To Jesus through Mary

Oct 19, 2023
A young woman kneels before a statue of Mary to pray the rosary at St. James Cathedral in Orlando. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

ORLANDO | Mary Jane McMenamy is on her way to Laura Garand’s home in Ormond-by-the-Sea. With the help of parishioners Joanne and Rick Menard, the 83-year-old makes three weekly trips to visit fellow parishioners throughout Volusia County. She carries with her a three-foot statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Called the Pilgrim Virgin, McMenamy’s commitment began in 1979 with her late husband and 11 other couples. Today, others are picking up the torch, but she still accompanies them.

October is known as the Month of the Rosary. Not only does it honor Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 7, but also recalls the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima to three young children in Portugal on October 13, 1917. The Church also celebrates the feast of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God on October 1 and the month is packed with feast days commemorating numerous apparitions of the Virgin Mary throughout the world.

Introduced by Pope St. Pius V in 1571, the Month of the Rosary reminds Catholics of the love the Blessed Mother has for all of her children. And like her apparition in Fatima, the Blessed Mother encourages praying the rosary for world peace and reparation of sins wherever she goes.

Father Ken Gill, rector of the Basilica of St. Paul in Daytona Beach explains, “In the Holy Mass during the Communion Rite, our Lord says, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…’ Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, and the rosary is one of the most important means given to us by heaven to dispose ourselves to accept, receive, and live in the peace of Jesus Christ. In a time of great tensions, magnified by social media, it is more imperative than ever to join with Mary every day in contemplating the face of Jesus in the mysteries of His life, death, and resurrection, so that our souls – like Mary’s – may live out of His peace, and not the tensions of the world. Then truly our souls will be united with Mary’s in magnifying the greatness of the Lord in all we do with peace and tranquility.”

Parishioners at the Basilica, like McMenamy, embrace this understanding. Her love of Our Lady and the rosary began subconsciously at age five. She was Episcopalian then, but noticed a Polish woman renting a room in her home kept a rosary and statue of the Virgin Mary. Years later, at age 15, her mother died.

“And out of nowhere, I said the Hail Mary,” she recalled. “It was the first time in my life I ever said it. And to this day, I think what happened there was, Mary was saying to me, ‘Your mother has gone to heaven and now I’m going to be your Mother.’”

A family in Ormond-by-the-Sea welcomes the Pilgrim Virgin for one week, inviting friends and family to pray the rosary on Oct. 17, 2023. Basilica of St. Paul, Daytona Beach coordinator Mary Jane McMenamy schedules families across Volusia county to welcome the Virgin with the help of Joanne and Rick Menard. (COURTESY)

She moved to Florida to live with her father, a devout Catholic who put her and her sister in Catholic school. Through the love shown to her by Dominican nuns, she soon desired to become Catholic. Eventually she married her husband who was devoted to the rosary and guided her to devotion of the Blessed Mother.

“Over 44 years I’ve seen miracles, so many prayers answered, so many blessings too!” she said. “I can’t tell you enough about the graces and blessings that come from this ministry. It’s just awesome.” After raising eight children, McMenamy says her greatest hope is that those praying the rosary pass it on to their children.

That is also the hope of Lou Arnold and Mary Jo Mercier of Epiphany Parish in Port Orange. Arnold’s love of the rosary began before she can remember. Coming from a long line of family devoted to the Blessed Mother, it was always part of her life.

“She’s a Jewish mama so she’s very caring with her children,” Arnold said with great affection in her voice. “She was given to us at the Cross, through John, so we are her children and she cares about us. She’s always been there for me.” Arnold credits Our Lady with helping in the conversion of her late husband and instilling in him a deep love for her and her Son, Jesus.

Parishioners of Epiphany Parish in Port Orange pray the rosary daily after morning Mass, joined by three students from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. (COURTESY)

Arnold consecrated herself to Mary in 1993. Her friend Mary Jo Mercier, who made her consecration in 2013, helps lead the daily rosary group and both women teach sessions for consecration to the Blessed Mother. Part of the consecration is commitment to praying the rosary. “When you do the consecration, you give her all your works, all your good deeds; you give them to her and you let her distribute them to who needs it most. In the same sense, she will take care of you as well,” explained Arnold.

Like Arnold, Mercier has been a devotee all her life. “I remember wearing my First Communion dress for May Crowning of the Blessed Mother in the grotto and in a procession at our Catholic grade school,” she said. “I remember that more than I do my First Communion which was two weeks earlier.”

The consecration also calls for a life modeled after Mary. Speaking of the Virgin Mary, Mercier noted, “She loved Jesus, so I try to be as loving as I can to my neighbor and try to be as humble as she is. She was so full of grace and is such a wonderful mother. She’s so loving, forgiving and understanding, always listening.” Mercier could talk about Mary all day long. She wants others to know “she gives you the tools to fight evil in this world, and the greatest tool is the rosary. She equips you with everything you need to be a holy, loving person.”

McMenamy, Arnold and Mercier will continue to pray the rosary beyond October. As Arnold explains it, “If someone gives you a gift, why wouldn’t you use it. She’s a beautiful gift. She’s not just there to look at in a picture. She’s part of my life.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, October 19, 2023