MaryMother and Queen
It was the first day of the fifth month of the year 1965. I woke early to prepare myself. My soft blue-colored dress lay across the rose patterned bed covering, the bodice was spread wide detailing the intricate flower embroidery. I had chosen this particular dress color because of symbolism and tradition. Blue was the Blessed Mary's color and a color worn by Roman Empire empresses; but many Germans painted her molded garments red.
Eight years earlier in the quaint St Thomas chapel, on Mary’s Coronation day, I carried the satin brocade cushion that held Mary’s crown. Traditionally, the crown was carried by the youngest girl in the school then placed on the head of the statue by the oldest student. Today I was the oldest student that had been chosen to crown the Blessed Mother of Christ.
It was early April when Sister Ann summoned me. With no explanation she requested my presence with her after school. Sister Ann, an English speaking Canadian, extremely tall, stern looking and an openly intuitive woman – she had a voice of a accomplished opera singer. She led us in song in Mass each morning – her voice was empowering. Sister Ann was the appointed caretaker for the girls at the orphanage as well as the eight-grade teacher. I was deeply inspired by her and cautious to any disrespect. It was really never obvious to me that I had a special place with her but I soon learned that my perception of this was seemingly wrong.
On this particular day the hands on the large black General Electric school clock moved ever so slowly. Once the hands rested on the three and twelve – the bells began ringing and echoing loudly throughout the orphanage grounds. Sister Ann came to my desk and motioned for me to walk with her to the chapel. Her long over flowing black gown swayed from side to side as we made our way through the massive corridors.
The sisters had just finished their mid day devotion in the chapel and left it empty. We sat in the hand carved oak pew – my back was perched up against the Gold plated holy water fountain, a prized position from Germany– my hands were tightly joined in my lap. I glance up at the ceiling to my favorite fresco painting of Christ surrounded by floating angels and I said a small prayer. Sister Ann’s voice interrupted me – she spoke in a quiet unfamiliar way – in a manner that was so out of character for her. Her voice was soft and eyes wide with enthusiasm as she began her storytelling about the Blessed Mary – she sat erect next to me in the pew – never deviating from the intention of the story. I felt paralyzed – didn’t move for fear I would disturb the moment or interrupt her story telling. After some time she then turned and spoke directly to me – her eyes glossed over – her hands moving in a soft sweeping gesture – her voice soft – whisper like… she asked if I would accept the privilege of crowning the Blessed Mary on May Day.
My heart was exploding – I could feel each beat pounding so hard that I felt unstable – I felt light headed and couldn’t find my voice. My eyes filled with tears as Sister Ann touched my folded hands for comfort. I was wrapped up in the moment of excitement, and to her surprise and mine, I reached up and wrapped my arms around her neck – she then raised her strong lengthy arms wrapping them around me. I laid my head against her chest and cried. I was overwhelmingly moved.
I felt the chill of a Montana spring morning as I made my way out the door on May 1, 1965. I had two May Baskets filled with cherry blossoms and lilacs. I placed one basket on Mrs. Knutson’s porch, rang the doorbell and scurried away so not to be seen. I was sentimentally fond of her - she had been widowed for many years living alone. She always shared her baked goods, her smiles and her story telling with us neighborhood children.
For the Coronation everyone was to bring to the chapel whatever flowers could be found; typically lilacs filled the small baskets. The whole school was in attendance – the chapel was decorated in full spring colors – tulips and other seasonal flowers adorned the altars, each pew was tied off – numerical tags indicating the class level was hung together with ribbons – the chapel was in full dress, unlike any other day of the year.
The "May Crowning" ceremony commenced after our daily Mass. A procession of children, girls wearing their best dresses and garlands of flowers round their heads, carrying baskets of flowers in which they laid around the shrine. The youngest of the orphans carried fresh flowers that were placed at the foot of the statue.
Sister Ann, in choir with the students, started singing "Bring Flowers of the Fairest”
The music lead me down the middle aisle with a slow disciplined movement and my pearl rosary intertwined between my fingers.. I finally found my voice in the last refrain of the song: “O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of Angels, Queen of May”.
I finally arrived at the altar where the Shrine of the Blessed Mary was positioned. Tears streamed gently down my cheeks. I reached up and placed the wreath of flowers on her head in honor of her virtues.
And then in a soft voice, I spoke ….
“Mary, Mother and Queen, accept our crown!”