Mary’s Miracles: The Blessed Virgin Mary and Benedictine College

Benedictine College’s consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary on Sept. 8, 2013, is just the most recent chapter in the story of the school’s relationship with Mary (see the consecration press release here).

“Our Lady’s intercessions date as far back as 1856 when she saved the founder of St. Benedict’s Abbey, Fr. Henry Lemke’s life during a torrential thunderstorm and flood, to most recently when we implored her help in increasing our enrollment and growth,” said Minnis. “Thus, we believe that it is very appropriate to formally Consecrate Benedictine College to the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Here is a brief summary of the founding miracle at Benedictine College and the more recent manifestations of Mary’s relationship with the school.

Lady Dressed in White

Father Henry Lemke wrote in his diary about an 1856 incident where he was lost in a storm and prayed  for Mary’s intercession. As soon as he said the prayer, a light appeared on the horizon. He stumbled toward it and found that it was a lantern hanging in the window of a cottage.

The mother and daughter who lived in the cottage sheltered him and told him that a lady dressed in white had appeared to the child in the night. This had awakened the mother, who hung the lantern.

Wrote Lemke: “O, you dearest Mother of God, it was through the pure and unsullied soul of a child that you effected that the mother would place a lamp in the window just about the very time when I was calling out for help because I feared for my life. The Mother of God worked a miracle.” 

Two years later, Benedictine College was founded and the “lady dressed in white” appeared to another little girl in a small town — St. Bernadette of Lourdes, France.

Watch a dramatization of this story here.

The Memorare Army

Again and again, the college has relied on its Memorare Army prayer campaign to fulfill Benedictine College’s mission to educate students in a community of faith and scholarship. Now, the college has applied the prayer campaign idea to a national Memorare Army Campaign for religious liberty.

Mother Teresa formed the first “Memorare Army” years ago when she discovered that she would need to relocate to a $85,000 building but had no money to do so. Her sisters took to their knees and 85,000 Memorares later, a check arrived for $85,000.

President Minnis applied her idea in 2007 when enrollment was dropping after having risen above 1,200 for the first time ever. The prayer campaign asked for more students to be given the experience of a Benedictine College education. After the 30 members of the first Memorare Army prayed 1,200 Memorares apiece, 1,232 full-time undergraduate students enrolled for the fall.

In 2008, the college needed to raise money for the Grotto on campus, putting the image of the Blessed Mother’s care for the sick and the poor in the center of campus. The President started another Memorare Army. This time 50 people to prayed 1,000 Memorares apiece for the success of the campaign. Generous donors, led by the Dunns, came through, and the grotto was dedicated a year later.

The National Catholic Register reported on these early Memorare Army campaigns here.

Archbishop Joseph Nauman is a longtime fan of the Memorare Army. In a column in his Kansas City, Kan., archdiocesan newspaper, he wrote about how the Memorare Army stopped a storm. Read that article here.

In 2010, when the need for a new Academic Center loomed large, President Minnis started another Memorare Army. The reason for the college’s Investing in Excellence campaign, and for this Memorare Army, was “That in All Things God May Be Glorified.” That autumn’s Raven Review, carried an invitation to “Join the Army” and some 330 members pledged to say 1,000 memorares within a year’s time for funding for the Academic Center. One year later, on the vigil of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jim Ferrell called President Minnis late at night to say he was giving the college the $4 million needed to complete the building.

Finally, in 2012, the college launched another Memorare Army — a prayer campaign for religious liberty. In that effort, more than 3 million memorares have been prayed for religious liberty in America because of this most recent Memorare Army.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

In addition to daily Memorare prayers, President Minnis began praying for the campaign with a prayer his wife Amy gave him. “Oh most beautiful flower of Mt.  Carmel,” said the prayer, “assist me in this necessity.”  The prayer at one point includes a line that Minnis began targeting to the quest for particular resources the college lacked: “Our needs cannot withstand your power.”

On several occasions, the prayer coincided with the receipt of necessary resources the college needed, and he began to consider Our Lady of Carmel a partner in his presidency.

On Monday, June 7, 2010, Minnis was expecting a call that would answer a great need. At 10 a.m., Minnis prayed a rosary and 10 memorares in the Guadalupe Chapel, adding the prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, with its reminder that “Our needs cannot withstand your power.” He later learned that while he was saying the prayer, a benefactor was answering a seven-figure need at the College.

Basilica della Santissima Annunziata

In 2006, Minnis visited the beautiful Basilica Santissima Annunziata (the Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation) near Benedictine College’s Florence, Italy, campus.

The Investing in Excellence campaign was new then, and the $50 million needs it had identified seemed unachievable to many.

Minnis visited an altar there known for its unique image of Our Lady. As the story goes, in 1252 a monk began to paint an image of the Annunciation but felt unequal to the task of painting Mary. The monk went to bed and an angel finished the painting in his sleep. The altar is now the center of devotion to the Blessed Mother.

It was at that altar that President Minnis offered the Investing in Excellence campaign to Mary and asked that the campaign might surpass its goal and bring $60 million for the needs of the college.

In March 2011, he scheduled a return visit to Florence. The week he booked the flight, Minnis’ prayer was answered. A gift put the amount raised over $60 million (it eventually topped $70 million). Minnis returned to the altar and placed a bouquet of flowers, a Raven Rosary, pictures of the new Academic Center and Mary’s Grotto, and a Grotto medal and St. Benedict Medal at the altar.

The Tandem Bicycle

In 2019, Ravens at their graduation will hear from the man behind the tandem bicycle symbols at Benedictine College.

The keynote speaker for the college’s 2019 Commencement ceremony at its Atchison, Kansas, campus will be five-time Major League Baseball All Star and former Kansas City Royals player Mike Sweeney.

Because of Sweeney, President Minnis has used the tandem bicycle as a symbol of trust in God in his life ever since 2006. In February that year, David Moritz, a 1957 alumnus in Dallas, gave the college a million dollars and a challenge. He said he would add a million more if the college raised $6 million by June 15.

That was a tall order, but on June 15, after an extraordinary outpouring of generosity from donors, the college was almost there — just $650,000 short.

Mike Sweeney, then-captain of the Kansas City Royals, spoke on campus that day and told the story of how much he struggled early in his career. At one dark point, a friend gave him a picture of a tandem bicycle —a two-seater. She told Mike that he was on the front pedaling hard and guiding the bike, but that real success would only come if he got on the back seat, peddled as hard as he could, and let God guide from the front. Sweeney said his career, and faith, took off after that.

President Minnis was inspired by the story. “I walked outside and made the decision that I was going to peddle hard the rest of the day and let his will be done,” he said.

Almost immediately, the President’s cell phone rang. It was a $300,000 donation to the campaign. Then it rang again with a $100,000 donation. Then a call came for $50,000, putting the college within $200,000 of the goal.

The President peddled. He called Steve Dunn of JE Dunn Construction and asked if their family would help out. They had already committed a quarter of a million dollars to the building, but they understood the need to meet the challenge, and gave the rest.

In total, $8 million dollars were raised in four short months, and tandem bicycles became a key symbol for trust in God on campus.

Mary is a model of trust in God.

“I wanted to thank the Blessed Virgin for all she has done for the college. Little did I know that the superabundance of her generosity would allow us to do more than we ever dreamed of,” said Minnis. “We put Mary in the heart of campus with the Grotto and it is clear that she has made a place for us in her heart, as well.”