The early morning rain had given way to mostly sunshine and just a smattering of clouds over Downtown St. Louis.
"With all the predictions of rain, Our Lady has come through for us," remarked Father Brian Harrison as he stood in the parking lot of St. Mary of Victories Church, observing his surroundings.
The lot had been transformed into a festival ground, a rallying point for more than 200 people who came out for St. Mary of Victories' first King to Queen Rosary Run Oct. 7. The 5K and one-mile run/walk was and prime opportunity for Catholics to publicly profess their faith in the streets of St. Louis.
Runners and walkers were encouraged to pray the Rosary, with signs marking the five joyful mysteries along several points in the route, which started at the Old Cathedral, looping down along Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard at the riverfront, and a eventually a loop back to Third and Gratiot streets, where St. Mary of Victories is located.
Prior to the race, Father Harrison, St. Mary of Victories' chaplain, led the group in prayer, telling them that the event "is a wonderful opportunity to display and make a proclamation, publicly through the streets of our beloved city, of our Catholic faith."
Founded in 1843, St. Mary of Victories originally served the German immigrant community. It later reinvented itself in the mid-1950s, as it became a home for the Hungarian immigrant community who came here after the Hungarian Uprising. In addition to a regular Sunday Mass featuring prayers and hymns in Hungarian, Father Harrison, a member of the Oblates of Wisdom, also offers a Novus Ordo (promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969) Mass in Latin.
The church is poising itself to become a new center for evangelization efforts, said parishioner James Hooper, who has played an important role in reinvigorating interest in the church around the archdiocese. (See related.)
"We've been talking about this (race) for many months," Hooper said. "This is an amazing manifestation of the new evangelization."
The race was timed to take place on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. St. Mary of Victories, in fact, has a direct connection to the feast — but under a different name today. St. Pius V instituted Our Lady of Victory as a feast day on Oct. 7, marking the Christian victory at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. In 1573, Pope Gregory XIII changed the title to Feast of the Holy Rosary, and in 1960, St. Pope John XXIII changed it to feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Along the race route, Tammy Bayes held a black-beaded rosary in front of her as she quietly recited a row of Hail Marys. The parishioner of Mary Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County read about the event in the Review and wanted to support the church. Bayes has a regular hobby of walking and bicycling while praying. She was inspired by a book called "Prayer Walking."
"It talks about how you actually pray for the houses, the people, the cars, the people traveling," she said. "It really opened me up to the universality of prayer. When I saw this (Rosary Run), I thought, 'yes!'"
Four members of the St. Louis University Pep Band were perched along the sidewalk of the last stretch of the race, calling out for requests from runners and walkers. After the quartet played a few lines from "When the Saints Go Marching In," trumpeter Will Hartzler yelled out to the crowd, "What do you want to hear?"
"The Vatican National Anthem!" one woman shouted.
Yes, the public display of faith on the streets was most definitely present that morning.
Toward the end of the race, Father Harrison led a group in a procession with a statue of the Blessed Mother through a stretch called "Icon Alley," featuring Marian images and messages, to the finish line. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day, where faith had come alive in the public square.
Winnie and Jason Walter, parishioners who helped organize the event, said they have been in awe at the Catholicity of this city and response to the race. Winnie Walter, who met her husband and moved here from upstate New York 10 months ago, said, "I feel like I'm living in Catholic candy land."
>> St. Mary of Victories
Masses on Sundays at 9 a.m. (Novus Ordo, the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969, in Latin) and 11 a.m. (English and Hungarian); confessions are heard for a half hour before Masses. A Tridentine Latin Mass also is celebrated at 8 a.m. on Fridays (except the first Friday of the month), followed by a Holy Hour.
A Hungarian luncheon takes place the third Sunday of the month from 12:30-3 p.m. The church recently started a First Saturday devotion. A Tridentine Latin Mass is celebrated at 8 a.m., followed by eucharistic adoration and the Rosary.
St. Mary of Victories also is active in a St. Louis chapter of St. Paul Street Evangelization. The group meets regularly near the Old Cathedral at the entrance to the Gateway Arch to bring the Catholic faith to the streets. To learn more, visit streetevangelization.com.
In partnership with the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, the church will be offering a monthly Mass for the beatification of Hungarian Cardinal Josef Mindszenty. To learn more, visit www.cardinalmindszenty.org/.
On Wednesday, Nov. 1, the church will have its collection of relics on display beginning at 5:30 p.m. for the feast of All Saints. A Novus Ordo Mass in Latin will be celebrated at 7 p.m.
On Jan. 28, the church will host Kevin O'Brien and Upstage Productions for a presentation of a murder mystery, "Murder at Bunny and Clyde's."
To learn more about St. Mary of Victories, visit www.smov.info. RELATED ARTICLE(S):St. Mary of Victories first Rosary Run is a “devotion in motion”