To understand the devotion to Our Lady of America it is most helpful to understand the historical backdrop to her message. The devotion to Our Lady of America has as its very center the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Forming its very foundation is the consecration of our nation by the American bishops, the love of her children in America and the honor given Our Lady as the Immaculate Conception which has been made manifest by the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
When the Catholic Church erected its first diocese in the United States in 1791 Bishop John Carroll was named our first Bishop. On May 28, 1792 he addressed his diocese which encompassed all that was then the United States of America with these words:
“I shall only add this my earnest request, that to the exercise of the sublimest virtues, faith, hope and charity, you will join a fervent and well-regulated devotion to the Holy Mother of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; that you will place great confidence in her in all your necessities. Having chosen her the special patroness of this Diocese, you are placed, of course, under her powerful protection; and it becomes your duty to be careful to deserve its continuance by a zealous imitation of her virtues and a reliance on her motherly superintendence.”(Underline added)
This devotion to Our Lady of America is her specific instruction of how to live the admonition given by our first Bishop of “zealous imitation of her virtues”. The devotion is a re-iteration, call and example of what the U.S. Bishop has already asked of the faithful from the very start of our nation’s history.
Archbishop Samuel Eccleston of Baltimore called the Sixth Provincial Council of the Church in America in 1846. Twenty-two bishops responded, and the Council passed as its first decree the resolution to choose Mary Immaculate as the Patroness of the United States and to make December 8 the patronal feast. In the Pastoral Letter issued by the Council, dated May 5, 1846, we read:
“We take this occasion, brethren, to communicate to you the determination, unanimously adopted by us, to place ourselves and all entrusted to our charge throughout the United States, under the special patronage of the holy Mother of God, whose Immaculate Conception is venerated by the piety of the faithful throughout the Catholic Church. By the aid of her prayers, we entertain the confident hope that we will be strengthened to perform the arduous duties of our ministry, and that you will be enabled to practice the sublime virtues, of which her life presents the most perfect example.”
Once again, our Bishops called the faithful to “practice the sublime virtues, of which her life presents the most perfect example”. This devotion to Our Lady of America teaches us how to live these, further calling out the life of the Holy Family as example for mother, father and child.
The following year the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide confirms in its announcement that “our Holy Father Pius IX most willingly confirmed the wishes of the Council that has “selected the Blessed Virgin, conceived without sin, as the patroness of the Church in the United States of America.”
“To complete the crown of Mary Immaculate as Patroness of the United States there remained the building of a national shrine which should serve as an outward expression of our love and as a place of pilgrimage where honor should be paid to the Mother of God who had protected our nation in all its days. At the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 1904, a national shrine to be built in Washington, on the grounds of the Catholic University of America, began to be speculated upon by members of the hierarchy of our country. Plans were laid, and ten years later His Holiness Pope Pius X, sent to His Eminence, James Cardinal Gibbons, the blessing of the Holy See upon the project. World War I intervened. In 1920 Archbishop Bonzano, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, celebrated Mass outdoors on the site. Within a few months Cardinal Gibbons laid the cornerstone with solemn ceremonies, attended by a large number of the hierarchy and by diplomatic representatives of twenty-four nations.”
Richard Cardinal Cushing (then Auxiliary Bishop) noted that the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception would serve “as an outward expression of our love and a place of pilgrimage where Honor should be paid to the Mother of God…” This statement is completely aligned with the desire of Our Lady:
“Today the Holy Virgin appeared to me as I was working in my room. Our Lady was very beautiful, and she was again smiling in her heavenly way. She was dressed in the same manner as when I first saw her, except that her Immaculate Heart did not appear. Instead of the lily, she held with both hands a small replica of the finished Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. She then began to speak. Her presence overwhelmed me with its holiness. I was compelled to stop my work, for it was impossible to go on. I then knelt down and wrote Our Lady’s words as she desired:
“This is my shrine, my daughter. I am very pleased with it. Tell my children I thank them. Let them finish it quickly and make it a place of pilgrimage. It will be a place of wonders. I promise this, I will bless all those who, either by prayers, labor, or material aid, help to erect this shrine.” (October 13, 1956)
One may rightly ask the question of why would Our Lady come with yet another title when we as a nation have chosen her as the Immaculate Conception to be Patroness of Our Land? In answer to this it is worthy of note that she only once refers to herself as Our Lady of America and that is on the date of her first appearance in that regalia. The day before this first appearance she appears as Our Lady of Lourdes, showing that her title of Our Lady of America is in response to our nation’s claiming of her, the Immaculate Conception, as our own. As Our Lady of Lourdes and on the eve of her appearance as Our Lady of America she says this:
“I am pleased, my child, with the love and honor my children in America give to me, especially through my glorious and unique privilege of the Immaculate Conception. I promise to reward their love by working through the power of my Son’s Heart and my Immaculate Heart miracles of grace among them. I do not promise miracles of the body, but of the soul.”
So it is clear here that the promises of graces come out of her Immaculate Conception and not out of the added title of Our Lady of America.
Furthermore, the petitions for grace in this devotion are also to be directed to the Virgin Mary with recognition of her singular grace as the Immaculate Conception:
“By thy Holy and Immaculate Conception, Oh Mary, deliver us from Evil.”
The next day after (feast of the North America Martyrs) appearing as Our Lady of Lourdes she appears in new regalia and introduces Her new program for America:
“I am Our Lady of America. I desire that my children honor me, especially by the purity of their lives.”(September 26, 1956)
On the next day, as Our Lady of America, she confirms her identity as that which the U.S. Bishop declared and which was ratified by the Holy See in proclaiming:
“I am the Immaculate One, Patroness of your land. Be my faithful children as I have been your faithful Mother.”(October 27, 1956)
As asked by the U.S. Bishops (for “zealous imitation of her virtues”) in that first consecration to the Immaculate Virgin and in unity with them, Our Lady of America asks us to imitate her purity.
She then develops a special program of devotion to Our Lady of America to include all of her virtues, those of Saint Joseph and the Holy Child. In total she calls us to imitate the Holy Family. The visionary further explains:
Our Blessed Mother called herself Our Lady of America in response to the love and desire that reached out for this special title in the hearts of her children in America. This title was the sign of her pleasure at the confidence our land places in her and as a reward for its staunch and childlike devotion to her. Her children longed for this personal visit of Our Lady, whether consciously or otherwise, and in her kindness and mercy she responded far beyond all expectations. (Page 7)
The title of Our Lady of America does not portray a new theological understanding, but rather is granted by Heaven to acknowledge our love for Her. She is not asking for a new consecration of our nation, but rather is acknowledging that which has already been accomplished. Further she exhorts us to imitate that which she is, the Immaculate Conception. She goes on to describe the desire of her Immaculate Heart.
“My child, I entrust you with this message that you must make known to my children in America. I wish it to be the country dedicated to my purity. The wonders I will work will be the wonders of the soul. They must have faith and believe firmly in my love for them. I desire that they be the children of my Pure Heart. I desire, through my children of America, to further the cause of faith and purity among peoples and nations. Let them come to me with confidence and simplicity, and I, their Mother, will teach them to become pure like to my Heart that their own hearts may be more pleasing to the Heart of my Son.”
Study of these messages reveals no conflict with our nation’s consecration to the Immaculate Conception, but moreover a call to live that consecration through desire to imitate the Holy Family and graces obtained through her.
“… Our Lady of America, the Immaculate Virgin, offers to our country, in title and in grace, a renewal of our national devotion to the Immaculate Virgin, but with a renewed dynamic of purity so as to better live the Gospel call to Christian purity and holiness within the heightened challenges of our present day.
“Just as we would not want to negate the great historic graces received through Our Lady’s 1858 apparitions at Lourdes with the objection: “Why do we need Our Lady of Lourdes when we already have Our Lady of Guadalupe?”, so too, we want to have our hearts open to any new and powerful grace offered to us by God’s generosity in the form of new Marian apparitions, which in turn bring with them new and dynamic graces for our nation now, and ultimately for the entire world. ” 
Our Lady calls us to purity. The program which Our Lady of America brings to us promises the graces to reject the temptations of our time and give us emphasis on certain Church teachings which are an antidote for the pervasive sins of today. Given today’s, almost unbridled, sexually immorality one could conclude therein is the focus of her message on purity. But what Our Lady brings is so much more than that. While sexual purity is certainly among that which she asks, it is total purity of heart and mind to that which she calls us. She calls us to that purity of thought, action and sacramental life that results in the ultimate purity which is Sanctifying Grace.
From the appearance of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858 sprang forth the clear understanding of her Immaculate Nature. Her miraculous appearance and healings caused to be promulgated with speed that Dogma proclaimed in 1854. Whereas the devotional program at Lourdes, France focuses on pilgrimage, physical healings and Eucharistic Procession at the location of the apparition, the devotional program outlined by Our Lady of America focuses on spiritual healing and the opening of our hearts to the Divine Indwelling through adherence to the program and intercessory graces of that same Immaculate Virgin. Where at Lourdes she caused to be created a fruitful cult and great pilgrimage shrine, in this devotion she builds upon that with this ultimate hope:
“I desire to make the whole of America my shrine by making every heart accessible to the love of my Son.”
How? While the depiction of Our Lady of Lourdes shows no external signs of her intrinsic nature (with the exception of the roses springing forth from her feet), Our Lady of America’s depiction shows her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart fully exposed (through which all graces flow), circled in roses and inflamed. With her right hand she is extending as a gift the lily symbolizing her purity. She wants to share this gift with us. By accepting it and living a sacramental and pure life as described in this devotion one will live in a state of sanctifying grace. This soul is then pleasing to her Son who takes refuge there. With this indwelling then the soul is a part of the Shrine which our Lady wants to make the “whole of America”. Dr. Mark Miravalle, Ph.D.