In the warehouse at DDI Media, Our Lady of Guadalupe towered over a small gathering of people, waiting to be blessed.
The Blessed Mother was preparing for her perch — all 19 feet of her — along eastbound Highway 40 near Kingshighway, to greet more than 123,000 drivers passing by her every day.
This was the latest endeavor of Our Lady of Guadalupe for Life, a small nonprofit organization of Catholics who have been dedicated to sharing a pro-life message of love for all life — born and unborn.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, featured on that billboard along Highway 40, is the 11th for the group, which was founded 15 years ago by Anna Maria Usselmann and several friends. Usselmann, a member of Assumption Parish in Mattese, said the Blessed Mother compelled her to erect the billboards.
"Since 9-11 and the destruction of the twin towers in New York, Our Lady of Guadalupe asked to be on the billboards," Usselmann said. "She's forseen the future of our country, therefore she's coming to help us. This is why she's on the billboard — to save her children."
Besides the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the billboards include the message, "Love your Babies, Born & Unborn" and include a number for OptionLine (1-800-712-4357), which connects individuals with pregnancy resource centers for one-on-one help.
DDI Media sales manager Bill Hency has worked with the group since the beginning. Company founder Charles Drury asked Hency to work out something with the group. Hency recalled the first time he met Usselmann: "She was ready. There was one problem ... I said, 'What type of budget were you looking at?' She didn't have one. We started with one billboard for three months. ... I had no idea all of this was going to happen. We've had a great partnership over the last 15 years. And when these ladies tell you they're going to do something, they're going to do it."
It costs close to $10,000 a month to maintain all 11 billboards. Cars have traveled past the billboards more than 2 billion times since 2002. The group relies solely on donations, including a fundraiser dinner in October.
Besides the billboard on Highway 40, there are billboards elsewhere in St. Louis, including two along east and westbound I-44 at Highway 141; I-55 and Potomac; South Grand and Fairview in south St. Louis; I-70 at I-270 near McKelvey Road in Bridgeton; I-70 and Goodfellow Boulevard near Ferguson; and Assumption Church in Mattese. Outside of St. Louis, billboards are located at I-55 south of Highway M near Barnhart; I-70 at exit 58 near Concordia, Mo.; and I-44 at exit 184 near Rolla, Mo.
Two years ago, the group started a Living Rosary for Life, to continue prayer efforts for respect for all human life. The prayer gatherings take place at 2:30 p.m. the third Sunday of the month at Assumption Church, 4725 Mattis Road in Mattese. The next one will be held Sept. 17.
"Can you imagine?" said Usselmann when asked about how the effort has continued all these years. She pointed it all back to the Blessed Mother: "She's got us this far," she said.
>> Billboard benefit dinner
Our Lady of Guadalupe for Life will hold its annual benefit dinner on Sunday, Oct. 8, at Orlando Gardens in south St. Louis County.
The evening will begin with Mass at 4:30 p.m., celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Hermann. Catholic contemporary singer Donna Cori Gibson will sing at the Mass. Dinner will follow, featuring speaker Father James Mason, president-rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. Master of ceremonies will be Zip Rzeppa.
Tickets are $85 per person. For reservations or more information, call (314) 487-2066 or (314) 920-1212.
To make a donation, checks can be made payable to Our Lady of Guadalupe for Life, P.O. Box 22024, St. Louis, MO, 63126-0024.