“Tis the Month of Our Mother:” Celebrating Mary & Our Mothers

“’Tis the Month of Our Mother” is an older Catholic hymn sung often at this time of year when the Catholic Church traditionally has honored Mary during the month of May. The first lines of the song are:

’Tis the month of our Mother,
The blessed and beautiful days,
When our lips and our spirits,
are glowing with love and with praise.

All Hail! to thee, dear Mary,
the guardian of our way;
To the fairest of Queens,
Be the fairest of seasons, sweet May.

In the refrain, Mary’s “Queenship” in the third line refers to our Catholic Church belief that, when she died, like Jesus, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. Conceived without original sin and the mother of Jesus, she was honored by God by her assumption. Catholics have given her the title of “Queen of Heaven,” a title taken from ancient sky goddesses in the Mediterranean and Near East.

Tomorrow, Archmere celebrates the Ascension into Heaven of Jesus, her Son. Thursday, May 9, is the traditional date, though some dioceses, including Wilmington, have moved the observance to Sunday, May 12, which also happens to be Mother’s Day.

When I attended my Catholic parish grade school from first through eighth grade, I looked forward to participating in the parish May Procession each year. We would sing Marian songs and prayers, and then crown the statue of the Blessed Mother in Church. It was a big event, and as students, we would practice the songs as part of religion class for weeks in advance.

The second grade First Communion Class, dressed in white, led the long procession of students. Two or three of them were selected to be in the May Court of students. These students actually placed the crown of flowers on the statue of Mary.

The procession of students in the school uniform of blue and white, led by altar servers with candles, incense, and processional cross, walked around the block in reverent silence, two-by-two, shortest to tallest, from the school building to the Church. Parents, aunts, uncles, and friends lined the sidewalks to watch the procession pass, then quickly moved into the church through the side doors to watch as the procession entered the Church down the main aisle.

The organ swelled with the strains of the opening hymn to Mary, and the assembly sang robustly the first of several Marian songs throughout the prayer service. When the appropriate time came for the May Crowning ceremony, the eighth grade girls, each carrying one long white gladiola, lined the Church’s center aisle. With their flowers, they formed a series of arches, under which the children from the second grade May Court would pass as they made their way to the altar of Mary adorned with flowers and ferns.

After the event, which ended with Benediction, there were the obligatory family pictures on the Church lawn with family members before heading home. But the May celebrations of Mary did not end. Each school day in May, we were invited to bring flowers from home to place before the May altar that would be set up in our school classroom with a statue of Mary. I remember bringing in azalea clippings, lilacs, and bouquets of a flowering white shrub called, spiraea alpine spring flower, wrapped in aluminum foil. We would recite the Memorare or a decade of the Rosary as part of our daily prayers in May.

Of course, it was easy for me as a child to make the connection between Mother’s Day and the devotions to Mary, our Blessed Mother. My brothers and I revered my mother and appreciated all that she did for us and for our extended family. She, in turn, had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, and would always encourage us to turn to Mary in prayer.

I just read an article in the May 7 edition of The News Journal, entitled “Mothers never really become obsolete,” written by Momspeak Columnist Tracy Grant of The Washington Post. In the article, Grant claims that a mother’s goal is to teach her children life skills so that they can become independent. She comments, however, how hard it is sometimes to “let go” of special moments. Her sons are now 17, and she writes:

And I know, too, that even while I lament their growing independence, this is life as it should be. I’ve decided I’m going to stop looking in their rooms to see unmade beds and feel frustrated. Soon enough, the beds will be made and will stay made for weeks or months.

But Grant concludes the article referencing a text message from her son that ends with “Love you Mom.” She writes, “The feeling that clutches at my chest as I read those words will never become obsolete.”

Grant and I agree that “recognizing a mom’s efforts is not just one Sunday in May; it’s 365 days of the year.” Celebrating motherhood and all that our mothers do for our families seems to be a natural and universal reaction. It is appropriate then, that we recognize the work of our Mothers’ Guild, joined by our Fathers’ Club volunteers this year, on May 15 at a gathering in The Patio.


Assumption of The Virgin
Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The very first Mothers’ Guild in 1932 presented to Archmere a reproduction of the 1670 painting, “The Assumption of the Virgin.” Painted by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, it is a symbol of the Norbertine’s devotion to Mary. The painting hangs in the Music Room of The Patio, which served as the school’s first chapel from 1932 until 1970. Since the founding of the Norbertine Community in 1120, many abbeys, priories, and houses dedicated themselves to Mary, each carrying one of her many titles.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, is one of nearly 50 titles found in the Litany of Loreto, a prayer of the Church to the Blessed Mother that dates back to the Middle Ages. It is a title most fitting for this month when we use a crown of flowers and not a queenly crown of gold and precious stones to show our devotion to Mary. In keeping with the Norbertine tradition, it is a title most special to Archmere, exemplified in Murillo’s painting.

As Grant points out, celebrating mothers and motherhood is not just a one-day event. With Mary as a perfect example of all that a mother sacrifices, endures, enjoys, and loves, we are especially grateful for our mothers during this special month of May, but we also know how much we appreciate and love them every day.

For those of us whose mothers are no longer with us, we pray for them and ask them to pray for us. For those of us who may not have known a mother, we pray in gratitude for those who may have taken up the formative tasks of motherhood, acknowledging that we love them just as a child loves his or her mother.

In closing, I share with you the Marian antiphon Regina caeli laetare. The “Queen of Heaven” hymn is recited during the last hour of the Liturgy of the Hours as part of Night Prayer:

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom thou didst merit to bear in your womb, alleluia.
Has risen, as He promised, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Junior Class Ring Mass

Tonight, Archmere Academy’s Junior Class received their class rings. Over the next 13 months, these rising seniors will make decisions that lead them to the next chapter of their lives. With the support of their families and the strong foundation of an Archmere education, I am confident their successes will exceed the desks and chairs of the classroom.

Earlier this evening, I spoke briefly about the significance of the Ring Mass and the class ring, which remind us of this foundation.

Members of the Junior Class,

As we conclude this momentous event – the Junior Class Ring Mass, when your rings are blessed and distributed among you – I think about family sayings.

You know these sayings, the one’s your parents may often talk about. They usually start with, “My mother always used to say to me…” or, “Your grandfather always said…” Often times these parental remarks are made during the holidays or on special occasions, especially when the person who used to say them is no longer with us to celebrate.

Well, this evening the Archmere family is offering you another saying that will be forever added to your personal history – Pietate et Scientia. Translated, it means “Reverence and Wisdom.” Archmere’s motto was selected by Abbot Crets of Averbode Abbey in Belgium during the early part of the 20th century.

junior class ring mass

Class Rings of the Class of 1976

Abbot Crets selected this motto to be included in his coat of arms when he was elected Abbot General of the international Norbertine community. During Abbot Crets time as Abbot General, Archmere Academy was founded. Very much like family sayings that are adopted by each successive generation in our own families, Archmere adopted Abbot Crets’ motto, including it on all of the graduates’ rings.

On the other side of the Archmere ring is another Latin motto – Ad omne opus bonum paratus. Translated, it means “Prepared for every good work.” This is a quote taken from the second letter of Saint Paul to Timothy, 2:21.

Used by the international Norbertine community as a “call to arms,” this quote is incorporated into the last phrase of Archmere’s mission statement:

Inspired by its heritage, Archmere cultivates empathetic leaders – young men and women prepared for every good work.

As classmates of the Class of 2014, you are connected to each other. You are connected to all Archmere alumni. But in addition to this Archmere family, you are also connected to the 2,000 years of faith and heritage of the international Norbertine community, its schools and apostolates around the world.

In graduating, you are, in the words of Saint Paul, “prepared for every good work.” Welcome to the Archmere “workforce” in the world.


41st Honors Convocation

On Wednesday, we recognized students at Archmere who, throughout the course of the year, have demonstrated academic excellence and leadership at the 41st Honors Convocation ceremony, held in the Performing Arts Center. Below is my address to the students.

At this 41st Honors Convocation, when we recognize academic excellence, achievement, and leadership, I would like to talk about failure.
41st honors convocation headmaster's remarks
Mark Shead, in an article entitled, “The Five Most Important Leadership Traits,” references five leadership traits and qualities, according to the research of Kouzes and Posner:

  • Honest
  • Forward-looking
  • Competent
  • Inpsiring
  • Intelligent

    Shead goes on to say that effective leaders demonstrate these traits, and in doing so, draw more people to their cause.

    Focusing on the first trait, honesty, Shead says that a true leader does not miss the opportunity to display honesty when he or she admits to making a mistake. Leaders need to take risks, and sometimes things just don’t work out. It is in these moments when leaders need to be honest enough to admit failure and to change course.

    In thinking about your lives as teenagers and all that you manage, I can only imagine the pressures you feel – build the resume, stand out as a unique applicant to that college or university of your choice, run the race and break the record. Do it all. Be it all. And don’t make a mistake like getting a “C” on your transcript.

    These are wonderful aspirations, and we should work our hardest (which can be somewhat subjective) to achieve them. But often, we do not meet 100% of our goals 100% of the time. It is in those time when we fall short of our expectations – when we fail miserably, in fact – that true leaders “regroup.”

    We analyze and reflect.

    We acknowledge what went wrong, and in doing so, learn from it and make attempts to correct it, if possible.

    Author and researcher Jim Collins has been studying what makes “excellent” organizations excellent by studying the leadership of these “excellent” organizations.

    Collins found that great leaders not only have discipline and vision, but also a sense of humility. They listen to the advice of great people. They assemble around them. Most importantly, they learn from their failures.

    About 1,000 years before Collins’ research, Saint Norbert, I believe, exemplified these skills of great leadership in the very challenging times of 11th century Europe. His deeds and actions have made an impact on the lives of countless people, more than a millennium after his death.

    Saint Norbert was born into nobility and influence. He was very intelligent, and a charismatic speaker.

    The first signs of true leadership emerged when Norbert disagreed with King Henry V, who thought it his right as sovereign to invest bishops and priests. After King Henry’s forces surrounded the Vatican and forced the Pope to allow lay investiture, Norbert left the court of King Henry, giving up his financial security and privileged lifestyle.

    Norbert became an itinerant preacher. He did not join a religious community, though asked. Norbert had a vision. He had a vision of what a religious community should be. He realized he needed to start anew.

    In 1120, Norbert founded a new community in an obscure part of France called Prémontré, where he formed a religious community of both men and women, lay and ordained, supporting one another.

    It was 1120, yet Norbert conceived of a very contemporary model of community. Men and women lived separately as equals. Ordained and lay religious worked together. And Norbert envisioned that his community would grow internationally with each new community reflecting the local culture, and supporting the needs of the people in that locale.

    That is leadership – honesty, forward-looking, competent, inspiring, intelligent.

    It is not, however, a “happily ever after story.”
    41st honors convocation headmaster's remarks
    In his book, The Order of Premontre: History and Spirituality, Father Bernard Ardura notes the great successes of the early Norbertine communities in flourishing abbeys and schools. Ardura even mentions a Norbertine priest who proposed a flying machine contemporary to Leonardo Da Vinci (slide #23). But Ardura also chronicles the Norbertine’s failures – poorly funded abbeys, unsuccessful ventures that closed, and even unfaithful community members.

    This is just one small part of the wonderfully rich Norbertine heritage that is Archmere’s. What we need to take from it is the works that continue to survive long after we die come from those people who have honestly acknowledged mistakes along the way and learned from them, only to be stronger, improved, and enriched by other gifts.

    So, this evening, I congratulate you on your achievements based on your hard work, your mistakes, and all those moments that leave a hole in your stomach or give you a headache. Because I know for you to be here now at this 41st Honors Convocation, you overcame them. You learned from them. You were true to yourself and to your faith.

    I celebrate your potential as the future leaders of the world who will construct a reality based on community, respect, zeal, reverence, and wisdom, in the hope that one day our world does not have to experience another Enron, another Bernie Madoff scandal, another economic meltdown, oil spill, or terrorist attack.

    I give thanks to God for bringing you here to Archmere, with the support of your families who have sacrificed much so that you can have the best education possible through the dedication of your teachers. I am so proud of each of you, as are your teachers, your parents, your families, and your friends.