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Canada was originally consecrated to Mary at the Marian Congress held in Ottawa in 1947.

Canadians will easily recognize the role Mary had in the origins of Canada, said Fr. Michael Knox, Jesuit historian and director of the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont. Jesuit missionaries led by St. Jean de Brébeuf named their missionary outpost on Georgian Bay Ste. Marie because they wanted to imitate Mary’s self-offering at the annunciation and her continued openness to God as she stood at the foot of the cross, Knox said.

“The mission being placed in the name of Our Lady was largely due to what the missionaries saw in the life, in their lived knowledge of Mary, as a form of emulation for us in how we are to live,” he said. “Mary, in a sense, becomes the archetype of self-giving.”

While the state remains, necessarily, neutral in religion, those values and ideals from Canada’s earliest history have translated into some of the best of what Canada aspires to. While Brexit unfolds in the United Kingdom, xenophobia plays its role in France’s elections and new forms of nationalism and isolationism arise in the United States, Canada continues to stand by an openness that mirrors Mary’s eternal yes, said Knox.

“Canada is maintaining this sort of open landscape where people can come and feel welcome, where their own culture is respected and yet they become part of a larger cultural reality that we hold in a delicate balance,” said Knox. “I would say that kind of spirit finds its origins in a religious worldview that is gifted to us by our early history — of not acceptance, but of being willing to give.

“Multiculturalism today isn’t understood as the loss of anything, but rather of a giving and a sharing of what we have and then a certain receptivity on the other part to receive, to accept.”

Canada’s post-1984 Constitution, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, may not at first look like a religious document. But it “came out of a Catholic context,” said Knox.

The prayer Canada’s bishops will use to consecrate Canada to the Mother of God on July 1 declares that Mary has “accompanied us on our path through history, in times of peace, conflict and reconciliation and as we arrived at a greater sense of unity and nationhood.” The prayer of consecration asks Mary to “help us, as Catholics, to live in peace with all people of good will and to dialogue with respect and friendship.”

The prayer ends with a “Litany for Canada” which invokes titles for Mary which were important to Canadian saints and explorers. They include:

  • o Sacred Heart of Mary, important to St. François de Laval;
  • o Immaculate Heart of Mary, because the Jesuits dedicated their mission to the Immaculate Conception;
  • o Our Lady of Roc Amadour, a title used by Jacques Cartier;
  • o Our Lady of Recovery, the title used by Samuel de Champlain;
  • o Our Lady of Good Help, important to St. Marguerite Bourgeoys.

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