When I was growing up, I used to go with my mother and aunts and uncles to feast day celebrations of saints. Each June in Wilmington, we have the celebration of Saint Anthony of Padua with an Italian Festival that includes a Mass and procession through the streets, carrying on biers statues of various saints for the crowds to venerate. On July 16, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and in nearby Hammonton, New Jersey, the feast day has been celebrated for the last 144 years with an Italian Festival. Not to say Italian Americans have the corner on the market for festivals, when our family spent some time Spain over three summers that we studied Spanish at an international language school in Nerja, we experienced the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, culminating in a Mass in the Church and a procession through the streets. In Spain, it was a national holiday, with businesses closed, family celebrations, and an evening festival for all to enjoy.
This summer Feast of Our Lady, however, reminded me of the deep devotion many of us have to our Blessed Mother, who is revered under many titles. So many people I know, including my own mother, have talked about their devotion to Mary. I often hear about their deep love for the Mother of God when I attend funerals for family, friends, and members of the Archmere community. I hear family members say that their loved one who passed away wished that our Blessed Mother would be with them when they die, as we pray, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
The story of Our Lady of Mount Carmel relates, in a way, to Archmere. I have taken the following explanation of the history of the feast from Franciscan Media:
Hermits lived on Mount Carmel near the Fountain of Elijah in northern Israel in the 12th century. They had a chapel dedicated to Our Lady. By the 13th century they became known as “Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” They soon celebrated a special Mass and Office in honor of Mary. In 1726, it became a celebration of the universal Church under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. For centuries the Carmelites have seen themselves as specially related to Mary. Their great saints and theologians have promoted devotion to her and often championed the mystery of her Immaculate Conception. https://www.franciscanmedia.org/our-lady-of-mount-carmel/
When Archmere Academy was founded in 1932, the school was dedicated to Mary as the Immaculate Conception. In fact, with the renovation of Saint Norbert Hall, our Oratory (Chapel) is named and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. The Norbertine Fathers have a deep devotion to Mary, and it has been a tradition, since Saint Norbert founded the community, that each new foundational work be dedicated to Mary, our Blessed Mother. Devotion to the Blessed Mother is not unique to the Norbertine Fathers. Many other religious communities developed special traditions and rituals that celebrated the virtues of Mary.
The Franciscans have shared this reflection: The Carmelites were known from early on as “Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” The title suggests that they saw Mary not only as “mother,” but also as “sister.” The word sister is a reminder that Mary is very close to us. She is the daughter of God and therefore can help us be authentic daughters and sons of God. She also can help us grow in appreciation of being sisters and brothers to one another. She leads us to a new realization that all human beings belong to the family of God. When such a conviction grows, there is hope that the human race can find its way to peace.
This insight of Mary as a mother and a sister who is unifying her children and her siblings - the human race - gives us a perspective of Mary as one who is with us and always “has our backs.” As we welcome the 135 members of the Archmere Class of 2023 coming from more than 50 different schools and different backgrounds, as well as ten students transferring into the sophomore class, we pray to Mary that she will help all our students and families feel an authentic part of the Archmere community, helping all of us “grow in appreciation of being sisters and brothers to one another.”