A little over a decade ago, Katherine Beasley began taking her elderly mother to Perpetual Help devotions at St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Church.
Geraldine Hodge had been a longtime active member of the parish’s Legion of Mary, faithfully attending church every week for the devotional prayers to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which are now incorporated into an 11:30 a.m. Mass every Tuesday.
“I always knew where mom was on Tuesdays,” Beasley said of her mother, who passed away at the age of 94. “She was devoted. The first time I went to pick her up, she left without me because I was five minutes late!”
This month, the Rock Church and the Redemptorists, who staff the parish, are celebrating the centennial anniversary of the weekly devotions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Pope Pius IX in 1866 entrusted the original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help to the Redemptorists, asking them to “make her known throughout the world.” Several years after completion of the Rock Church in St. Louis in 1873, the Redemptorists erected a shrine dedicated to Mary as Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
The shrine underwent a remodeling in 1922, drawing thousands of people from the area to give honor to the Blessed Mother. That same year, a nine-day novena hosted at the church drew an estimated 40,000 people, according to parish historical records. The church, sacristy and school auditorium were filled to capacity.
In 1922, it was decided that a weekly devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help would be offered on Tuesdays. Over the next decade, weekly attendance began to climb, and by the early 1930s, the estimated weekly attendance was around 18,000 people.
Redemptorist Father Pete Schavitz has preached church missions across the United States and Canada for the past three decades. Anytime he walks into a church and sees the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, he knows it’s because of the Redemptorists’ influence.
One of Father Schavitz’s mission talks is on the importance of having a daily prayer life. “We often see that people quit praying right before they stop going to Mass,” he said. “A lot of people only pray to God for help but haven’t invested the energy into their relationship with God.”
St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists, was well-known for guiding the laity in deepening their prayer lives. He’s been given the nickname “doctor of prayer” and has composed prayers including the Way of the Cross.
Mary has an important role in prayer life, too, Father Schavitz said. “Our Lady intercedes for us. And the highest honor you can give her is to fall more in love with Jesus, her Son,” he said. “That’s her only flesh and blood. She understands our helplessness — she’s been there before.”
“She’s mom,” said Father Schavitz. “I say that affectionately — she’s mom. When I ask her to help me, she always comes through.”
Beasley, who continues to come to Tuesday devotions, said seeing her mother’s devotion to her Catholic faith and the Blessed Mother inspired her. “Following mom and following her love for God and the Blessed Mother instilled in me a desire to continue to stay an active Catholic,” she said.
After Carol Henderson-Powell retired as principal of St. Louis Catholic Academy in 2015, she missed attending Mass on Tuesdays with her students. She discovered her own parish, the Rock Church, had Mass and devotions on Tuesdays and found it to be a good fit.
As a member of the Legion of Mary, Henderson-Powell said it was the Rosary that led her to contemplate the Blessed Mother. “Praying the Rosary, you contemplate on Mother Mary and what she was meant to do for us in the world — be our mother of the Church,” she said. “It’s through her intervention that we get closer to God.”
Henderson-Powell lost her mother last year at the age of 94. She turned to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in seeking guidance and wisdom as she helped to care for her mother in her final moments of life in hospice.
“I asked Mary when it was time for my mother to go to please put it in my heart to understand,” she said. “The blessing was my mother died on All Saints Day. I know Mary had a lot to do with it.”
Redemptorist Father Steve Benden, pastor of the Rock Church, said he didn’t realize until he entered the seminary that the Redemptorists were behind the promotion of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
While attendance at Tuesday devotions at the Rock Church has dwindled to about a dozen people, Father Benden said he hopes that the anniversary celebration later this month will spur a renewed interest in devotion to the Blessed Mother. He invites all to come and see what the devotions are all about.
“Mothers are just special people — they are one of our greatest gifts,” he said. “Our mothers are nurturers, and they give us everything. We go through our Blessed Mother the same way. We should be just as devoted to her. She’s a perfect example.”
>> Anniversary celebrations
St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Church will host a Perpetual Help Triduum at 7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, June 21-23. Brother Dan Korn, CSSR, an expert on the Mother of Perpetual Help icon, will be the guest speaker. The church is located at 1118 N. Grand Blvd. in St. Louis.
A Mass celebrating the 100th anniversary of the weekly Perpetual Help devotions will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Sunday, June 26, also at the Rock Church. Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, CSSR, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, will preside at the Mass and serve as homilist.
The events will be livestreamed on YouTube @stalphonsusliguorirockchurch.