Mandeville, LA – My grandmother was named Essie Pearl MARIE Gomez and later took her husband’s name to become Essie Pearl Peel. Grandma Pearl was the holiest person I ever knew who wasn’t a priest and she never stopped her devotions to the Blessed Mother until she was unable to because of her age and failing memory.
After her death on Thanksgiving Day, 2016, I inherited dozens of her relics including her prayer books and a box filled with prayer cards taken from shrines she had visited. The one that had the greatest impact on me and I have continued her devotion to, is Our Lady of The Snows. The Shrine of Our Lady of The Snows is the largest outdoor Marian shrine in North ‘Muricah and the Basilica named for her in Rome is the oldest Marian church on earth.
Now for the story of Our Lady of The Snows with narrative inserted by this writer.
A wealthy Roman nobleman named John and his wife Anna were set to retire from their successful productions and being without children, wanted to leave their wealth to the Church. They pondered among themselves, “but for what purpose” and “in what manner?” John and Anna prayed upon the question for months and received no revelation so they took this dilemma to their priest. The priest recommended they meet with the Bishop of Rome, who just happened to be the Pope as well. Anna suggested that before the meeting with the Holy Father, the couple might ask the Mother of God for some assistance. Since she had given birth to the Salvation of Mankind in the Christ child, perhaps she could birth an idea for their request?
On the night of August 3rd, John, Anna and the Bishop of Rome, Pope Liberius were all visited by the Blessed Virgin in their sleep. When John and Anna were led into the Pope’s chamber and began their meeting the Holy father suggested that they began with a prayer and, he added, a special intention should be made the the Blessed virgin for her assistance on the question. John and Anna were shocked! Why would this holy prelate, the vicar of Christ, ask for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, could this be a miracle!? John could not contain his excitement as he and Anna shed tears of joy in recounting the visit the Blessed Virgin had paid to them the previous night. Pope Liberius could also not contain his joy and prayerfully resolved that the trio unify their story.
The Blessed Virgin had asked that a church be built for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and service of the Sacraments. This church would be large enough to serve all in the region and must built on a location that all could see. Our Lady told the trio that she would show unto them a miraculous sign that would leave no doubt as the the location she desired this church to be built. Liberius instructed John and Anna to fast and pray the remainder of the day that was August 4th, for the miracle Our Lady promised to occur. John and Anna received the Holy Father’s blessing and pledged their wealth to Our Lady’s desires whatever that may be.
The Miracle of The August 5th Snow
After their evening prayers, John and Anna together prayed a special prayer asking the Mother of The Redeemer for her continued love and protection and that, if she still desired it, to carry out the construction of this church she had previously requested; if she would bless them with knowing the sacred location. Satisfied that their intentions were pure, John and Anna prayed the prayer many Roman Catholics were praying at the time, brought to Rome from Greece, the Sub Tuum. John and Anna did not know that Pope Liberius joined them in the Sub Tuum that night.
O Mother of God, we take refuge in your loving care. Let not our plea to you pass unheeded in the trials that beset us, but deliver us from danger, for you alone are truly pure, you alone are truly blessed. – Sub Tuum
During that night, when the night turned from August the 4th to August the 5th it began to snow in Rome but this was no ordinary snow. This snow came down at first over all of the city, guards and night watchmen were so stunned by the snowflakes falling around them that they thought it must be a show of God’s dissatisfaction; pagans were rushed from their homes and wailed for mercy from their Gods that they might be spared this impending retribution. And then, suddenly, the snow stopped as quickly as it had started. John had been roused from his bed too and rushed to his veranda to witness the beginning of the snow and upon its stopping he was joined by Anna, both their hearts just moments before were aroused with such joy now sank in sorrow. “Look!” said John’s wife, “to the hill of Esquiline, its snowing there”. John squinted his eyes and saw what appeared as a dim glow over Esquiline. The glow grew more bright and got so bright that the huge flakes of snow could be seen falling as silhouettes against the glow. They watched it snow until they fell asleep and at the first light of dawn made a hasty flight to Esquiline Hill. After his morning office, Pope Liberius arrived along with thousands of Romans who came to witness the miracle of The Snows.
The Pontiff led all gathered in praying the Sub Tuum and proclaimed Esquiline Hill to be the site of a new church. John’s wife suggested that it be dedicated to the Blessed Mother who had appeared to them and practically asked for the name “Our Lady of The Snows. John and Anna donated all their wealth to the church’s construction and after 11 years, its first Mass was held there, on the Feast of Our Lady of The Snows, as proclaimed by Pope Liberius himself. John and his iwfe are buried in the graveyard nearby, resting under the mantle of Our Lady of The Snow and in the Peace of her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Basilica of Saint Mary Major
The church that John and Anna helped build is still there today although it’s undergone several changes as has the Feast of Our Lady of The Snows.
“is the Church of Saint Mary Major. Sometimes it is referred to as the Church of Saint Mary of the Crib because the crib in which Our Lord was placed when He was born in Bethlehem is kept in this church. The body of Saint Jerome is there, and the relics of Saint Matthias, the Apostle, who took the place of Judas among the Twelve. Saint Jerome died with his head in the crib where Jesus was born.”
The Reverend Alban Butler tells us more of the church’s history.
It is also called St. Mary ad Nives, or at the snow, from a popular tradition, that the Mother of God chose this place for a church under her invocation by a miraculous snow that fell upon this spot in summer, and by a vision in which she appeared to a patrician named John, who munificently founded and endowed this church in the pontificate of Liberius…. The same Basilica has sometimes been known by the name of St. Mary ad Præsepe, from the holy crib or manger of Bethlehem, in which Christ was laid at his birth. It resembles an ordinary manger, is kept in a case of massy silver, and in it lies an image of a little child, 3 also of silver. On Christmas-day the holy manger is taken out of the case, and exposed.
The feast of Our Lady of The Snows was made universal by Pope Pius V in 1568.
In the United States, the largest outdoor Marian shrine is the shrine of Our Lady of The Snows in Illinois. From the shrine’s website we learn the story of its construction and origin.
The devotion to Our Lady of the Snows was first introduced to the midwest in 1941 by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Fr. Paul Schulte, O.M.I., known as “the flying priest of the Arctic,” was a pilot who brought medical aid and supplies to remote Oblate missions, particularly north of the Arctic Circle. He developed a strong personal devotion to Our Lady of the Snows while working in the Oblate missions, and built a small chapel in her honor.
Devotion to Our Lady of the Snows at St. Henry’s
Fr. Paul Schulte, O.M.I., commissioned the famous artist, J. Watson Davis, to paint a picture of Our Lady of the Snows. Davis depicted an Oblate missionary and his airplane on a sick call to an Inuit (Eskimo) mission with Our Lady appearing surrounded by rays of the Northern Lights.
Following his ministry in the Arctic, Fr. Schulte came to reside at St. Henry’s Seminary in Belleville, Illinois. The painting of Our Lady of the Snows was hung in the seminary chapel.
At that time, Fr. Schulte and Fr. Edwin Guild, O.M.I., began to develop the Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate and to foster devotion to the Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of the Snows. In April of 1943, the perpetual novena to Our Lady of the Snows was begun.
The first Solemn Outdoor Novena was held in 1951, the final day being celebrated on August 5, the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows. The Novena became an annual event which soon attracted thousands each year. The painting of Our Lady of the Snows was given a place of prominence in the new chapel at St. Henry’s. Today, the J. Watson Davis painting is displayed in the Visitors Center Lobby at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.
The Feast of Our Lady of the Snows tells the story of the magnificence of God’s love for us who trust in him for their salvation and who always provides for our every need, even when that need is guidance in the charitable works he has ordered. The fact that he chooses the sole recipient of Immaculate Conception for this work should never be lost on us. The Reverend Alban Butler explains this beautifully.
The church, which is always solicitous, by the mouths of her pastors, to instruct her children in the most powerful means of attaining to salvation, never ceases, from the primitive ages, strongly to excite them to make their most fervent assiduous addresses to the Mother of God, as a most efficacious means of working their sanctification. She teaches us earnestly to conjure Him who is the author of our being and of our salvation, to listen to her prayers for us; and humbly to remind Him that through her he bestowed himself upon us, and that for love of us he vouchsafed to be born of her, she always remaining a spotless virgin.
Our Lady of The Snows, oremus.
Essie Pearl Peel, eternal rest grant unto her O Lord, perpetual light shine upon her, may she rest in peace, amen.